ACs, Subsidised Tariff are Driving Delhi Power Binge

New Delhi: Ever since power distribution was privatised in Delhi in 2002, peak power demand has more than doubled from around 3,000 MW to around 6,000 MW. The surge, helped by a steady rise in the city’s population, the increasing affluence of its residents – who now command the highest average per capita income in the country – and the lack of awareness about economising on consumption, has meant that Delhi has become a power guzzler. The average Delhiite  now consumes nearly 70 per cent more than the average Indian citizen.

What worries planners is that the increased use of air-conditioners (and room heaters in the winter) is putting a huge of burden on the system. “It is not only in the summer that you find demand going up sharply. Even in peak winter, people switch on their heaters, which even the poor afford and that consume almost as much power as an air-conditioner, leading to frequent tripping of the overloaded system,” said a distribution company official.

From local faults to collapse of the grids, the power scenario remains grim despite the introduction of several new technologies, like SCADA (supervisory control and data acquisition), for real time monitoring and assessment.

Subsidised power has also meant more expendable income in the hands of the consumers – especially those lower down the economic strata who would rather than not forgo the comfort that electricity use brings even if it means exceeding the 400 unit per month limit necessary to qualify for the subsidy.

In its recent report on power consumption in Delhi, environment watchdog Centre for Science and Environment has also flagged the issue of how ACs and the power subsidy have come to impact Delhi’s power demand.

It observed that “the UN slogan of `Consume with Care’ for this World Environment Day sounds hollow in the face of untamed electricity guzzling in Delhi”. Further, it claimed that the Delhi Government was “indifferent to consumptive use of subsidised electricity to meet the gluttonous appetite for energy-intensive air conditioned comfort and pollution”. It also pointed out that the domestic power tariff in Delhi was among the lowest in all metros:

“The AAP government gives power subsidy of 50 per cent for monthly consumption up to 400 KWh. Delhi’s average consumption is only about 181 Kwh, and nearly two-fifths of the households consume less than 100 KWh per month. The subsidy, thus, allows comfortable use of a number of appliances like air-conditioners etc and cushions substantial household energy costs.”

With the night consumption of power now almost as high as daytime, the CSE concluded that “it is the air conditioners in homes that skew the demand at night.” Air conditioning accounts for about 28% of the total monthly electricity consumption, it said. According to the Bureau of Energy Efficiency, ACs contribute to almost 60% of Delhi’s peak electricity demand.

This is hardly surprising given the 68th Nation Sample Survey of Household Consumption of Various Goods and Services in India, which found that 412 out of every 1,000 households in urban Delhi own an air conditioner or air cooler as compared to the national average of 77.

The CSE has also called for making buildings more energy efficient so that they do no trap summer heat. Thanks to inappropriate architectural designs and materials – like glass-dominant structures, the predominant use of concrete, and use of large windows and flat concrete roofs without shading – Delhi buildings trap a lot of heat, and thus require active cooling.

It also noted that operating ACs at low temperatures means higher consumption. “With every degree reduction in thermostat setting, there is increased energy consumption of three to 10 per cent.” It said the National Building Code of India (NBC) states that the thermal comfort of an average person lies between temperature values of 25°C and 30°C, with  27.5°C the optimum temperature.

A power department official said that over the years several attempts have been made to address the demand but to little avail. “From trying to make buildings more power efficient, to replacing bulbs with CFLs and now LEDs, to encouraging low power consumption by putting a ceiling on the number of subsidised units of power allowed per household per month, various schemes have been tried to cap the demand.”

For its part, the Bureau of Energy Efficiency (BEE) had in 2009 joined hands with the Delhi State Industrial and Infrastructure Development Corporation for identification and development of buildings to make them energy efficient. The BEE had targeted saving nearly 3.3 billion units of power or about 20 per cent of the total consumption of Delhi.

Of this, 1500 million units were to be saved from commercial buildings, 1,430 from domestic, 200 from industries, 96 from municipalities and 11 million from or agriculture. Though some government buildings like Rashtrapati Bhavan, the Prime Minister’s Office and Delhi Airport have already been covered, the programme is still a long way from realising its potential.

The Delhi Electricity Regulatory Commission, which the city’s power regulator, has also been trying to enforce demand side management. An official said, “We have all along tried to create awareness by telling people how to reduce their bills; but somehow few pay heed.” He said simple solutions are also given on the DERC website.

Tapping solar energy may be one way forward and the roof-top solar net metering projects launched earlier this week have the potential of not only cutting down power consumption but also reducing the power bills of the consumers by allowing them the opportunity to set up their solar plants and sell excess power.

A spokesperson of distribution company BSES said: “We have energised six net metering projects, totalling 86 KW of solar power. On average, consumers can save between 360 units and 3600 units per month, which translates into monthly savings of between Rs 3,000 and Rs 32,000. Around 500 queries and more than 50 applications, amounting to nearly 2400 KW (2.4 MW) of load, have been received and we have started organising power conclaves to educate the customers.”

It remains to be seen if this project would take off in a significant manner and ease Delhi’s power woes or it too would remain largely confined to the files.

Categories: Energy

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