After Prime Minister Narendra Modi appealed to the people on 3 April to turn off the electric lamps in their houses for 9 min at 9 PM on 5 April and light a lamp outside the house without crowding, the tongues of the usual suspects began wagging. They soon turned a message viral on social media that the sudden dip in the load and resumption of as much power consumption 9 min later would send the national power grid into a tailspin.
A half-baked IANS story carried by different media houses last night and another carried this morning, where officials of the Power Grid Corporation of India were selectively quoted to raise an alarm. The opposition cited the 2012 blackout without realising that had been caused by a surge and not a drop in consumption.
Priyanka Gandhi, general secretary in charge of the INC in eastern Uttar Pradesh, said in a tweet, “While the country is expressing solidarity in the war against Corona, it is expected that the power grids and engineers’ concerns are also being taken care of by the central government, So that there is no obstruction in power supply during crisis and in times of need.”
Shashi Tharoor jumped on the bandwagon soon, citing the paper that the IANS story of 3 April had used.
Maharashtra Power Minister Nitin Raut joined the chorus, appealing to the prime minister and pleading that the power grid would trip!
But finally Raut cut a sorry figure:
Even technical experts, perhaps with a soft corner for the INC or to show off one’s expertise, composed alarmist social media posts and added blink-and-you-miss-it footnotes saying that this fluctuation would be manageable. Check this out where the post ends with a “My only point: the risk is not worth it”.
The figures above are questionable. What Raj Vedam poses as 25% is no more than 10%-12% according to the power grid.
Experts and politicians in the opposition alike conveniently skipped another factoid. The prime minister never asked to switch off all electrical appliances at home, many of which like air-conditioners and refrigerators consume many times the energy consumed by electrical lights.
On being proven wrong, a defensive Jairam Ramesh tweeted:
The fact that the power consumption on 2 April was 20% lower than that during the corresponding day last year was pushed down to one of the last paragraphs to keep the sensation alive. That is, the fact that the power grid has got used to low consumption was not accorded much importance.
What was more glaring, the detractors did not pay attention to the fact that in 2012, the system was caught unawares due to a state suddenly drawing more power than was due without prior notice whereas now, the power grid got 48 hours to prepare for the situation.
Now the Ministry of Power said that on 5 April between 9:00 PM and 9:09 PM when people honour the prime minister’s appeal, the resultant fluctuations that will occur is well within their capacity to handle.
The Central Electricity Regulatory Authority (CERA) allows a frequency band of 49.95–50.05 Hz for normal operation of the grid and the grid may come to a standstill if there is a sudden decrease or increase in power transmission but only when caught unawares. Here, there is a 48-hour notice period and the disturbance frequency range will be 0.2 Hz — 3.5 Hz.
Sources in the Ministry of Power said that the grid withstands fluctuations even in times of disaster and remains stable. And this situation is already known. Then, the ministry tweeted:
The power grid and its state facilities and distribution units are confident of keeping the grid stable. They had said it yesterday too: “We are making arrangements. We are preparing for fluctuations of 15 GW (even though the degree of change would not be that high). The backup will also be ready for the demand.” [Business Today report, which did not use the IANS story] But this quote was not only lost somewhere in the passages of the IANS story but also not deemed to be headline material by alarmist media houses.
Meanwhile, the Power System Operation Corporation (POSOCO), responsible for the integrated operation of the grid, is working to ensure that there is no pressure on the grid due to the fluctuation in the grid and that there is no power outage across the country.
Given the fact that there are regional and state grids but no city grid whatsoever that would supply power to households exclusively or primarily, the percentage drop in power consumption caused by the act of switching off only electrical lamps inside houses will be minuscule. Because the industrial units, the heavy appliances inside people’s houses and street lights will remain turned on. That is, not even 12% of the supply (the total domestic consumption) will be affected.