Watt is the problem
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Grid collapse points to enduring neglect of infrastructure in power sector
Last week, about half of India or roughly 10 per cent of the world's population, suddenly found they had no electricity. A failure of this magnitude has never happened before. But while the timing of the incident could not have been predicted, the signs have been visible for many years.
If more Indians are to enjoy the benefits of a middle-class life, the country has to ensure that the availability of electricity increases roughly in line with economic growth. If India has to compete favourably with its Asian neighbours, it would have to increase its per capita electricity consumption. Per capita electricity consumption in China is about 3.5 times that of India, Malaysia 6.33 times, Singapore 14 times and South Korea 16.6 times. Competition between the countries would only increase, and unless India can significantly increase the availability of electricity, its competitive position will erode.
Hydro and coal account for nearly 77 per cent of electricity generation in India. Take hydro. Only about one-fourth of the country's hydro potential has been harnessed. Lack of vision, the populist tone of much of the country's politics, social and environmental activism, slow decision-making and weak law-enforcement have ensured that hydro power contributes to only about 20 per cent of electricity generation. In April, Secretary of Power Uma Shankar announced a reduction of the planned hydropower-generating capacity for the next five years — from 30 GW to 10 GW — because of regulatory delays, problems with land acquisition and poor planning practices. This is in marked contrast to the progress that countries like China have made in hydro development. Because of its chaotic planning process, India simply could not have built the Three Gorges dam, which now accounts for about 10 per cent of China's electricity use.
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