Soaring temperatures, surging power demand: What you can do in this scenario

Intense summers cause a spike in power demand, leading to rampant load shedding. A look at why and how such demand must be managed.

India has seen the worst of summer this year, with temperatures breaking records in many parts of the country. Among various other impacts, high temperatures have also caused a surge in power demand in cities. This has not only created issues in terms of frequent power outages, but has also increased carbon emissions as the demands are met. 


Read more: Scorched cities: Documenting the intense Indian summer of 2024 


India’s power consumption increased by over 8% to 127.79 billion units (BU) in February 2024. The highest supply in a day rose to 222 gigawatts (GW) in the same month. The Ministry of Power recorded a peak demand of 229 GW during the summer of 2023, which is set to cross this season, as demand is projected to hit 240 GW in June.

Power demand last year, in the months of September and October, increased by about 20% in comparison to 2022 in the same months. The Minister explained that the spike in power demand was mainly due to an increase in economic activity, but also stressed that demand is highly correlated with summer temperatures.

Demand triggers: High temperatures, rainfall deficit and high power demand 

“One of the primary reasons for increased power demand is that our buildings do not have protection from heat. With heat intensifying each year, our urban buildings are becoming heat traps. None of these buildings are designed with principles of architecture to keep the buildings cool without air conditioning,” says Vivek Gilani, Founder and Director of C Balance Solutions Hub. 

This, he says, is why people end up using air conditioners if they can afford it. Additionally, with the drop in the prices of air conditioners, sales is booming. “The number of ACs installed in India is doubling every six years based on our evaluation,” he adds.

“During summers, the use of air conditioners rises, and this generally increases power demand across the country. This year due to severe water shortage, hydro power generation has reduced massively, and this has put even increased pressure on thermal power, which is currently running at full capacity,” says Anand Wagh, Fellow and Head for Center for Renewable Energy at World Institute of Sustainable Energy (WISE).

“A lot of industrial activity has picked up because of different government schemes such as the Production Linked Incentive (PLI) scheme. There is a lot of push on increasing domestic manufacturing, so we are transitioning from a service-driven economy to a manufacturing-driven economy as well, which is increasing power generation in the country,” says Vibhuti Garg, Director, South Asia, at Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis (IEEFA). She, too, observes that with rising income levels, there has been a rising demand in air conditioning purchases, leading to increased energy demand. 

“A lot of coal-based plants go through maintenance around this time of the year, when more hydro power is available. But this year we do not have enough hydro, as there are no rains,” adds Vibhuti. 

“Earlier, there were many other viable cooling methods. In some dry places in India, they used evaporative coolers or what are called desert coolers. But due to the rise in marketing of ACs, a negative perception of these products was created.  In reality, these products are more efficient than ACs and use 1/8th of the energy,” says Vivek. 

“In view of these recent spikes in demand, it is important to forecast demand. One has to consider extreme weather patterns and behavioural patterns of end users, especially while evaluating AC loads, EV usage etc. It is critical to look at it holistically and in an integrated manner, while planning for resources to meet the future demand,” says Sandhya Sundararagavan, Head of Energy Transition at World Resources Institute (WRI). 

The environmental impact

An increase in temperature increases electricity demand as well as carbon emissions, posing a challenge to India’s energy transition. Fossil fuel generation in India has increased in the year 2023-24 by 9.9%, whereas growth in renewable energy has decreased by 2.2%. Though the overall power generation in India has increased by about 7%, the decline in the growth of renewable energy generation underlines the need for policies and measures ensuring low-carbon power sources. 

As per National Power Portal, thermal power generation is more than half of the total power generated from all sources. Source: NPP

Urban spaces in the country are more vulnerable to the urban heat island effect, as materials such as concrete and asphalt in urban areas absorb heat during the day and release it slowly, causing temperatures to remain elevated, especially at night. Increased power demand, which releases heat into the air, adds to the effect. That in turn creates more demand for cooling, creating a vicious circle. Overall, this strains the energy sources and results in power outages which we are witnessing this summer in high frequency and intensity.


Read more: B.PAC says there is no case for BESCOM to increase power tariff


Inequity in power distribution

Vivek also throws light on an unspoken issue, where the rural areas and towns witness more power outages in order to cater to cities’ uninterrupted supply. “Since the generation of power is limited and the demand keeps rising, the government prioritises cities over rural areas or towns to provide uninterrupted supply of power. There are greater power outages in rural areas and towns, even though a major part of the generation happens in these areas.”

He cites the example of Bhusawal, a township near Mumbai, which has some of the largest power generating plants. But Bhusawal witnesses frequent and prolonged outages every day, in order to supply energy to Mumbai. 

Additionally, a recent working paper by the National Institute of Public Finance and Policy (NIPFP) observes that with the increase in the push for renewable energy, there is also some disparity between the renewable-rich and poor states. Renewable-poor states may need to curtail thermal power generation and import electricity from renewable rich states. As the use of renewable energy in electricity production increases, states with fewer sources may end up spending more on renewable energy set ups and earning less from them, says the paper.

Immediate, readily available potential for utilisation of renewable energy is primarily concentrated in eight major states in the country’s western and southern regions, Rajasthan, Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh and Telangana, while ten states from the northern and eastern parts struggle with renewable potential, of which, three states, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and West Bengal are some of India’s most populous states.

Policy measures to reduce power demand

The Centre has taken a few measures to meet the power demands and try to ensure zero load shedding during this summer. Measures include reviewing non-operational thermal power capacity, operationalisation of gas-based capacity, shifting maintenance of power plants to the monsoon season, offering surplus power for sale in Energy Exchange, among others.

The government has started pooling all national resources as part of Security Constrained Economic Dispatch (SCED). “Pooling of all national resources and dispatching on the merit order basis can increase the running of efficient generators, which will meet power demand in a cost effective manner,” says Vibhuti. She further emphasised that states also should be held more accountable to meet their RPO obligations on different technologies so that clean energy gets used. 

Households, industries and other consumers should be alerted to thr option of reducing the use of electrical equipment based on real-time electricity demand, helping to balance the grid during periods of peak demand. Demand shifting involves encouraging consumers to shift their electricity usage to off-peak hours through incentives or time-of-use pricing. This can benefit financially-stressed distribution companies, as incentives to consumers to reduce demand will be far cheaper than investment in peaking capacity.

What can consumers do?

Behavioural changes, such as adopting energy-efficient practices, can also contribute to reducing peak demand. Basic practices such as switching off from the plug point, in addition to turning off the electrical appliance, using automatic devices to switch off lighting circuits, and buying energy efficient devices like Compact Fluorescent Lamps (CFLs) and fluorescent tube lights can lead to power savings much higher than most people imagine.

“The government has issued an advisory for the usage of ACs at higher temperatures to minimise AC load. Instead of using it at 19 degree Celsius, the government is encouraging people to set their ACs at 21-23 degree Celsius, which can cool the room at a comfortable temperature at a relatively lower power consumption level,” says Anand.

The Department of New and Renewable Energy, Government of Haryana has a detailed list of suggested action items that can lead to energy savings, categorised with respect to the most common consumption items. Some of these are as follows.

Lighting

  • Turn off lights whenever not required. Consider employing infrared sensors, motion sensors, automatic timers, dimmers and solar cells wherever applicable, to switch on/off lighting circuits.
  • As for as possible use task lighting, which focuses light where it’s needed. A reading lamp, for example, lights only reading material rather than the whole room.
  • Replace your electricity-guzzling ordinary bulbs (incandescent lamps) with more efficient types. Compact fluorescent lamps (CFLs) use up to 75 percent less electricity than incandescent lamps.

Room Air Conditioners

  • You can reduce air-conditioning energy use by as much as 40 percent by shading your home’s windows and walls. Plant trees and shrubs to keep the day’s hottest sun off your house.
  • A good air conditioner will cool and dehumidify a room in about 30 minutes, so use a timer and leave the unit off for some time.
  • Clean the air-conditioner filter every month. A dirty air filter reduces airflow and may damage the unit. Clean filters enable the unit to cool down quickly and use less energy.
  • One will use 3% to 5% less energy for each degree air conditioner is set above22°C (71.5°F), so set the thermostat of room air conditioner at 25°C (77°F) to provide the most comfort at the least cost.

Refrigerators

  • Make sure that the refrigerator is kept away from all sources of heat, including direct sunlight, radiators and appliances such as the oven, and cooking range.
  • When it’s dark, place a lit flashlight inside the refrigerator and close the door. If light around the door is seen, the seals need to be replaced.
  • Refrigerator motors and compressors generate heat, so allow enough space for continuous airflow around refrigerator. If the heat can’t escape, the refrigerator’s cooling system will work harder and use more energy.
  • Allow hot and warm foods to cool and cover them well before putting them in refrigerator. Refrigerator will use less energy and condensation will be reduced.

Computers

  • Turn off your home office equipment when not in use. A computer that runs 24 hours a day, for instance, uses – more power than an energy-efficient refrigerator.
  • Screen savers save computer screens, not energy. Start-ups and shutdowns do not use any extra energy, nor are they hard on your computer components. In fact, shutting computers down when you are finished using them actually reduces system wear – and saves energy.
  • Battery chargers, such as those for laptops, cell phones and digital cameras, draw power whenever they are plugged in and are very inefficient. Pull the plug and save.

Source: Department of New and Renewable Energy, Govt of Haryana.
To view the entire list of suggested power-saving measures, click here.

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