Shankar Sharma: Electricity supply management – Lessons from Kerala

While Karnataka continues to falter under multiple crises in electricity supply, Kerala govt. has proposed a Green Budget for the management of the electrical power sector.   A recent media report indicates that the state has proposed many initiatives to meet the additional electricity demand without building conventional power stations.  Kerala is one of the very few states that has not faced crises in electricity supply in the recent past.  Kerala has not added to it’s predominantly hydel power capacity in recent years while the only coal based project proposal is facing huge opposition.

These initiatives, which are aimed at energy efficiency, Demand Side Management (DSM) and energy conservation, when viewed objectively indicate that they are all essential characters of a welfare state, and will certainly go a long way in ushering a healthy society; protecting the legitimate interests of the weaker sections and protecting the flora, fauna and environment of Kerala.

As a first step pre-paid power meters would be installed in all govt. offices and pump houses of the Kerala Water Authority with a view to bringing down consumption by 20 per cent during the current fiscal. The state proposes to save 500 MW during the course of this year through various energy conservation measures. Of this, 250 MW was proposed to be saved by replacing incandescent bulbs with CFLs and the remaining through greater energy efficiency.

Families with measurable reduction in use of power would be given energy credit. There is also a proposal to insist on payment of actual cost of supply by those consuming more than 300 units a month and double the normal charges for excess consumption during peak hours.  A hike in the taxes on energy-guzzling equipment would be considered, while reducing the same applicable to energy-efficient equipment. These are expected to bring down power consumption by 10 per cent.

Local bodies would be directed to focus on achieving greater efficiency in street lighting while avoiding wastage of electricity in the form of decorative lighting. Stiff tax may be imposed on hoardings that use excess quantities of power.  The Government would also consider providing five per cent subsidy to industries that facilitate greater energy efficiency.

Kerala has already brought down its Transmission & Distribution losses to about 20%, and striving continuously to bring it down further. Its peak hour electricity demand is kept under control by widely using CFL lamps instead of incandescent lamps.

Additionally, the decision to set up an energy management company, to which would be assigned funds saved through energy conservation measures, will be very crucial in long term management of electricity sector. Such a company would concentrate on improving energy efficiency in the sector, and can have major impact on the economy & environment of the state.

The decision to meet most of the additional demand for electricity in Kerala by optimizing the usage of available electricity is unique in the country, and one will hope that this trend setting example will be emulated by all other states.  It is very heartening to note that the state government has a good understanding of the huge potential available through efficiency improvement and conservation measures within the existing infrastructure network. 

These initiatives should be a set of good lessons for Karnataka to come out of its chronic power crises.  Above indicated measures when applied effectively, and when combined with objective deployment of vast potential in renewable energy sources such as solar, wind and bio-mass will virtually eliminate the need for additional conventional power projects such as dam based hydel OR coal power projects.  Elimination of the need for additional conventional power projects will have huge positive impact on the socio-economic aspects of the state, and will have tremendous boost for the fast degrading environment. The hugely unpopular issues such as people’s displacement, drowning of thick forests/agricultural lands and environmental degradation have been the sources of social upheaval in the state for a number of years, and hence addressing the same effectively will lead to all-round prosperity in the state due to reduced tension in the society.

Whereas the social, economic and environmental benefits from these measures are perpetual in nature and are likely to create large number of additional jobs, they will also avoid the perpetual costs to the society associated with large size conventional power projects.

Additional measures such as transferring most of the street lights and commercial lighting loads to solar photovoltaic panels; encouraging feed-in- tariff solar PV panels on the roof of large establishments such as schools, colleges, offices, industries etc. can all provide huge amount of virtual additional power capacity.  Sustained energy conservation campaigns involving student community, NGOs etc. can reduce the actual demand. 

It should be noted that Kerala govt., while clearly appreciating the limits to its natural resources, has made conscious efforts in not encouraging energy intensive industries such as steel and cement.  This approach has kept its electricity demand under manageable limits.  In comparison, Karnataka has embarked on major industrialization drive since few decades, despite the fact that it has faced multiple crises in supplying electricity to the existing consumers.  Karnataka’s penchant for large additional industries, which require a lot of our resources such as land, water, electricity etc., along with ever escalating electricity usage in non-essential applications has not only made it impossible to overcome the crises even after 62 years of independence but also creating a scenario where a large number of additional conventional power stations such as coal power plants are made to appear essential.   In this regard many coal power plants proposed in the state should be reviewed keeping in view the fact that the state has no coal reserve, popular opposition to land acquisition, diversion of water from reservoirs like Almatti (where people are already facing acute water shortage), pollution carrying capacity of our environment etc.

In the background of all these glaring issues, it would tantamount to letting down the public if the state continues to spend thousands of crores of rupees of the state’s revenue and precious natural resources in establishing  additional conventional power plants without harnessing all the techno-economically viable and environmentally benign alternatives first. 

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