Modi's 9-min blackout call: Power sector on alert to ensure grid stability

Topics Coronavirus | PM Modi | Power Sector

Ending many hours of suspense, Prime Minister Narendra Modi addressed the nation through a video message at 9 am on Friday, urging the public to switch off the lights for 9 minutes at 9 pm on April 5 and light candles instead. If not candles, torches and mobile flashlights too can be used across balconies and gates to show solidarity in the fight against coronavirus.

Ever since the announcement Thursday evening about the PM’s video message, speculation has been building up on whether he was going to talk about lifting the lockdown in phases or extending it.

He did neither.

The PM said people should tell each other that even though they were at home, they were not alone. “This country’s 1.3 billion people are together during this lockdown period. We have to dispel the darkness spread by coronavirus and give hope to the poor who are the most impacted by lockdown,” he said. This is his second attempt at solidarity, after the call for Janata Curfew on March 22.

While the PM’s appeal may have dashed many hopes, it sent the power ministry into a huddle as this could lead to a significant drop in electricity demand. However, the power ministry said the event would not impact the national power grid much and that planning would be done in advance. “Power Minister R K Singh has discussed the issue with Power Grid Corporation of India (PGCIL) and the grid operator Power System Operator Corporation (POSOCO) in today’s meeting. They are up to the task and are confident of managing the grid stability for the event,” said a ministry spokesperson. Another official pointed out the extent of fluctuation expected would be minimal. “But we have asked all state and regional load dispatch centres to be prepared.”

The mass switch-off event comes at a time when the country has witnessed an unprecedented fall in power demand over the past two weeks of lockdown. Following the announcement of a 21-day lockdown due to the corona pandemic, power demand has fallen by close to 30 per cent during March.

The lockdown is till April 14. Anticipating drastic fall in demand and generation capacity shut, power sector stakeholders have been on contingency mode for the past fortnight. This includes power generators (gencos), suppliers and grid operators. However, for the lights-off event on Sunday, POSOCO will manage the stability of the power grid.

Senior executives said POSOCO had informed its regional and state load dispatch centres to be ready for any drastic fall in the electricity load and sudden spurt in a matter of minutes on Sunday.

The load dispatch centres, across five locations, monitor, schedule and forecast supply of power in their respective regions. Officials said out of the current peak demand of around 120-125 GW, household lighting load was close to 12-15 GW. Any fluctuation would be in the same range (12-15GW), which is 10 per cent of the current peak load.

Some states have also started preparing for the Sunday lights-off event. Uttar Pradesh has asked all generating stations to be ready to generate power. It has also asked all the hydro units to reduce their generation based on requirement. Instruction has also gone out that load shedding (power cut) should be strictly done between 8 and 9 pm on Sunday to prevent failure of power supply system in the state.

Though there was panic in social media with some anticipating grid disturbance due to this mass switch-off event, senior executives at POSOCO and Power Grid Corporation, which is the national power transmission company, said the event would have no bearing on the grid.

“The grid is built to handle disruptions on a daily basis. The good thing is power demand is low these days, so it’s easier to manage. However, we are on alert at all our sites,” said a senior executive.

POSOCO has a contingency plan in place in the wake of Corona pandemic and demand fall. It listed out a 15-point agenda for “ensuring power supply and grid security in the wake of COVID-19 pandemic outbreak”. This included having reserve manpower in case of any emergency and setting up temporary control rooms in the regional centres.

To ensure steady availability of power, hydro and gas run power stations have been asked to be readily available. Unlike coal, solar and wind stations, hydro and gas can be switched off and on instantly.

All transmission line licences including Power Grid and private players such as Sterlite Grid, Adani Transmission etc have been advised to avoid planned shutdown and execute any instruction from the POSOCO promptly.

Power Grid, which owns 95 per cent of the country’s transmission network, has shifted to remote monitoring after the nationwide lockdown.


Business Standard is now on Telegram.
For insightful reports and views on business, markets, politics and other issues, subscribe to our official Telegram channel