Karnataka's power problems get worse

T Muralidhar runs a factory in Hosur, the industrial town in Tamil Nadu along the state's border with Bengaluru. Early this year, the co-founder of Snam Abrasives, which makes silicon carbide powder used in the metal and stone polishing industries, contemplated shifting and merging the factory with his unit in Attibele on the outskirts of Bengaluru.

The idea was to consolidate, improve efficiency and scale up the business. Now, the decision has been put on hold as power shortage looms as a serious problem in Karnataka.

Karnataka requires about 185 million units of electricity a day, but only 135 million units are now available. The demand-supply situation has been made worse by the drought-like conditions in the state owing to a weak monsoon.

Nearly 40 per cent of Karnataka's power generation comes from hydro-electric power plants. However, the water level at most of its reservoirs is at half of the optimum capacity, prompting the state to declare the crisis as the worst in over four decades.

The state's problems have been further compounded by the repair and maintenance activity under way at its thermal plants at Udupi, Raichur and Bellary.

While the government is now looking at buying power from neighbouring Tamil Nadu to tide over the crisis, it has also restricted independent power producers from selling power to other states. "We will solve this crisis soon. We will buy power from other states," says D K Shivakumar, Karnataka's power minister.

While surplus power from other states may ease the extent of the load-shedding soon, Karnataka's problem with its power infrastructure remains an old one. It is not the first time that the state is facing a power crisis of this magnitude due to deficient rainfall. Three years ago, the state had faced a similar shortage and the Bharatiya Janata Party-led government signed up deals to get power from Chhattisgarh.

Shobha Karandlaje, who was the power minister in the BJP government in Karnataka, has blamed the lack of planning for the current situation. "The weak monsoon was anticipated. It requires planning and this government has failed," she says.

To be sure, north India is surplus in power but it cannot be evacuated to the south as there are no corridors to connect the northern grid to the southern one, Union Minister of state for power Piyush Goyal said recently while commenting on the power situation in the state.

Besides, Karnataka, which was among the first states to adopt renewable energy sources like solar and wind, has failed to implement its vision on a mass scale.

"Wind power and solar power are growing very slowly in Karnataka compared to Tamil Nadu or Gujarat," says Ramesh Shivanna, president of the Karnataka Renewable Energy Systems Manufacturers Association.

"If Gujarat, Andhra Pradesh or Madhya Pradesh added 2000 Mw of power in renewable energy over the last two to three years, our implementation is only 200 to 300 Mw".

Meanwhile, as the state grapples to find alternative ways to meet its power requirement, the sale of power back-up systems has soared in recent weeks. Online marketplace Flipkart has seen a four-fold increase in the demand for emergency lights in the last two weeks. For Flipkart, Karnataka now accounts for 50 per cent of its total sale of emergency lights in the country.

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