THE national lockdown to check the spread of COVID-19 has cut India’s power demand by up to a third since the third week of March. A bulk of the industrial, commercial and agricultural loads have switched off, and it is the domestic load that is predominantly holding up demand.
Records show that this crash comes after national power demand had seen a pick-up in January and February after four continuous months of decline at the end of calendar year 2019.
The impact of the ongoing collapse in industrial activity is mirrored in electricity demand charts which have sharply tapered off since March 22, and appear to show a more pronounced impact in the northern and western regions, with the south showing some impact as well.
Routinely, industrial and commercial load account for about 45-50 per cent of the country’s total demand with agricultural consumption accounting for another 20 per cent. The rest is essentially domestic household load.
While demand patterns have become unpredictable ever since states started announcing restrictions and partial lockdowns since mid-March and the subsequent nationwide lockdown on March 24, power demand went down by 40,000-45,000 MW in the last fortnight, over a base load of 150,000 MW.
An analysis of consumption figures shows:
* March 22, when the Janata curfew was implemented, marks an inflection point in the all-India demand curve — it is from here that there’s a steady decline in demand with little sign of any recovery.
* Despite rising temperatures in the north, the April electricity load trend in the country’s northern heartland is largely constant and continues to be lower than that for the western region. Typically, around the first week of April, the northern demand is equal to that for the western region and higher than the southern region.
* Load in the North-Eastern region has been unaffected by the crash, primarily because there is very little industrial load there to begin with.
Power Ministry estimates showed that in February, base and peak power demand went up over 11 per cent and 9 per cent respectively on a year-on-year basis, largely due to a mild uptick in industrial activity.
The slide in March demand is reflected in the spot power market, with average market clearing price in the day-ahead market on the IEX — India’s largest power exchange — being recorded at Rs 2.46 per unit in March 2020, a decline of 21 per cent over the price of Rs 3.12 per unit in March 2019, offering distribution utilities/discoms an avenue to reduce their financial burden.
But with the bulk of commercial and industrial units halting operations to control the spread of the pandemic, for power discoms, the crash is bad news as it’s these segments that cross-subsidise domestic and agricultural tariffs.