The committee set up by the power ministry will hopefully figure out the cause of the tripping of the North-East-West (NEW) grid on Monday. But the real problem will be: how to penalise the entity that caused the grid to collapse at enormous cost to the economy. At one level,the sequence of events is clear. The NEW grid was running at a demand level of 74,210 MW at about 2.30 am,well within its capacity. Delhi,for instance,had a demand of 3,384 MW,quite short of its peak demand. This enormous network encompasses multiples of the capacity of any individual generating station anywhere in India. So it is impossible that any unit tripping at an isolated station could have wrecked the grid discipline. Since,at the same time,the grid was also importing 5,447 MW of power from its Eastern and Western arms,an excess demand from any of them could potentially disrupt the grid.
The habitual offender is Uttar Pradesh. Figures of the Central Electricity Regulatory Commission show that in May,it overdrew 870 million units from the grid,far ahead of any state. Since the Northern Regional Load Despatch Centre,which manages the NEW grid,had to shut down two of the transmission lines running through the state on Monday morning to restore power,it is obvious UP was responsible. Having apportioned responsibility,however,it will have to be ensured that the state coughs up the penalty. Without that assurance,grid discipline will remain vulnerable. Without punitive measures in place,plans to set up a national grid capable of running a projected 130,000 MW,to be scaled up to 800,000 MW by the end of another five years,cannot be started on. There are also plans to extend this network to connect with Indias neighbours. The cost of a breakdown,then,would become even more daunting.
The way ahead will require states to be freed from dependence on unscheduled interchange of power,so that they can move to a market-based system of buying and selling electricity. At present,the two exchanges,IEX and PXIL,account for less than 20 per cent of the total volume of short-term electricity trade. More than 35 per cent of the short-term electricity needs are met by states tapping power companies directly. This is costly for the consumers,creates perverse incentives for power companies to exploit shortages,and gives the economy Monday morning blues.