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India's power sector AT&C loss 22% amidst 'calamitous' climate change threats

Counterview Desk 

Power and climate policy analyst Shankar Sharma, in a letter to RK Singh, Union Minister for power and NRE, with copies to the NITI Aayog vice chairman and the Prime Minister, has said that the reported Technical & Commercial (AT&C) loss in the electricity sector during 2020-21 was 22.32% took place even as the country witnessing “steep degradation” of natural resources -- land, air, water, minerals etc.
These losses have taken place at time when “our authorities seem to be unduly influenced by unsubstantiated and uni-dimensional projections such as the claims that the cost of India quitting coal is $900 billion, and that nuclear power saves 41 million tonnes of carbon emissions every year”, Sharma asserted.

Text:

Whereas the power/ energy sector in the country has been facing serious and multiple crises since many decades, the same can be said to be getting worse in recent years due to the calamitous threats associated with the Climate Change, and due to an evident lack of clarity as to what is needed for our people in the medium to long term.
Any modest observer of the power system in the country can notice multiple contradictions in policies / practices because of a myopic view of the govt. from the true welfare perspective of our country, and because of the focus only on short term commercial benefits to a tiny section of our society.
A glaring contradiction is the unacceptable level of inefficiency in the power sector, while our authorities continue to pour our meagre resources to build more of the conventional kind of power plants (and even the large size RE power parks), and the associated infrastructure such as coal mines, dams, transmission lines etc. without a diligent study on the real need for the same.
As reported to the Parliament recently, whereas the All-India AT&C loss in the electricity sector during 2020-21 was 22.32%, Nagaland (DoPN) reported the highest aggregate Technical & Commercial (AT&C) loss of 60.39%. These losses in few other states such as J&K and most of the North-Eastern states are not much better.
With about 22% of the generated electrical power getting lost without being of benefit to any section of our society, and/ or without getting paid for, the country is incurring enormous amounts of not only the financial loss (may be in lakhs of Crores), but also witnessing steep degradation of many of our natural resources (land, air, water, minerals etc.) in the process.
Massive additions in the form of conventional kind of power plants and the associated infrastructure such as coal mines, dams, power lines etc. are also escalating the GHG emissions, while minimising the carbon sequestration ability of our natural resources.
But the shortages, poor quality of supply, un-reliable supply, ever increasing costs etc. have not come down by any appreciable extent. However, the concerned authorities are continuing to ignore not only these harsh realities in our power sector, but also are indifferent to many of the developments from across the globe in better management of the power sector.
A number of media reports should unequivocally establish that our authorities may be doing not only a great dis-service to the 1.4 Billion people in our country by remaining ignorant/indifferent to better management policies/ practices, but also by refusing to adopt effectively the fast developing RE and related technologies such as roof-top SPV systems and energy storage batteries.
Many credible studies from around the world, including a few from our own domestic bodies, have been highlighting the techno-economically attractive and environmentally benign options to satisfactorily meet the legitimate demand for electricity in the country without exacerbating the GHG emission status of the country. Unfortunately, and at great cost to our people, none of these studies/ recommendations/ best practices seem to be under active consideration of our authorities.
As per the estimation of the Bureau of Energy Efficiency, at the prevailing cost of additional energy generation, it costs a unit of energy about one fourth of the cost to save than to produce it with new capacity.
Nagaland reported the highest aggregate AT&C loss of 60.39%. Losses in J&K and most of the North-Eastern states are not much better
The National Electricity Policy of 2005 had stated:
It would have to be clearly recognized that the Power Sector will remain unviable until T&D losses are brought down significantly and rapidly. A large number of States have been reporting losses of over 40% in recent years. By any standards, these are unsustainable and imply a steady decline of power sector operations. Continuation of the present level of losses would not only pose a threat to the power sector operations but also jeopardize the growth prospects of the economy as a whole. No reforms can succeed in the midst of such large pilferages on a continuing basis.”
Such a scenario of 2005 at the national level has not undergone appreciable improvements even today; can be seen as reflecting similar inefficiencies and unaccountability in all other major economic sectors in the country; and can be easily associated with multiple scarcity problems in the country, while accentuating the Climate Change threats for the country.
It will not be an exaggeration to state that an effective implementation of various efficiency improvement measures such as demand side management, energy conservation, small scale distributed RE sources (such as roof-top SPV systems) etc. can lead to a net demand reduction on the integrated grid by as much as 30-40%. The concerned authorities should be mandated to explain the reason for the continuation of such losses/ costs/ risks.
There have been reports of credible relevant examples within our own country, such as the report that 2.30 lakh consumers have registered for Gujarat government's solar rooftop scheme in two years; and the study report that wind and solar power are cleaner for energy transitions than other renewables; J&K Budget Proposes 4,000 Solar Pumps and 80 MW Rooftop Solar Installations etc. seem to be largely ignored in the ongoing obsession of the govt. to invoke emergency clause to allow compensation for 32 GW domestic coal based plants.
The societal level consequences such as the credible projections that higher temperatures are very costly to a developing economy (a one degree rise can reduce GDP growth by 2% as per one estimate), are being conveniently ignored by our authorities in order to enable commercial benefits to a few corporate entities.
Our authorities seem to be unduly influenced by unsubstantiated and uni-dimensional projections such as the claims that the cost of India quitting coal is $900 billion, and that nuclear power saves 41 million tonnes of carbon emissions every year.
But they can be seen as steadfastly refusing to objectively consider the calamitous impacts of the business as usual scenario through massive investments in conventional technology power plants and the associated infrastructure.
To continue to do so without an objective and diligent study of the demand/ supply scenario of electricity for our people for the next 30-40 years (in the form of a national energy policy) , will be disastrous for the entire country, especially from the perspective of the impacts of climate change.
Can the people of this country hope that the Union govt., especially the Power Ministry and the NITI Aayog, will provide the much needed focus on these associated issues urgently?

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