How Can We Make Power Sustainable?

In todays Sabha, we decided to have a discussion on the other two challenge tracks for the upcoming edition of the Design Public Conclave, to be held in November this year. One of these is Post-Grid Power.

Power demand in India has been growing at a very rapid rate over the last decade leading to a huge gap in its demand and supply. Given current trends in population growth accompanied by processes like industrialisation, urbanisation, and modernisation, electricity consumption is expected to increase substantially in the coming decades as well. The situation in rural areas is particularly grim since 56% of rural households still lack access to electricity (as per National Electricity Policy). In India, at least 70 million to 75 million households in rural areas lack access to grid-based electricity, and the villages that are connected to the grid suffer frequent power outages. In addition, the majority of power in India is generated from fossil fuels, which is both unsustainable and environmentally harmful. As a result, there exists the challenge of access as well as impact of power.

Through this challenge track, we aim to look deeper at sustainable, nano solutions to power generation, as well as look at new domestic appliances that do not require the same threshold of power. This challenge track will examine the problem from different perspectives and seek to develop new models of mini-grids and community-generated power, tackle the redesign of the existing grid, and examine ways of harnessing forms of sustainable energy.

We were trying to explore various sustainable alternatives and initiatives that are geared in this direction. Initiatives like solar power (as could be seen in the remote villages of Assam and Ahmedabad), biomass gasification by Husk Power Systems, mini-grids, and energy efficient appliances are some of the examples of sustainable generation of power that we have come across and discussed in greater detail in the sabha.

In addition, we discussed various crucial aspects of power distribution and power transmission that pose some of the biggest challenges in our country. Transmission and Distribution (T&D) losses have been very high for the Indian electricity sector. When we talk about T&D losses, it also includes the theft of electricity since it is one of the major constituents of T&D losses. It is estimated that more than 30% of power produced in the country is lost to theft and inefficiency in the state distribution networks. This was one of the reasons for the recent collapse of northern, eastern, and north-eastern grids. Indeed, distribution is the weakest link in India’s power story, with a T&D loss figure that stood at 25.47% in 2008-09 (as per CEA Report). However several measures have been taken to detect and control power theft, like pre-paid power meters, but a sincere effort is missing since states continue to lag, with several still reporting double-digit loss rates. In an over-populated country like India, how can we improve the transmission and distribution of power? How difficult is it to detect the most conspicuous hooked wires dangling from distribution lines across India? Your thoughts are welcome!

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