STOP PRESS: The latest news on Tuesday, July 31, 2012, is that the power failure and blackout has spread to the point that now 20 of India's states -- and 600 million Indians -- are now in the dark!
The worst blackout to hit India in more than a decade left 350 million people in seven northern states without power for more than eight hours on Monday, July 30, 2012.
That's more people in the dark and without electricty / hyro than the total population of the United States and Canada combined. Imagine ALL of North America in darkness!
The capital Delhi, as well as the states of Punjab, Haryana, Uttar Pradesh, Himachal Pradesh, Rajasthan and Jammu and Kashmir were all affected.
Hundreds of overnight trains were stopped in their tracks after power to northern railway lines was cut, and Delhi's metro system was badly hit. Water supplies in the capital, always patchy, were hit as a knock-on effect. Traffic jams were even worse than usual after most traffic lights failed.
Around 11 am local time, India's minister for power and energy, Sushil Kumar Shinde, claimed 60% of power had been restored to the northern grid.
He then prompted widespread incredulity by claiming that India had one of the best power grids in the world and boasting that when the US faced a similar failure in 2008, they took power from India.
This time, it was neighbouring Bhutan which came to India's rescue, as Delhi's metro drew on hydroelectric power from the country. Services on all six metro lines resumed by 8.45 am after almost three hours of disruption.
Shinde said the power cut was caused by some states taking more than their fair share of electricity. "The reason for the outage was due to some states taking more power than they ought to have, which causes the frequency rate of the grid to go up. The offending states will be severely penalised," he told a press conference in Delhi.
A three-member committee would be formed to probe what had caused the entire Northern grid to fail, he added.
Amid the public anger there was humour, mocking a nation which sees itself as a future super-power but cannot even keep the lights on.
"Spiderman found drunk and unconscious on Delhi pavement. Why? With no power comes no responsibility," said one tweet.
For India's middle classes, the first they knew of the power cut was when they awoke drenched in sweat after their air conditioning units failed. But for the hundreds of millions of Indians who live below the poverty line, regular electricity is a far-off dream.
In 2011, 289 million people – 25% of India's population – had no access to electricity. In rural areas that figure rises to 33%, according to a report from the Indian government in 2011. Estimates from the International Energy Agency suggest that even in 2030, not all Indian homes will have electricity, according to AEA calculations.
India is the world's fifth-largest electricity producer after the US, China, Japan and Russia, but its per capita consumption is among the world's lowest. Last year, Indians used 510 kg of energy each compared with the US, which consumes 7,778 kg of energy per capita. The world average of energy consumption is close to 1818 kg.
Indian politicians are forever coming up with new electricity saving wheezes.
The state of Punjab has just banned air conditioning units in all government offices and from 1 August will cut office hours to 8am to 2 pm with no lunch.
There was outrage in June when the chief minister of Uttar Pradesh, India's most populous state, decreed that all malls were to shut at 7pm in a bid to save power.
India's power supply is so insecure that even a stray moggy can plunge millions into darkness. On Saturday, a cat leapt into a Delhi grid station and was electrocuted, causing a fire that left parts of east Delhi without power for 24 hours.
[Courtesy: The Guardian]
July 30, 2012