Spotlight: India Outages Reveal Need for Energy Resilience Investments

India Bundled Wind

India’s power grid has crashed twice since Monday affecting 680 million people at its highest outage. Shown above are Indian workers at a diesel-powered rock crusher near one of the country’s wind turbine projects. (Photo courtesy Land Rover Our Planet, Creative Commons)

In India, 680 million people were left without power July 31 – the second time in two days – in the country’s and world’s largest and most dramatic power outage in modern history. The July 30 outage had 320 million without power. The down power grids have affected more than half of the country’s population. 

The problem arises from a combination of higher temperatures that cause greater use of electricity to cool homes and businesses and the lack of rainfall during the monsoon season, which lessens the availability of hydroelectric power generation. India’s main power generator, coal, hasn’t been able to keep up with the demand.

“If erratic monsoons increase – and there are signs that is happening – it will challenge the whole basis of the Indian energy system,” said Dr. Ian Noble, GAIN Chief Scientist.  “Additionally, the confidence of smaller scale businesses that are setting up in India in high-tech, skills-oriented ventures will be affected.”

The energy crisis has caused not only people to be without power in their homes during mid-summer, but also for transportation to shut down and some businesses to close, which is predicted to cost in the hundreds of billions in lost revenue.

In India, energy sensitivity or the amount of imported power and hydroelectricity, has been a challenge. Indian residents are accustomed to frequent blackouts supported by generators, but not yet at this scale of loss.

View India’s profile in the GAIN Index HERE. The Global Adaptation Institute (GAIN) designed the GAIN Index as a navigation tool to help guide private and public sector investment in adaptation to global challenges such as energy sensitivity, population growth and urbanization. Read the latest news in adaptation at GAIN.org

Energy Sensitivity & Ready for Resilience

This current (and likely ongoing) crisis reflects the “sensitivity” of India’s energy infrastructure, upon which much of its development and poverty reduction currently depend. Though the precise cause of the blackouts is being investigated, several unique elements of India’s energy nexus have likely converged to create this historic event and will continue to pose severe challenges going forward. 

An unusually weak monsoon season has lowered the productivity of India’s hydroelectricity generation, representing up to 26 percent of India’s total power generation according to the World Bank. Also, a high reliance on energy imports, primarily coal and oil, coupled with a steadily growing population and economy, decreases energy security and complicates energy policy making. 

Both of these energy conditions are reflected in India’s GAIN Index score, which shows a country’s vulnerability to global challenges arising from the impacts of climate change, population growth and other global forces, as well as its ability to invest in adaptation solutions. 

However, many other countries must confront similar vulnerabilities, but they also have more capacity to continue providing energy access to their people and businesses. Indeed, a lack of investment and inefficient energy policies, may turn out to be the biggest culprit. Infrastructure problems, energy subsidies that weaken the ability of state-run power companies to invest and basic energy losses and waste are problems increasingly highlighted by energy experts and the Indian press. 

Ultimately, increased private investment, competition and innovation on the one hand and decreased corruption and burdensome bureaucracy from the government, on the other, could go some way in alleviating many of India’s looming energy challenges. These measures, too, are considered by the GAIN Index in its “readiness” components. Readiness indicators attempt to portray the ability of a country to invest in crucial sectors, such as energy. India’s readiness has increased throughout the last decade, however, not at the pace needed to enhance the lives and livelihoods of the hundreds of millions of its vulnerable citizens. The country also lags behind other large emerging economies, such as Brazil and South Africa in this regard. 

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