Ending India's Massive Power Grid Outages

Darshan Goswami | Nov 01, 2012

On July 30th and 31st the world's largest blackout -- The Great Indian Outage -- stretching from New Delhi to Kolkata occurred. This blackout caused by northern power grid failure had put nearly 700 million people -- twice the population of the U.S. without electricity. A grid failure of this magnitude has thrown light on the massive demand for power in a country and its struggle to generate much-needed power supply.

India aims to expand its power-generation capacity by 44% over the next five years. In June, the country's power generation fell short by 5.8% against a peak-hour demand for 128 gigawatts, according to government data. India is divided into five regional grids, which are all interconnected, except for the southern grid. All the grids are being run by Power Grid, which operates more than about 100,000 kilometers of electricity transmission lines.

Serious concerns have been once again raised about the country's growing infrastructure and the disability to meet its energy needs. Government officials have concluded "The grid failed because of the overloading of power," and contending that "many states" try to take more power than they were allotted from the grid.

The country's lack of energy security is a major constraint to its capacity to generate power. The slow pace of tariff reforms is hindering infrastructure investment at the state level in most parts of the country. The centralized model of power generation, transmission and distribution is growing more and more costly to maintain at current levels to meet the growing energy needs. The blackout and shortage of power are hampering India's economic growth and its capacity for growth.

So what can the world's second biggest democracy do to help eliminate such wide-sweeping outages in the future? Government should make an assessment of how best to address the power needs to meet the future growth and prevent such massive power failures. India's power blackout is an opportunity for developing sustainable energy. India urgently needs to develop and deploy large scale renewable energy to end its power grid outages. I have addressed these concerns in my presentation "Renewable Energy Solutions For India - A Strategic Development Plan" and in the following published papers: "How Concentrated Solar Power Can Meet India's Future Power Needs," "Solar Farming Potential in India," "How To Empower India With Big Solar Energy Plans," and "Full version: India's solar sunrise -- Renewable Energy Focus."

For economic as well as environmental reasons India need to shift to non-polluting renewable sources of energy. Renewable energy is the most attractive investment because it will provide long-term economic growth for India. Decentralized off-grid renewable distributed generation sources like solar, wind, hydro, biomass, biogas, geothermal, hydrogen energy and fuel cells are the answers. These sources have the advantage of permitting and empowering people at the grassroots level and offer less need for distribution and transmission with little to no emissions. India should consider developing targets for electrification that include renewable off-grid options and/or renewable powered mini-grids. This will take the substantial electrical load off the existing power grid and also reduce the need for installing additional transmission and distribution systems.

Deployment of large-scale solar and wind projects are needed to begin a smooth transition off of fossil fuels, and nuclear power that is harming both communities and the environment. India can use renewable energy for meeting all future energy needs because it is sustainable, locally available free of charge, eco-friendly and eliminates global warming.

How Solar Energy Can Work for India

Solar is the prime free source of inexhaustible energy available to all of us in this universe. India is one of the Sun's most favored nations, blessed with about 5000 TWh of solar insolation every year. Even if a tenth of this potential was utilized, it could mark the end of India's power problems - using the country's deserts and farm land. India should tap this vast resource to satisfy its growing energy demand - and time is of the essence. India could lead the world by embracing the power of the sun, if smart business models and favorable policies are developed and implemented nationwide as quickly as possible.

Solar Energy has the potential to re-energize India's economy by creating millions of new jobs, achieve energy independence, reduce the trade deficit and propel India forward as a "Green Nation." In short, solar offers too many benefits for India to ignore or delay its development.

India imports oil, coal, and natural gas and millions of rupees are spent on it but enormous renewable resources of solar and wind energy goes to waste because it remains unused.

India's present generation capacity is about 186,000 MW. India could potentially increase grid-connected solar power generation capacity to of over 200,000 MW by the year 2030, if adequate resources and favorable policies can be developed. In addition, the wind energy is a viable energy source in India and has a potential to produce over 100,000 MW by 2030. All new energy generation in India could be renewable and all pre-existing energy production could be converted to 100% renewable energy by 2050 while maintaining a reliable power supply, if all available renewable energy sources like solar, wind, hydro, biomass and biogas are properly developed and utilized.

The Government of India is taking many measurable steps toward improving infrastructure and power reliability, including the development of renewable energy from solar and wind. But clearly more needs to be done, and fast. One step in the right direction has been the establishing of the Jawaharlal Nehru National Solar Mission (JNNSM), which was launched in late 2009. However, the present JNNSM target of producing 10% of its energy - 20 GW by 2022 - is inadequate. JNNSM needs to take bold steps with the help of central and state Governments to play a bigger role in realizing India's solar energy potential.

India needs a plan with the same spirit, boldness and the imagination of the Apollo program that put astronauts on the moon. It's just like the case of personal computers, which were very expensive to begin with, but with mass production, the cost has come down dramatically. The technology is well established and available today for solar and wind energy. All that is needed now to make this concept a reality is political commitment and appropriate investments and funding to harness the solar and wind energy resource to reduce the India's dependence on fossil fuels.

One step toward achieving this goal would be to start a nationwide solar initiative to facilitating growth in large scale deployment of 100 million solar roofs and large utility-scale generation installations within the next 20 years. India can become a major player and international leader in the solar energy for years to come. Now is the time for the country to make the shift towards more sustainable renewable energy power sources.

Here are 10 Strategies that India can Implement, Beginning Today

First, aggressively expand large-scale deployment of both centralized and distributed renewable energy including solar, wind, hydro, biomass, and geothermal to ease the strain on the present transmission and distribution system and reach more off-grid populations. Facilitate growth in large scale deployment by installing 100 million solar roofs and large utility-scale solar generation of both centralized and distributed energy within the next 20 years.

Second, enact a National Renewable Energy Standard/Policy of 20% by 2020 - to create demand, new industries and innovation, green jobs, etc.

Third, develop favorable government policies to ease the permitting process and to provide start-up capital to promote the exponential growth of renewable energy. Create and fund a national smart infrastructure bank for renewable energy.

Fourth, accelerate local demand for renewable energy by providing preferential Feed-in-Tariffs (FIT) and incentives (e.g., accelerated depreciation; tax holiday; renewable energy fund; initiatives for international partnerships/collaboration incentives for new technologies; facilitate human resource development for solar revolution; zero import duty on capital equipment, raw materials and excise duty exemption; and provide low interest rate loans).

Fifth, phase out all energy subsidiaries. Force petroleum products to compete with other fuels, like biomass, biogas, etc.

Sixth, accelerate the development and implementation of cost-effective energy efficiency standards to reduce long term demand for energy. Engage states, industrial companies, utility companies, and other stakeholders to accelerate this investment.

Seventh, initiate a move to electrify automotive transportation or develop Electric Vehicle (EV) -- plug-in hybrids such as the Nissan Leaf or Chevy Volt, etc. Develop and implement time-of-day pricing to encourage charging of cars at night. Adopt nationwide charging electric car from solar panels on your roof and solar-powered Electric Vehicle charging stations around the country. Thousands of these solar-powered recharging stations can be sprouted up across India, just like the present public call office (PCO) giving birth to the "Green Revolution." These recharging connections can be deployed at highly concentrated areas including shopping malls, motels, restaurants, and public places where cars might be parked long enough to get a jolt of needed power for electric vehicles.

Eighth, aggressively invest in a smart, two-way grid and micro-grid. Invest in smart meters; reliable networks that can accommodate the two-way flow of electrons, and resilient networks that do not result in cascading blackouts will be in a better position to accommodate the advanced generation technologies of the future.

Ninth, develop large scale solar manufacturing in India (make India as a global solar manufacturing hub). Promote and establish utility scale solar generation parks and farms. Also, establish R&D facilities at academic, research institutions, industry, Government and civil society to guide technology development.

Tenth, works towards a Hydrogen (H2) Economy development plan (H2 as the fuel of the future). H2 can also be fed into a fuel cell, a battery-like device that generates heat and electricity. Develop fuel cell vehicles. Produce hydrogen using renewable energy with solar and wind power. If done successfully, hydrogen and electricity will eventually become society's primary energy carriers in the twenty-first century.

Benefits of Renewable Energy

  1. Create millions of new good paying jobs

  2. Renewable energy is environmentally friendly

  3. Zero emissions while generating electricity or heat

  4. Boost the rural economy by providing much needed energy for basic needs at affordable prices

  5. Avoid the high costs new transmission capacity

  6. Avoid distribution losses

  7. Avoid recurring fuel cost

  8. Enable rural village co-operatives to supply their own power

  9. Renewable Energy bring gains for Indian economy by way of Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) projects


Solar energy represents a bright spot on India's economic future. If India makes a massive switch from coal, oil, natural gas and nuclear power plants to solar energy, it is possible that 70% of India's electricity and 35% of its total energy could be solar-powered by 2030. Excess daytime energy can be stored in various forms such as molten or liquid salt (a mixture of sodium nitrate and potassium nitrate), compressed air, pumped hydro, hydrogen, battery storage, etc., which would be used as an energy source during nighttime hours.

Solar Energy will be competitive with coal as improved and efficient Photovoltaic (PV), Concentrated Solar Power (CSP), and Concentrated Photovoltaic (CPV), enter the market. I predict that solar farming advancements and growth would empower India's rural economies. To take advantage of low cost renewable solar energy, companies will move their operations from urban areas to rural areas due to cheaper land and labor within the solar belt.

I personally think there are no technological or economic barriers to supplying almost 100% of India's energy demand through the use of renewable energy from solar, wind, hydro and biogas by 2050. It's time to recognize that our energy must ultimately come from renewable resources, and we must accelerate the deployment of renewable energy.

India can ramp up its effort to develop and implement large utility-scale solar energy farms to meet India's economic development goals. Solar energy will create energy independence and bring potentially enormous environmental benefits. Both issues have a direct influence on national security and the health of the Indian economy. India needs a radical transformation of its energy system to the use of renewable energy, especially solar to "End Massive Power Grid Outages."

By using renewable resources India can realize its full economic potential and achieve its key social, political, and environmental objectives. The Indian Government should develop favorable government policies to ease the permitting process and to provide start-up capital to promote the exponential growth of Solar Energy to make India's bright future. The favorable renewable energy policy could create economic stimulus of at least $1 trillion and perhaps much more if all indirect economic (ripple) effects are included. "India is the Saudi Arabia of renewable energy sources and, if properly utilized, India can realize its place in the world as a great power," said Jeremy Rifkin, an economist and activist, in New Delhi in January 2012, "but political will is required for the eventual shift from fossil fuels to renewable energy."

All that is required is the political will for the eventual shift from fossil fuels to renewable energy. India could potentially increase grid-connected solar power generation capacity to over 200,000 MW by 2030, if adequate resources and favorable policies can be developed.

Solar Energy is a game-changer for India: It has the potential to re-energize India's economy by creating millions of new jobs, achieve energy independence, reduce the trade deficit and propel India forward as a "Green Nation." Solar energy offers too many benefits for India to ignore or delay its development.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the writer and are not intended to represent the views or policies of the United States Department of Energy. The article was not prepared as part of the writer's official duties at the United States Department of Energy.

Related Topics


Agree completely, though deployment of capital must be done very carefully given the pace of development in PV technology. Indian government should simply purchase an unlimited license to use this technology within India, plus agreed 5% royalty for all exports outside India,

First all-carbon solar cell

New technology, three layers of carbon only material making up the printable solar cell (nanotube base conductor layer, mixture of nanotubes and buckyballs for the active layer, and graphene top conductor). It`s still only about 1% efficient and works in infrared, but those problems should be easily overcome, especially if a large nation really put in the effort.

Outcome is efficient PV coatings which can be effectively printed onto any substrate. It`s a risk, but worthy of it.

Sorry about link (again!) Just started using Chrome, works a bit different.

First all-carbon solar cell

India has tremendous potential to develop new electric power technologies including viable solar-electric conversion, that are mentioned in the article. There would be benefit for India to allow for the operation of independent micro-grids that include highly-localized, small-site, decentralized and distributed power generation. India may have an excess of government involvement in the power generation sector. In the future, India would benefit from locations where independent power generation prevails.

In the rural areas, many homes now use solar-rechargeable batteries that operate LED lighting inside homes . . . the AA-series batteries may last a year or more in each home. Some homes may even recharge an automotive-type battery that may last for several years, stories power to illuminate low-cost LED home lighting.

Perhaps the Indian government needs to get out of the way of Indian entrepreneurs who may be able to solve India's future power needs on a very highly localized level.

Another cheap and readily dispatchable approach is using Demand Response. I'm surprised that this was not mentioned in the article nor in the top ten things to do list.

It is probably worth to note that the India Smart Grid Forum has developed a roadmap of how India's electric grid problems can be solved and also formulated a priority action plan. What India really needs is a program much like the US Dept of Energy's ARPA-E program , which is created solely to accelerate commercial adoption of energy efficiency and sustainable technologies for the supply and demand sides.

This is a great presentation to look at what government and stakeholders are interested in.

Article should have been titled Indian Power Monopoly [run by Power Grid] contrives blackouts to maximize their rate of return...consumer energy prices soar....

In June, the country's power generation fell short by 5.8% against a peak-hour demand for 128 gigawatts, according to government data. India is divided into five regional grids, which are all interconnected, except for the southern grid. All the grids are being run by Power Grid, which operates more than about 100,000 kilometers of electricity transmission lines.

Serious concerns have been once again raised about the country's growing infrastructure and the disability to meet its energy needs. Government officials have concluded "The grid failed because of the [monopoly contriving an] overloading of power," and contending that "many states" try to take more power than they were allotted from the grid.

This is all familiar to me here in California; where on June 14, 2000 Enron and and its corporate and state government cronies staged a blackout that killed 10 in the San Francisco bay area...nobody went to jail and 100 billion US was stolen from energy customers; bankrupting the state when it was forced to buy electricity for the state's largest utilities PG&E and SCE.

Renewable power on the utility scale is actually destabilizing to the grids and the monopoly utilities like Enron decided wind power was the way to go in California in the 1990s. Enron came up with Cap and Trade as a scheme to maximize its profits based on wind's destabilizing influence on the power grid raising the cost of electricity to its customers through a GHG reduction credit derivative scheme that prioritized this more expensive [wind] power over conventional sources of electricity.

This article leads me to believe that Darshan Goswami, Project Manager, U.S. Department of Energy; that his plan for Ending India's Massive Power Grid Outages is the same one Enron et al cooked up for California in 2000-1.

The article focusses on more thrust in renewable particularly solar enegy abundantly available. if the economy to grow at estimated 8% p.a, the creation of capacity in generation , transmission & distribution should be at least 50% more in the current Five year plans. However, the development of the industry is mired in issues like land acquistion, environ ment & statutory clearence which an invetser has to literally fight out with the Central & state Govt( since Power is a concurrent subject of state & centre under the Indian constitution), so called NGOs who fight out for delaying aproject ( classic example of the tactics by NGO for not commisioing a power plant in TN , which is under nuclear energy cat.). All these detternt environment frustrates investors & government investmnet is limited due to their social priority in welfare scheme budgets & spending. Only the industry is a Holy Cow for both politicans & beurocrats who continues to ensure status quo, despite National Energy Policy of Power to all by 2012( which is still a dream to many) despite advanced & ECONOMICAL technology availbale for teh sector. Let us all hope that midts of all such uncertainities, wisdom will prevail on the POLICY DECIDERS , which will result in more & more monetisation of investmnet by Investors and All Indians could see the light at teh end of the Tunnel, in the medium term.

I think an Indian subcontinent supergrid should be part of the solution. At one time, I thought Europe would be first to deploy this technology, but they are mired in the same risk averse pattern that occurs in the US. Now it looks like India and China are the best candidates. A supergrid for India would likely take the form of an HVDC multi-terminal loop around the country, probably at 600-800kV. My website (www.elpipes.com) contains insights on how this can be accomplished underground.

In a country with a per capita income that is one twelveth of the United States, I cannot understand how the average consumer can pay for solar energy without significant fiscal support. As much as renewable energy is appealing, solar especially continues to struggle against the cost hurdle vis a vis other options.
India needs dispatchable base load generation to bridge the demand gap. Solar is not sustainable on a stand alone basis and neither is wind. Otherwise the expiration of the DoE cash grant and the possible expiration of the production tax credit in the US shouldn't result in such heart burn.

THere is no proper energy plan on the national level n iNDIA. There are so many conflicting commercial interests here that no plan has ever been worked out.One reason is a very large component of utter corruption at all levels of Administration starting from bottom up.This is the major reason for the underdevelopment of INDIA.

People are weary of the situation in India atleast those who matter for the economy.I forsee massive demonstrations and revolts here in INDIA in the short run In the long run I believe the present system of governance is likely to be changed

There's a fair bit of wishful thinking in your proposal. If India is to depend solely on renewable energy, it is going to need lots of storage, plus wind and solar capacity equal to a multiple of the country's projected installed capacity requirement for fossil and nuclear resources. Even at the most optimistic prices imaginable, this is going to be very expensive. Electric vehicles will push electric demand even higher. Unless hydrogen is produced by some means other than electrolysis, it's also costly and an inefficient way to power anything. Just where will all of the money to do this come from when India needs lots of other infrastructure investment to maintain rapid economic growth and improve living standards?

It might make more sense to direct a sizable share of any incremental investment in electric power infrastructure toward distributed renewables. But India's most pressing need right now is courageous political leadership that can dismantle the remaining vestiges of the "raj" state.

Jack Ellis, Tahoe City, CA

I remember greatly admiring India for recognizing the problem of over population decades ago. Off the top of my head I don't remember the dates or the details of the government programs designed to reduce population growth.

But the voters spoke and enlightenment was overwhelmingly rejected. Today India is hell-bent on becoming the most populous country very soon. Electricity outages will soon rate as quite minor problems for Indians.

I understand that perhaps half of Indians do not have the use of a flush toilet. I understand that many millions daily gather twigs as fuel to cook their food. I understand that something over 300 million Indians (roughly the population of the US or western Europe) never have electric service. While the government talks very green the immediate energy problem in India is mining and transporting and buying more coal. Indians who cannot survive grid power failures have long had their own diesel generators.

India needs far more generating capacity and far fewer people. The most sophisticated grid improvements don't touch the problem.

Absolutely agree Don, talking green when the coutry runs on coal and bits of wood is to put it bluntly not even close to solving the problem. The scale of the problem is far greater than the solution offered. In Ontario billions have been invested to end coal burning for electricity - and there are only 9 million people here. So let's divide 1 billion by 10 million and we get 100 If it cost us 10 billion to get off coal then it will cost 100 x 10 billion = 1 trillion dollars for India to do anything close to that - and India burns a lot more coal than Ontario.

As you say improvements to the grid do not even scratch the surface.

Clean energy production on a massive scale is required and the only energy source with those properties is nuclear. Wind and solar do not even come close. It is like throwing a bucket of water in the Indian Ocean. No impact whatsoever.

As with all these things it is simply a matter of the size of the population. With a population 100 times larger than Ontario - the problem is at least 100 times bigger. Why don't people understand that.


I have many friends with family in India. Most have come to Canada for a better education and standard of living. When I talked about this proposal for micro grids in India it was met with complete derision. How can a poor farmer scratching a living out of dirt even consider buying solar panels to put on the roof to make electricity. They cost more than he makes in 5 years.

And to run any sort of electric motor he now needs to buy an inverter to make alternating current from the solar panels DC current. And then he needs to buy some sort of electricity storage system. That is about 20 years income. That is why they collect sticks to cook with - those are free.


Thank you Malcolm. I thought I might have been ranting all to myself.

The current numbers are even more devastating. In 2012 Indian population is estimated at 1.22 billion. At the demise of the Empire in 1947 the teeming Indian population was 0.350 billion. (I don't know how the populations of current Pakistan and Bangladesh were apportioned.)

I like to put large numbers into some kind of relationship to experience. When I was born the population of the world had not yet ticked over to 2 billion, now over 7 billion. Today India and China have about 2.6 billion.

India's population growth rate is 1.58% which means about 20 million more Indians this year.

Remember when the CO2 emission rates of 1990 were already beyond the point of no return? Well, the amount of coal burned in 2011 was 164% of the 1990 rate. One has to wonder why those in Ontario have sacrificed to reduce their coal usage. Never has more coal been burned.