On July 30 and 31, the electric power grid in north and eastern India crashed twice, leaving half of the South Asian nation literally in the dark. In what was the largest power outage in world history, 18 states and two territories lost electricity. An estimated 670 million people were affected. Railways, including the Delhi Metro (subway), screeched to a halt. Traffic lights went dark, creating massive traffic jams. Factories and hospitals switched to diesel-powered backup generators, and resourceful Indians turned to other power sources or just endured the sweltering summer night. In eastern India, more than 200 miners were stranded below ground for several hours when elevators stopped functioning. All were later rescued.
The western and southern parts of India were unaffected, and power was about 80 percent restored by late on the 31st. However, the outage caused financial losses to Indian businesses estimated in the hundreds of millions of dollars—and significant embarrassment for Asia’s third-largest economy. India’s government undertook an investigation of what caused the grid’s collapse. The recent outages resulted when parts of the grid were shut down for upgrading, and other circuits became overloaded. The complex network of electric transmission systems requires coordination and discipline on the part of all members.
The underlying cause was obvious enough: the country’s aging electrical infrastructure and shortage of power-generation capacity. Not all Indians enjoy reliable access to electricity, and many are used to regularly scheduled blackouts. Many villages in rural areas have no electricity. But demand is outstripping supply as economic growth makes electricity consumers of an ever-growing share of the country’s 1.2 billion people. Some experts say that massive investment will be needed in India’s power infrastructure to avoid similar power failures in the future.
Image Credit: © AP Photo/S.K.Yadav
Hundreds of Millions without Power in India
Read about the massive electric power outages in India this summer; includes a map showing areas affected.
(Source: BBC News, July 31, 2012)
Power Grid Failure: How to Prevent It from Happening
This report from an Indian business news outlet assesses the causes of the electric grid failure.
(Source: Moneylife.in, August 28, 2012)
India’s Power Network Breaks Down
This article recaps India’s historic power outage, with special focus on the politics of electricity.
(Source: Wall Street Journal, July 31, 2012)
An Electrical Grid Is Pressed to Its Limit
Read how India’s electric power grid works, compared to the grid in North America.
(Source: New York Times, July 31, 2012)
Visualizing The U.S. Electric Grid
Explore this interactive map of the electricity grid of the United States, part of a 2009 NPR series “Power Hungry: Reinventing the U.S. Electric Power Grid”; shows major sectors, both existing and proposed transmission lines, power sources, power plants, and more.
(Source: NPR; accessed August 31, 2012)