ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Power : Phase Difference

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It is not just incongruous that at a time when the prime minister has been offering up the vision of a well-wired India and the harnessing of state-of-the-art science and technology to the country's developmental goals, there should have been a power failure in the northern region serious enough to impair supplies even to the PM's office. Whatever be the detailed analysis of the massive failure, it highlights a major fault in the developmental perspective on technological advance. This is a taste of things to come if the interface between new technologies and the old ethos, practices, attitudes and systems is not well planned and managed. It offers a lesson in the broad philosophy of development whether in creating power infrastructure or expanding biotechnology or introducing state-of-the-art medicare: that technological advance is not merely a matter of hardware but of capacity-building among people, of putting in place workable management systems and of transforming old concepts of efficiency. The power sector offers perhaps the best illustration of all the things that can go wrong when there is a phase difference in the system, a lag between technical efficiency and managerial competence, in whatever guise it comes, poor work ethos or corruption.

While the various authorities are still putting together a comprehensible picture of what went wrong, some facts are clear enough from the first interim report submitted by the Powergrid Corporation of India (PGCIL). In the early hours of Tuesday, January 2, the National Regional Load Despatch Centre (NRLDC) registered low voltage and some tripping in the system; soon the northern grid separated in two parts, tripping two lines. After this the excess generation in the eastern part prompted a sharp frequency rise leading to the collapse of that part of the grid. In consequence, the western part of the grid, plagued by low generation and low frequency, tripped bringing about a total failure. The sequence of the trips and frequency fluctuations was such that the usual remedial measures, such as transfer of power from one part of the grid to another could not take place. Further, there is evidence that states in the grid routinely draw more power than they are entitled to, but if this does not occur at the point of peak demand than it does not affect the grid levels. Peak demand in the northern region is 17,000 MW and generation 15,000 MW. More seriously, it has been reported that one of the stations refused to accede to the requests of the NRLDC to reduce generation. Also, the PGCIL in a later report has claimed that the failure of transformers supplied by the BHEL led to the first tripping and said that it will sue the public sector company.

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