Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Massive Blackouts Throw Half of India Into Darkness

Yesterday, a massive blackout sent more than 300 million people into darkness as portions of the Indian power grid collapsed under the strain of trying to keep up with demand. Power was restored, but only briefly as a second much larger blackout has now put more than half the country into darkness.

The same power lines are involved:

600 million are without power in the world's largest blackout.
Half of India's 1.2 billion people were without power Tuesday as the grids covering 19 states broke down, the second major blackout in as many days.

Stretching from Assam, near China, to the Himalayas and the deserts of Rajasthan, the power cut was the worst to hit India in more than a decade. The power loss includes grid failures in northern, eastern and northeastern India.

Trains were stranded in Kolkata and New Delhi and thousands of people poured out of the sweltering capital's modern metro system when it ground to a halt at lunchtime. Office buildings switched to diesel generators and traffic jammed the roads.
The blackout also shut down nuclear power plants because safety systems require power to operate, further reducing available power.

To put this in perspective, about 10 million customers were without power in the major Northeast Blackout of 2005. India's blackout affects nearly twice the population of the entire United States.

How did India arrive at this point? It starts with a massive growth spurt putting more demands on the existing power grid and an infrastructure that can't keep up with that growth. Making matters worse is a monsoon season that has been unseasonably dry and warm, putting even more strain on demand.

This may be the tip of the proverbial iceberg as India struggles to grow its economy but is hobbled by an infrastructure that is ill equipped to deal with surging demand.

It also raises questions on how the Indian power grid is set up so that so much of the country could be plunged into darkness. It would appear that failsafes and/or utility procedures didn't work as they should have.

It was a failure of various interconnects that led to a cascade failure that brought down the power grid in the Northeast in 2005 following several transmission power lines being disrupted by fallen trees. Procedures were modified to reduce the chances of a future failure of that type.

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