India's massive power blackout: Could smart grids help?


By: SGN Staff

By Doug Peeples

SGN News Editor


Sad to say, India now has the distinction of being the country with the largest power blackout that's ever happened. Roughly 620 million residents (twice the U.S. population) have been affected and the outage has rolled into 22 of the country's 28 states. The blackout has shut down trains (including Delhi's metro system),  stopped water delivery systems, trapped miners underground, shut down air conditioners during intense heat and caused as much inconvenience as you can imagine.


While the specific cause has yet to be identified, the failure of three regional grids that cause the blackout has been generally blamed on state electric boards accused of overdrawing power from the grid to meet heavy demand. Frankly, outages in India are so common they generally don't attract attention. The worn out electricity infrastructure fails routinely, particularly when the country tries to meet burgeoning demand with unreliable power transmission and distribution systems.


But the last two days of India's blackout news have certainly framed the question those of us involved in the smart grid industry have been asking...


Could smart grids help?

Here are some of the answers we've seen among the hundreds of news reports on India's blackout.

·         Eric Niiler, writing in Discovery News, explored the Indian blackout and the storm-related blackouts that affected Maryland, West Virginia and D.C. recently (where many were without power for a week). His article does a good job of portraying what the challenges and payoffs are.


·         Adam Lesser, writing for GigaOM, called the blackout a "wake up call" and issued a brief but telling series of arguments for smart grid technologies and initiatives.


·         A news story in The Hindu notes that the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers Standards Association (IEEE-SA) said it is time to implement smart grid initiatives.


·         Dhamodaran Ramakrishnan, director of Smarter Planet Solutions for IBM India/South Asia, commented in a blog that half of the electricity distributed in India is lost, mostly because of bad infrastructure. In his blog in India Onward, he makes a case for smart grid as the solution for India's power problems and says electric utilities and policy makers have begun taking smart grid technologies seriously. But others have said it will take years for the full impact of smart grids to be felt in the country.


·         Katie Fehrenbacher, also writing in GigaOM, said that while the blackout is a major problem it's also a perfect opportunity for next-generation energy technologies and the companies that provide them.


India is trying but is a long road away from solving its electricity infrastructure problems. It's an unfortunate coincidence that just last month India's Ministry of New and Renewable Energy announced that the country had exceeded its milestone of 1 gigawatt of grid-connected solar power.


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