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Why the state and central government are now getting on my nerves more than ever before

posted 4 Jun 2010, 12:58 by Yusuf Turab   [ updated 23 Mar 2012, 13:00 ]
Its 2 p.m and its hot as hell! I have already spent the last two hours without any power and my UPS is on its last few drops before it becomes yet another victim of our government's incapability to supply us with adequate power. We have had an average of 8 hours of load shedding everyday for the last four months! I am bang in the middle of Coimbatore city and I hear that others have it much worse. Coimbatore is no longer the poor man's Ooty like it used to be 15 years ago. So yes, any sort power outage does make life very difficult leave alone spending eight hours a day without any power. So what's all the fuss about? there is a power crisis not just in Tamil Nadu but the entire country is suffering. Well, that is what the fuss is. Clearly, these are desperate times. I wish the government realised "Desperate times call for desperate measures".

Before you start guessing what I am getting at, No, I am not advocating burning more coal or building power plants in a hurry to cater to the increased demand. In fact the lesser we build the better it is for all of us. Only minor policy changes can address most of our power related problems. Here's the story. Just for the sake of it I am going to call this story "Finding Sense in Common Sense":

Lets take the Tamil Nadu Electricity Board as an example. TNEB charges a varying tariff which means that the more electricity you use, the more you have to pay per KWH or 1 unit of electricity. For the sake of this blog, lets assume you use 1000 units at your home, say in a month. This will cost you Rs 3690 and after subtracting the subsidy which is Rs 1350 (I know! ridiculous) the net tariff comes down to Rs 2340. That is 2 rupees and 35 paise per unit of electricity. With a domestic tariff as low as this why should I not operate my air conditioner 16 hours a day?(I did not say 24 because there is no power for 8 hours anyway). Why should I not keep all my appliances on standby when not in use? Why should I go through the pain of educating my 7 year old nephew the importance of energy conservation?

The only answer to these questions is "because it is the right thing to do". Well, I don't expect you to buy that.

Why do we need a subsidy when we cannot even generate enough electricity to cater to even our most basic needs? Or why can't the government simply double the tariff to Rs 5/unit or even more during the peak consumption hours (say about six hours a day)? Or if that is an administrative hassle then why not a blanket increase in all power tariff? Would this not be the most practical way of conveying to the people that there is a problem and we are doing our best to address it in the short term. So you can carry on operating your air conditioners for as long as you want and carry on wasting as much electricity as you want, but you are going to have to pay for it.

Money talks and it is a no brainer to assume that consumption during peak hours will drop sharply. It might even drop to the levels that we need not resort to any load shedding at all. This will also bring in additional revenue to the department which can be used to fund future renewable energy projects. More importantly, this will also be the best way to educate people on the importance of using energy more efficiently. This will get people to think about energy, talk about energy and  they will start finding ways to save energy. People will start employing energy auditors to survey their homes, they will invest in retro-fitting their homes to ensure maximum efficiency, they will only buy the most energy efficient appliances and actually care to use them more smartly, they will start replacing their incandescent lights with LEDs, they will plug every gap that allows conditioned air to escape, they will install the best ventilation systems, they will start creating roof gardens, they will get their roofs insulated, they will get their windows double glazed, they will start investing in renewable energy, they will insist on only investing in green buildings, the possibilities are endless.

Even if only half the above statements come true this will still create thousands of Green Collar jobs. Sustainability will not just be a word that green consultants use to show-off their vocabulary, it will actually be a sector in business. Our architects will start designing smarter and greener homes. Consultants like Y T Enterprises will research more and more ways to offer energy savings to its customers. Again the possibilities are endless.

The Arguments

Will this not increase the price of goods and commodities?

No. There is no need to make any changes to the tariff structure of commercial establishments and who says the above recommendations need to be permanent. It only needs to be a desperate measure. The TNEBs commercial tariff work out to Rs 6/unit for 1000 units consumed which seems appropriate considering the current circumstances. Being an owner of a commercial establishment myself, I can say that I would prefer paying a little more than to run my diesel generator which inflates my cost of energy to Rs 12 / unit (these are my own calculations and can vary for different machines). If you factor in the cost of the generator, the carbon emissions caused, the potential health problems that can be caused by the burning of diesel and the subsequent loss of productivity the cost can be unjustifiable for a business.

What if this causes electoral losses in the next elections?
If the current scenario continues the leadership is going to change hands in any case. An immediate solution even if unpopular can reverse fortunes in the long run. And there is no point in subsidising power when there is no power to supply anyway.

What about the poor people?
That calls for another story. Just for the sake of it I am going to call this story "Looking at the glass half empty":
Lets flash forward ten years and lets hypothetically assume that India's economy has grown to slightly more advanced levels and the government has somehow managed to provide access to electricity to every single citizen of the country. In spite of this there are still 300 million poor people in the country because just as in the past the rich and the middle class have reaped all the benefits of economic growth. There is still acute power shortage because of increasing demand.

Now lets ask all those 300 million poor people what would they like. Would they prefer 8 hour power cuts or would they rather prefer paying double the tariff for 6 hours. Again, it is a no brainer that 299.99 million people would say they would prefer paying the premium and use electricity as conservatively as possible.

Lets hope common sense prevails. Only a sustainable present will create a better future. Green is here to stay and the future looks very green to us. The air feels clean and the grass looks green and Coimbatore is Ooty again. Only this time it is not the Poor Man's Ooty because we will all be rich, won't we?

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Article by: Yusuf Turab