More than ten percent of the world’s population has found itself without electricity, after three of India’s power grids failed. Blackouts have now plagued India for two consecutive days, leaving half the country without power.
The string of power shortages began on Monday, when India's northern and eastern power grids collapsed for several hours. Electricians restored the grids after a few hours, but the region’s electric infrastructure was still overloaded. On Tuesday the northern and eastern grids went offline again, followed by the northeastern grid – leaving half of the country's 1.2 billion people without power.
The Powergrid Corporation of India announced that it was working to put the country's grids back into operation, and by approximately 8 pm New Delhi time, managed to restore power the northeast of the country as well the most affluent areas of Delhi.
The failure is the worst in a decade, with outages reported as far to the east as the Assam state on the Chinese border, to the Himalayas in the north, and to the western deserts of Rajasthan that border Pakistan.
The additional load on India’s electric network was reportedly caused by a low-intensity monsoon that lowered hydroelectric generation, creating a power deficit. The monsoon also kept temperatures higher than usual, increasing the country’s use of air conditioners.
Power outages hit more than 19 states according to local officials, including Delhi, Haryana, Punjab, J&K, Bihar, West Bengal, Orissa, Jharkhand, Uttar Pradesh, Himachal, Uttarakhand and Rajasthan.
In New Delhi, India’s capital, loss of power to traffic lights caused havoc on the streets. The shutdown of the city’s subway system, responsible for the daily transportation of some 1.8 million passengers, further snarled pedestrian and roadway traffic.
Some 100 megawatts of emergency power are currently being pumped into priority areas around New Delhi, such as hospitals and traffic lights. Power is also being diverted into the subway to help stranded passengers reach the nearest station. Subway service has been partially restored.
In Calcutta, lights were out at major hospitals around the city. At least 300 trains have also been affected by the outage in the country’s northern regions.
Over 250 coal miners were trapped in mines in the state of West Bengal as a result of the outages. All of them have been rescued after spending few hours underground, officials say.
Power Minister Sushil Kumar Shinde issued a statement saying that a three-member committee would be charged with determining the causes of the mass blackouts. He did not address claims that the outages may have been triggered by some states drawing more than their share of energy.
India’s electrical grid is lagging behind the country’s rapid economic growth, complicating the government’s plans to industrialize the country. The power shortages disrupt both businesses and small farmers, who are forced to resort to electric pumps to draw well water to irrigate crops.
New Delhi has recently allocated $1 trillion for the construction of infrastructure over the next five years.