India’s countrywide lockdown imposed since midnight Wednesday (25th March 2020) to curb and trace the domestic spread of the novel coronavirus has resulted in a sharp decline in the overall consumption of electricity in the country. Except for three states, all other regions have logged a fall in demand as shops, offices, industries and other public places remain closed till April 14th. 

On March 25th, the electricity demand fell to 2.78 billion units, nearly 20% below the average of 3.45 billion units per day in the first three weeks of March. Consumption increased slightly in Bihar (experts suggest due to warming temperatures) and in the mineral-rich states of Jharkhand and Odisha where mining, an essential service, continues through the lockdown. 

In auto-manufacturing states Maharashtra and Tamil Nadu, power use fell over 26% while Uttarakhand and Himachal Pradesh saw a fall of 40%. Industry rich Gujarat experienced a fall of 43% compared to the average of the first three weeks of March. 

Power consumption has been regarded as a key marker of economic growth in a country. In November 2019, India’s electricity consumption amounted to 1,164 TWh, the third highest in the world, behind China and the United States whose consumption is 5,537 TWh and 3,738 TWh respectively. India’s high electricity consumption is attributable to growing industries across the country.

Data released by state-run POSCO, however, shows a 26% decline in India’s energy consumption from 3,586 Gigawatt Hour (GWh) on March 18th to 2,652 GWh on March 26th. The global economic slowdown owing to the coronavirus outbreak will lead to a world-wide fall in electricity consumption. This drop, indicative of the global fall in economic productivity, which, as the IMF declared on Saturday, is leading the world into a global recession. 

There have been growing concerns about the economic impact of the 21-day lockdown in the country. This impacts the lower-income group and daily wage employees most significantly, many of whom may now find themselves unable to pay for electricity they consume. Keeping this in mind, the power ministry on Saturday said that state-owned firms will supply electricity to distribution companies (DISCOMS) to ensure continuity in supplies. 

In addition, the central electricity regulator will allow distribution companies three months to make payments due to electricity generators. The security deposit DISCOMs pay generators has also been halved. This would considerably ease the burden on DISCOMs whose credit to electricity generators has increased dramatically to Rs. 759.30 billion ($10.1 billion). 

Despite the fall in electricity demand, experts do not predict a problem in power grids suggesting that India will not encounter large-scale blackouts due to the potential threat of supply chain related problems. The electricity surplus could also mean that summer months may be passed in comfort. 

This blog is authored by Aarushi Aggarwal.

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