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Why Delhi is so power hungry

Delhi keeps beating its own record for highest electricity consumption as more and more people opt for air-conditioners. Patriot explores the reasons why

Being in Delhi during the summer is like living in an oven, with occasional breaths of cool air when someone opens the door. No wonder, Delhi’s electricity demand in peak summer has always been higher than that of the other metropolitan cities like Mumbai, Kolkata and Chennai.

In fact, according to a report of the Central Electricity Authority (CEA) on Load Generation Balance   for the year 2015-16, Delhi consumed more electricity than the states of Himachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Jammu & Kashmir, Kerala, Bihar and several more — combined.

This week’s figure suggests the same milestone getting registered again, on Tuesday, the power demand broke the previous record that the city had set — of 6,998 MW (megawatt).

The latest figure shows that the current power demand in the city has reached 7,016 MW. While summer is not going to give any relief to the city goers, reports have surfaced that consumption could touch the 7,200 MW mark.

And this is the first time the demand breached the 7,000 MW mark — the highest among all metro cities. For example, Mumbai’s electricity consumption reached up to 3,375 MW in April last year, almost half of what Delhi had consumed.

Delhi’s consumption grew rapidly, with a 42% hike between 2006-07 and 2017-18. Peak demand grew by 64% in 10 years.

Studies show that an electrified household in the city consumed about 260 kiloWatt-hour (kWh) of electricity monthly between 2016 and 2017 — making the city’s households three steps ahead of the national figure of 90 kWh.

So, what makes the city consume electricity in such huge numbers? Why the soaring demand? With less than 3 million people than Mumbai (as per Census 2011), Delhi has continued to set the record every year for touching huge MW figures. What could be the reason?

The Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) has been doing analysis on Delhi’s power-hungry households since a few years. The AAP government’s flagship scheme which gives 50% discount to households consuming upto 400 units monthly was also taken into account in the analysis.

To understand the reasons behind the city’s pole-position in electricity consumption every year, Patriot reached out to Chandra Bhushan, Deputy Director General of CSE. “It is very important to understand 400 units is not a small amount of electricity. If you consume 40 units per day, within that you can easily be able to run air conditioners for a few hours,” says Bhushan.

Other key factors are rising temperature inside homes, more and more use of A/cs without adequate regulation. “There is a parameter called ‘average cooling temperature requirement’. The single most factor which is driving electricity consumption in the city is cooling requirement during summer,” he says.

Bhushan attributes high consumption to the extreme weather conditions in summer when temperatures reach as high as 46 degrees Celsius. “Geographically, the cooling requirement in Delhi is high because the average temperature is high,” says Bhushan.

Design is another key factor in the consumption of electricity in the city. “The insulation in buildings is very poor, even in highrises. There are not enough properly insulated and they require more cooling — though this factor is valid across the country. We are designing buildings which require more and more cooling,” he says.

Delhi’s per capita income is three times the national average, according to a survey report of Delhi government. “A large number of people can afford air-conditioners now. Delhi is one of the wealthiest cities of the country,” says Bhushan.

“So if you put all these factors is together then it is not surprising that Delhi’s electricity consumption is skyrocketing,” he says.

Pointing at the AAP’s electricity scheme, Bhushan says, “Indians are very price sensitive. One thing I’ve learnt all my life in this country: they would not like to spend a penny extra. So logic says that when you’re reducing the electricity price, there is more incentive to consume it.”

He also brings the rebound effect in the conversation. Essentially, people use their energy-

consuming technology/appliance more and more, because of the sheer energy savings.

However, he also confirms that not enough studies have been done to understand the problem to its core. “The rationale is that, yes, more electricity consumption should happen, but we need to understand how the behaviour has changed. A little more study is required,” he says.

He says one cannot deny the fact that homes in Delhi require air-conditioning, and according to him “it is no more a luxury in Delhi in the kind of houses we live in. Cooling is required for your health and well-being.”

Bhushan also points to climate change and the infrastructural problems the houses face. “Even for the poor we’ll have to design buildings in a way that they have about 26-28 degree Celsius indoors or provide them certain amount of cooling.”

So are we left with solutions? “The first thing we have to look is that we have to design our buildings well and therefore if AAP government or any government in Delhi is interested in reducing the electricity demand, that’s the first thing it should do. Incentives are given to green buildings and better insulation and it’s especially important for affordable housing,” he concludes.

The Delhi government’s data shows that 82% of households in Delhi benefitted from the subsidy last year and given the per capita income of the city, it could be gross underestimation of the fact that upper-middle and higher-income households could also benefit from the subsidy — because energy audits are not done.

Studies have earlier shown that space cooling accounts for 40-60% of the peak energy load during summer in Delhi and Mumbai.

This could be one reason why Energy Efficiency Services Limited (EESL) launched its Super-Efficient Air Conditioning programme under the control of Ministry of Power for residential and institutional consumers.

The programme which was launched in February this year in the localities in Delhi serviced by BSES (the electricity provider). It aims to provide consumers air-conditioners that are 40% more efficient than but similarly priced like a three-star A/C available in the market.