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Last Updated: Friday, 26 January 2007, 17:17 GMT
Demand sparks India's power play
Karishma Vaswani
By Karishma Vaswani
Business correspondent, BBC News, Mumbai

Russia has agreed to build four nuclear reactors in Southern India as the country tries to feed a voracious demand for power and energy that is outstripping current supplies.

It is estimated that in 15 years time India will need three times as much energy as its using today.

Trupti Yashwant Rao studying by candlelight
Studying in low light is common for many Indian children

Evening comes, and darkness descends on Sangam Village.

The lights are on here for just a few hours a day - that's despite the fact that this village is only a two hour drive from Mumbai, India's financial and entertainment capital - where the lights are on all of the time.

For 13-year-old Trupti Yashwant Rao and her brother, studying by the light of a kerosene lantern is a daily reality.

Her father, a principal at a local school, has taught her this way since she can remember.

The reason for the blackouts is that the state of Maharashtra, where her village lies, is in the midst of a power shortage brought about by the rapacious demand for energy as India's economy expands rapidly.

We have power cuts here already for at least 8 hours a day
Chandrakant Yashwant Rao

'Real burden'

Now, there are reports that Maharashtra could see more power cuts - up to 14 hours a day. Villagers in Sangam are horrified.

"We have power cuts here already for at least 8 hours a day, and it is really difficult," Chandrakant Yashwant Rao, Trupti's father, says as he adjusts the kerosene lamp on his desk.

"No farming work can get done because there's not enough power for irrigation of the land.

"The children here all study by lantern light, making it hard on them too. It's a real burden for us."

Stumbling about in the darkness outside of Chandrakant's home - you are struck by the deep blackness of the night.

There is not a light to be seen for miles around; just small, tiny dots of fire and lanterns in the distance.

It is hard to believe that this is barely off the main highway that takes you back to Mumbai

Chandrakant Yashwant Rao
Regular power cuts make life difficult

But this is a problem that is not isolated to Sangam Village.

A few hundred miles away, in the Maharashtran village of Palshi in the Amravati district, it is reported that farmers have threatened to commit suicide unless they get uninterrupted supplies of power.

They also say it is impossible for them to do any farming without the power to fuel their irrigation.

Struggle

Additional capacity is needed to keep pace with existing consumers of electricity - as well as future consumers
Martin Daniell
Platts

"As with many developing Asian economies, India has the same growth problems when it comes to power," says Martin Daniell of energy analysts Platts.

"Most areas in the country don't have enough electricity - not enough constant supplies of electricity.

"The problem lies in the fact that now these areas are also seeing economic growth.

"Additional capacity is needed to keep pace with existing consumers of electricity - as well as future consumers."

India's power crunch is proving to be problematic not just for its population, but also for its economic growth.

Power plants across the country are struggling to keep up with the pace of demand.

At Reliance Energy outside of Mumbai, power production is already at a peak.

The coal-powered plant supplies the majority of the electricity for Mumbai's homes and factories.

PK Majumdar, vice president, Reliance Energy
We're at peak production point - and it will be very difficult to produce more electricity here if the demand keeps growing
PK Majumdar
Reliance Energy

"Coal is responsible for the creation of two thirds of India's electricity," says plant manager PK Majumdar. "The rest comes from hydroelectricity."

"India has one of the lowest costs of production of electricity in the world - because of large and accessible coal reserves," he adds.

Alternative needed

Unfortunately those coal supplies are running out and demand is rising quickly.

Mumbai alone has seen an annual rise in demand for electricity of between 5% and 10% in the past few years, according to Reliance Energy.

"As the demand for electricity grew, we grew our capacity along with it," says Mr. Majumdar.

"But now we're at peak production point - and it will be very difficult to produce more electricity here if the demand keeps growing.

"We would need an alternative source of power - more power in some other form."

This then is India's challenge: finding an alternative source of energy - and fast.

According to recent reports, India's economy will become the second largest in the world by 2050.

But in order to keep its economic engine growing, it needs to fuel its factories, its machines, its homes and schools with some form of power.

Locating another source of energy is crucial for India's economic development.

Otherwise India's power crunch could turn the lights out on the country's growth.


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