Yet again the tragedy of the commons, for Indian power generation

by on August 1, 2012 at 2:53 am in Current Affairs, Economics, Political Science | Permalink

Surendra Rao, who was the chairman of the Central Electricity Regulatory Commission in 2001, when the nation’s last major blackout occurred, said that a fairly sophisticated system of circuit breakers should have prevented the failures on Monday and Tuesday. But, he said, the people manning the circuit breakers are bureaucrats beholden to state government officials, who are loath to have the power in their locality shut off — the usual prescription when power surges threaten the national grid.

Here is more, and for the link I thank Fred Smalkin.

skeptic August 1, 2012 at 3:02 am

Note that life proceeded basically as normal since every important industry, hospital etc. have diesel generators in India as backup. The only real big failure was the Delhi Metro, which was down for about an hour.

The fact is that outages of a few hours a day are common in India, we’re used to it. The only unusual thing was that the outage was synchronized across a large area.

Rahul August 1, 2012 at 5:44 am

Interestingly Mumbai is the only exception. In most Indian cities, even the capital, a few hours of power-out a week is taken as a fact of life. Mumbai OTOH typically loses power a few hours every year. Interesting how islands and pockets of quirky efficiency can persist amidst a culture of indifference.

charlie August 1, 2012 at 10:24 am

My grandfather, who has the GM of BEST a long long time ago, explained it as underground routing. I have no idea how they would deal with monsoon season.

Steven August 1, 2012 at 3:05 am

Perhaps each state should be required to hire some other state’s bureaucrats.

Alan August 1, 2012 at 8:37 am

What would Ayn Rand have done?

Zachary August 1, 2012 at 10:20 am

She was actually there – rather – she was in the secluded mountains of Nepal.

RR August 1, 2012 at 11:19 am

Shrugged at last and headed for the fountains ( to cool).

JWatts August 1, 2012 at 12:40 pm

The same exact thing the Indians actually do:
“Note that life proceeded basically as normal since every important industry, hospital etc. have diesel generators in India as backup.”

joshua August 1, 2012 at 9:21 am

How many years ago did India not have 600 million people with electricity to lose?

pritesh August 1, 2012 at 10:59 am

How would one describe the collapse of the world economy in 2008? The tragedy of the invisible hand.

Nyongesa August 1, 2012 at 11:40 am

Did it collapse?, that’s news to me. are a couple of years of low single digit negative growth, or non-growth, a collapse?

BilltheBruinsFan August 2, 2012 at 9:27 am

No, I would call it the tragedy of the government manacle on the invisible hand.

Harold Cockerill August 2, 2012 at 6:08 pm

The increasingly visible foot on our increasingly scrawny necks.

Floccina August 1, 2012 at 11:58 am

government officials, who are loath to have the power in their locality shut off
Which is similar to why our politicians will continue to borrow money as long people will lend to them.

David August 1, 2012 at 5:27 pm

A tragedy of the commons isn’t inevitable. You just need effective rules, adequate monitoring and high enough costs for breaking those rules.

vedran August 2, 2012 at 4:42 am

WW2 also wasn’t inevitable, we just needed couple of right man, at right time, on the right place.
as i heard we didn’t have that :)

as to your statement, is seems we rarely have any of those things as it becomes that those writing the rules, doing the monitoring and deciding on costs are the same guy breaking the rules and creating the harm :)

BilltheBruinsFan August 2, 2012 at 9:29 am

With those things, it wouldn’t be a commons.

freethinker August 2, 2012 at 2:44 am

In India we stupidly think that a group of admittedly highly intelligent men and women called the IAS officers ( Indian Administrative service) can run the whole nation just because they could pass what is considered one the most difficult civil service examinations in the world. They have the power to overrule technocrats and even God because these officers boss over the important spiritual centres of Hinduism . If only this blackout makes our policy makers to realise the lunacy of trying to run a vast nation through a handful of bureaucrats and politicians , the suffering of millions of people was worth the price

pravin August 2, 2012 at 3:09 am

the headlines that 600 million people were without power is mere sensationalism. truth is that out of these 600 million, 400 + million people live with 15-18 hour power cuts 7×365. this time the urban elite (elite in the loosest form of the word) also were hit.that is why the hulabaloo. the majority of the poor ‘celebrate’ multiple earth hours every day. when the green brigade tries to self righteously demand that indians cut down on power consumption,it causes bewilderment rather than inspiration.

BilltheBruinsFan August 2, 2012 at 9:31 am

And often during those hours, sadly, they burn trees and vegetation for cooking.

freethinker August 2, 2012 at 4:37 am

The dailies in India point fingers at the electricity boards of two states for the blackout. Typical of India, no heads will roll. The officials bossing over the electricity departments will continue to enjoy their salaries, promotions, and pensions after retirement. Any economic theory which sheds light on this kind of organizational set up?

Ronald Brak August 2, 2012 at 5:43 am

I think the reduction in the cost of point of use solar PV will turn out to be a huge boon for the Indian economy. For one thing, businesses will no longer have to pay through the nose for diesel to run their generators and the fact that solar is load following in India will make their grid more stable.

freethinker August 2, 2012 at 11:16 am

Ronald Brak: at present in India the initial outlay on solar pack even for a modest size home is quite high despite substantial fall in the cost of solar panels over the last two years. And the state does nothing to provide incentive to adopt solar power. The electricity tariffs are subsidized, in one south Indian state farmers even get free electricity! Diesel.too is subsidized. Loans are available for state-government employees for all kinds of social events but not for buying a solar pack. Moreover, there is the problem of wrong priorities: I know affluent people who generously donate massive sums to temples every year but would not like to spend a small percentage of that on solar power either in their homes or workplaces

Ronald Brak August 2, 2012 at 7:51 pm

Here in Australia electricity from small scale diesel generators costs about $4 a kilowatt-hour. Even if it’s half that amount in India it can’t compete with unsubsidised point of use solar which is now about 16 cents a kilowatt-hour here. It won’t take too many days of having to rely on diesel to make solar look like a good idea. While electricity subsidies will slow the uptake of point of use solar in India, the high cost of generating electricity means that sunny Gujarat is finding grid connected solar PV to be competitive with fossil fuels. So while solar does have problems in India, I think what’s happening now is the start of a boom.

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Darin Johnson August 2, 2012 at 5:35 pm

This sort of thing would not happen if prices were allowed to rise when the quantity demanded was high. The unspoken assumptions of electric markets (e.g., that prices must be constant and reflect the average cost of delivery) are maddening.

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