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article imageIndia power outage: Time to consider renewable sources of energy? Special

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By Iram Ramzan     Aug 6, 2012 in World
New Delhi - Considering India's status as an aspiring economic superpower, it came as a shock to many people across the world when hundreds of millions of people were left without electricity in northern and eastern India last week, after a massive power failure.
More than half the country was hit by the power cuts after three grids collapsed - one for a second day, while the southern parts of the country were largely unaffected.
The affected states were Delhi, Uttar Pradesh, Haryana, Punjab, Himachal Pradesh, Jammu and Kashmir, and Uttarakhand and Chandigarh. The country's power minister blamed the crisis on states drawing too much power from the national grid.
As it is a country that still relies on a monsoon for a good result, many states have been on a drought alert as this year had a bad monsoon.
Despite the fact that it is surging ahead at a very fast pace, it is easy to forget that India is still a developing country, and power cuts are the norm for ordinary Indians.
This certainly is the case for Birpal Singh, a 29-year-old entrepreneur from Chandigarh, Punjab.
"Electricity is something we all take for granted," he said. "But here in certain areas, a continuous supply of electricity is still considered a luxury."
Paritosha, an 18-year-old chemistry honors student at Delhi University, missed two days of classes due to the grid collapse, as the metros were completely down for a few hours on each of the first two days, and the backup power (when it arrived) was not enough to keep the trains from stalling intermittently.
She said: " Most people decided it was better to stay out of them than risk being stranded in one."
For those living a more affluent lifestyle, there are generators and power inverters to use as a backup when the power goes out. However, as the majority of the population live in rural areas (27.5% of the population was living below the poverty line in 2004–2005), a generator is not an option. Birpal, rightly, reckons that a blackout in villages can mean an ample opportunity for robberies.
But even in the more 'affluent' areas, not everyone has access to facilities which are a substitute for electricity. In Chandigarh, where Birpal lives, despite boasting a 24/7 power supply, there are rotational power cuts.
"Even in urban India life does get out of gear," he said. "In summers it gets so hot, every office, home, and shops use air conditioning, and that draws a lot of energy. Commercial industry needs electricity to run. They get hit the worst because of this as well."
Paritosha sees this this as an energy, or more specifically, fossil-fuel crisis. "It is probably time to consider more renewable sources of energy on a much larger scale," she added.
She is not alone in this. NDTV, an Indian news channel, had a 'greenathon' earlier this year, a twenty-four hour period during which they raised funds to provide several of India's villages with solar lamps.
"It's made a difference, but it's just a dent in the larger picture," Paritosha claims. "There are some wind farms and some solar plants, as far as I know, but nowhere near the required number and nowhere near the possible number."
Though he admits that there is an energy crisis, Bipal has an optimistic view after the power failure.
"There are some challenges which we are facing to become a world leader, " he said. "It's like an adolescent who needs more and more food and supplies while growing up.
"I'm very sure we will come through it with lessons learned, which are to improve our power infrastructure with the current times and make it more sustainable."
Paritosha, however, remains more sceptical.
She said: "Investment is required, of course, but as far as I can see all Indian governments are overly cautious of investing in the long term because of their immediate need to stay in power; spending on non-immediate benefits would no doubt affect popularity in the short term."
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