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India dimmed its lights and grid operators held their breath

image credit: In a tweet, Power Minster R.K. Singh (third from left) shared an image as he and other officials monitored the nine-minute demand ramp. Credit: R.K. Singh
DW Keefer's picture
Journalist Independent Journalist and Analyst

DW Keefer is a Denver-based energy journalist who writes extensively for national and international publications on all forms of electric power generation, utility regulation, business models...

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  • Apr 6, 2020
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A show of support for those in India who are coping with the Covid-19 outbreak turned into an all-hands-on-deck event for operators of the nation’s electric power grid.

On April 3, Prime Minister Narendra Modi asked citizens to switch off lights across India on April 5 to mark the coronavirus fight. That raised red flags with India’s Power System Operation Corp (POSOCO), which oversees the national power grid. Officials worried that the planned nine-minute drop in demand could lead to blackouts as demand ramped down and then rapidly resumed. As a safeguard, POSOCO ordered senior officials to be present at generating stations, substations and load dispatch centers between 6 p.m. and 10 p.m. local time on April 5.

The grid operator also advised engineers to start ramping down baseload plants just before 9 p.m. , the event's planned start time. That baseload capacity was  replaced by hydro and gas plants, which are typically used as peaking capacity.

POSOCO forecast consumption to dip by more than 10% and called the expected reduction in load and rapid recovery “unprecedented.”

POSOCO’s parent body, Power Grid Corp of India, asked regional electricity transmission center employees to be on “high alert,” as the lights out plan could “lead to outage of grid elements due to grid constraints.”

India’s Ministry of Power said in a statement that the Indian electricity grid was "robust and stable” and that “adequate arrangements and protocols are in place to handle the variation in demand.”

One journalist tweeted that during the evening event, demand fell from 117,300 megawatts at 8:49 pm to 85,300 MW at 9:09 pm before recovering; a drop of 32,000 MW. The tweet said that voltage frequency was maintained within a band of 49.7 to 50.26 Hz, indicating grid stability during the event.

Around 10 pm Sunday, R.K. Singh, minister of State Power and New and Renewable Energy, confirmed the 32 gigawatt drop in load.

“The drop in national demand by 32,000 megawatts shows a huge response of the nation to the call of the Prime Minister,” he tweeted.

Published reports suggest that electricity demand has already plunged since Modi ordered the nation’s 1.3 billion people to stay indoors to slow the spread of coronavirus. Nitin Raut, the power minister of Maharashtra, a western state which consumes the most electricity in India, was quoted as asking people to light lamps and candles, while keeping electric lights on to support the grid.

“Already the electricity demand and supply equation has been stretched,” Raut said, as reported by the Reuters news agency.

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Matt Chester's picture
Matt Chester on Apr 6, 2020

Fascinating-- I wonder if something on this scale has been done on other grids across the world? I know there are events like 'Earth Hour' but I never really heard about any issues the grid had to prepare for with them

Dr. Amal Khashab's picture
Dr. Amal Khashab on Apr 6, 2020

Hi Matt,

It is a risky operation maneuver that depends upon the good timing ramping down a generator and load shedding. Always load shedding happens as a result of an actual fault in the power system leading to a sudden disconnect of generation facility somewhere.   

Dhiman Chatterjee's picture
Dhiman Chatterjee on Apr 9, 2020

Thank you DW for sharing this news. It's interesting to see how the actual event lasted for about an hour and 25 minutes (114,400 MW was recorded at 22:10 Hrs) while the ask from the Prime Minister was to switch off the lights exactly at 9 and turn back on at 9:09. It's probably because people switched off their TVs, refrigerators and air conditioners so they don't break due to voltage fluctuations or power surge. And they turned them back on over an hour. Any insights on how the load dispatch centers handled the first minute of ramp up at 9:09? Was it the combination of hydro and wind that saved the night? Did you hear about any load shedding?

Dr. Amal Khashab's picture
Dr. Amal Khashab on Apr 14, 2020

According to your words, it was a failed test. Am I right?

Dhiman Chatterjee's picture
Dhiman Chatterjee on Apr 14, 2020

It was a huge success in terms of "what" was accomplished: keeping the grid stable and avoiding blackouts in the face of a drastic variation of demand over a short period of time. I am wondering about the "how". I understand the forecasted reduction was 12-14 GW. How did the dispatch centers handle a change that was more than double the forecast? What if the change happened in half the time? I am sure there were a few insights and lessons learned that we all can benefit from. 

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