The decline in power consumption is also being reflected in low utilisation levels, measured by plant load factor (PLF), at thermal power plants.
Reversing the trend witnessed in the first two months of 2020, power demand has recorded a negative growth in the first half of March. It is likely that electricity consumption in FY20 will increase at the slowest pace in six years.
In the first 15 days of March, the country consumed 51 billion units (BU) of electricity, 3.6% lower than the demand in the same period last year. After the 10.8% rise in February, power demand was continuing to grow at a favourable rate in the first five days of March, but has been contracting each day thereafter. The dip in electricity usage coincides with businesses starting to take pre-emptive measures to contain the impact of coronavirus, reduced social gatherings and shutting down of schools and colleges, malls and cinemas.
Even after February’s robust increase, the power demand has grown at a meagre 2.2% year-on-year (y-o-y) in the April-February period, with electricity consumption in the country contracting for the fourth straight month in November 2019, as an aftermath of an extended monsoon and slowdown in economic activities.
Peak demand — which is largely a function of unplanned surge in residential and domestic power usage usually seen during festive seasons — has, however, increased 5% y-o-y to 171 megawatt (MW) in March. Peak demand reflects the highest power requirement level reached at a particular moment, and is different from actual consumption volumes. It had recorded positive growth even when overall power consumption was down in August-November, 2019.
The decline in power consumption is also being reflected in low utilisation levels, measured by plant load factor (PLF), at thermal power plants. PLF of coal-based power plants — many of which are anyway stressed due to lack of adequate demand and coal supply issues — touched an all-time low of 48.9% in October 2019.
In April-February, the average PLF was 56.4%, down from 60.1% in the same period in FY19. To be sure, thermal PLFs are also being impacted by the consistently-rising share of renewable energy in the power generation basket.
Maintaining that power demand growth will be higher going forward, Union power minister RK Singh recently said “our target is to electrify the economy,” and the government wants to gradually replace fossil fuels and increase the use of electricity in industries, transportation and cooking.
To that end, the power ministry is planning to launch a campaign to inform people about the cost efficiency of using electricity over LPG as a cooking fuel.