Modi’s Call to Switch Off Lights En Masse Risks Blackouts
A crane sits parked near electricity pylons at the side of a highway in Gurgaon, Haryana. (Photographer: Ruhani Kaur/Bloomberg)

Modi’s Call to Switch Off Lights En Masse Risks Blackouts

(Bloomberg) -- Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s call to Indians to switch off lights Sunday evening for nine minutes and instead use candles to “challenge the darkness” of the coronavirus outbreak will mean blackouts for some citizens as utilities take steps to safeguard their equipment.

Modi asked people to switch off lights at 9 p.m. That may result in a sudden drop of about 15 gigawatt of power demand across the nation, said S.N. Sahai, secretary in the nation’s power ministry. In Uttar Pradesh, India’s most-populated state, the local utility plans to switch off electricity in phases to stop the surge in voltage from threatening the state’s power grid and equipment, U.P. Power Transmission Corp. said in a letter sent to generators.

Modi’s Call to Switch Off Lights En Masse Risks Blackouts

The country plans to switch off some of its hydropower generation capacity to deal with the sudden dip in demand, Sahai said. The power ministry, in a statement, said adequate arrangements had been made to handle the variation in demand.

While India has barely tested 66,000 for the disease in the world’s most populated nation after China, Modi has spoken to his citizens twice, each time asking them to do a new activity to show solidarity in the fight against the disease. The prime minister asked Indians to clap, rings bells, bang utensils and blow conch shells on March 22, and this time, switch off lights and use candles.

“These symbolic calls for solidarity will be more meaningful and credible if they’re accompanied by substantive, stepped-up measures to combat the virus,” said Michael Kugelman, senior associate for South Asia at the Wilson Center in Washington. “Otherwise, they’re easy to dismiss as empty gestures meant to distract from the government’s struggle to curb the spread of coronavirus.”

India is battling to secure foreign-made test kits while red tape is slowing the deployment of locally-made ones. The number of tests in India is far slower than the pace in the U.S and even further behind that of top testing countries like South Korea, sparking speculation that the official tally of infections is underestimating the true size of its outbreak.

On March 22, many Indians rushed outside and gathered in groups to clap and make noise, violating the need to maintain distance. To avoid a repeat, Modi asked citizens not to step outside their homes on Sunday.

Modi’s Call to Switch Off Lights En Masse Risks Blackouts

“We have been asked by the grid operator to be flexible,” said Bharat Rohra, chief executive officer at Jindal Power Ltd. “Our grid handles such shocks on a daily basis when the solar generation goes out in the evening. The system can handle this too if it’s planned well.”

India has been under a lockdown since March 25 for three weeks. The nation has more than 3,000 infections while 86 people have died, according to Johns Hopkins University,

©2020 Bloomberg L.P.

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