Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s appeal to citizens to switch off lights across the country today to mark the coronavirus fight is generating a lot more work and some tough challenges for India’s power sector workers.
On Friday, Modi appealed to people to turn out their lights for nine minutes at 9pm today to show solidarity amid the coronavirus lockdown with a show of lamps, candles and flashlights.
The appeal, however, set off alarm bells for those in charge of India’s power grid, prompting a flurry of orders to officials manning generation plants and managing grid load, amid concerns that a surge in voltage due to a steep dip in demand could harm the grid and cause widespread outages.
India’s Power System Operation Corporation (POSOCO), which oversees the national power grid, ordered all senior officials to be present at generating stations, substations and load dispatch centres across India between 6pm and 10pm
It advised engineers to start reducing output from baseload plants such as coal-fired power stations just ahead of 9pm
and ramp up generation from hydro and gas plants, typically used to address peak power demand, to manage the anticipated gyration in demand.
POSOCO expects consumption to dip by over 10% when people switch off lights, it said in an advisory sent to grid operators across the country, calling the expected reduction in load and rapid recovery, “unprecedented”.
POSOCO’s parent body, Power Grid Corporation of India, asked regional electricity transmission centre employees to be on “high alert,” as the lights out plan could “lead to outage of grid elements due to grid constraints”.
The Ministry of Power sought to allay concerns though, and said in a statement, “The Indian electricity grid is robust and stable and adequate arrangements and protocols are in place to handle the variation in demand.”
Modi has ordered people indoors to avert a massive outbreak of coronavirus infections, but the world’s biggest shutdown has left millions without jobs and forced migrant workers to flee home to their villages.
India’s power consumption has already plunged amid the lockdown to stem coronavirus cases - which crossed 3,000 yesterday.
Some states are worried about the impact of the “lights off”.
Nitin Raut, the power minister of Maharashtra, which consumes the most electricity in India, appealed to citizens to light lamps and candles, while keeping lights on to ensure proper functioning of the grid.
“Already the electricity demand and supply equation has been stretched,” said Raut, adding the possibility of grid failures “could not be ruled out.” 
In Karnataka, authorities have urged people to switch on their gadgets and other electrical appliances when they switch off the lights at 9pm today.
“We appeal to the general public to note that only lights be switched off and other electrical equipment be switched on,”  a spokesman of the Karnataka Power Transmission Corporation said.
The power transmission department said refrigerators, air-conditioners, coolers, fans and other electrical equipment can be switched on during the blackout call.
The National Load Dispatch Centre, Regional Load Dispatch Centres and all State Load Dispatch Centres discussed grid security through video conference.
“As per instructions of the National Load Dispatch Centre, we have asked all senior officers working at generating stations, distribution companies, State Load Dispatch Centres and KPTCL to monitor power supply during the blackout call,” it said.
Meanwhile, opposition Congress leader Rahul Gandhi a swipe at Modi, saying shining torches in the sky would not solve the problem.
In a tweet, the MP from Wayanad in Kerala, said, “India is simply not testing enough to fight Covid-19. Making people clap and shining torches in the sky aren’t going to solve the problem.”
He also attached a chart, released by the Congress, that showed India was testing only 29 people per million.
Pakistan is testing 67 people per million, Sri Lanka 97, the United Kingdom 1,891, Germany 5,812, Italy 7,122 and South Korea 7,622 per million.
His sister and Congress general secretary Priyanka Gandhi Vadra said the concerns of power grids must be taken care of so that there was no disruption in the power supply.
“While the country is expressing solidarity in the war against corona, it is expected that the power grids and engineers’ concerns are also being taken care of by the central government so that there is no obstruction in the power supply during the crisis and in times of need,” she said in a tweet.
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