Domestic consumers to pay more for less power


Even as Tamil Nadu continues to reel under the power crisis which has seen extensive load shedding across the state with the city of Chennai too coming into its ambit, the state government proposed a penalty for domestic consumers whose power consumption exceeds 600 units for a two month period. The government has said that such consumers will have bring down their consumption to 600 units failing which the tariff for the excess consumption will be Rs 4.58 per unit as against the prevailing Rs 3.05. The plan which was announced on October 21st, was withdrawn two days later fearing a backlash of popular sentiment against the move.


While the plan may have been a short-lived one, it does however point to the fact that there has been an increase in power consumption in the domestic sector. While this may be attributed to an increase in the number of gadgets being used today, it also has much to do with increased congestion, alien designs and methods of construction, and plan violations.


Most buildings in the city today, be they for office or domestic use, are built keeping artificial lighting and ventilation in mind. The use of false ceilings which naturally lower the vertical height of every floor reduces the scope for air circulation. The use of plate glass to keep off sunlight necessitates air-conditioning which consumes massive quantities of power. In addition, the warding off of sunlight means plenty of artificial illumination which is also power intensive. The avoiding of sunlight is ironic, for it is touted to be the energy source of tomorrow and Chennai has it in abundance. Most of these buildings are so power dependent for lighting that when electricity fails, they are completely dark and pretty much useless as places of work or residence.


Yet another cause for increased power consumption is the building of residences in close proximity to each other, often in violation of the minimum space that needs to be provided between them. This results in cutting off of sunlight, lowering the scope for circulation of air and increasing the heat as a result of radiation from the concrete of the neighbouring structure. The packing in of too much in too little space, such as increased number of bedrooms, more flats per floor and more floors than allowed, increases power consumption. Now that such buildings have been built and are being lived in, we already have a city where most of the citizenry are heavy power users for domestic needs. In fact today, an average household of four persons consumes power of around 600 units and estimates are that there are five lakh households in the city that already draw power in excess of this limit.


What is really needed is a re-look at the kind of buildings we construct. They need to be more in keeping with the natural environment and weather conditions of the city. While it may be impossible to go back to the Madras roofing and plastering that brought down temperatures by as much as 5 degrees inside the buildings, there must be ongoing experimentation on how best local technology can be adapted to suit the construction of ergonomic and energy efficient buildings. Unfortunately the present trend is to simply copy what is happening abroad and transplant those methods into Chennai with no thought of the consequence.


As for congestion and decreasing spaces between buildings, the city’s civic bodies appear to have not woken up to this fact. Thus while the Electricity Board is desperate to reduce power consumption, the latest master plan calls for increasing the floor space index, thereby allowing for more floors per building thereby increasing the consumption of power! It is a classic case of one government department not knowing what the other is working towards.


Taken in total, the power scenario in the city appears to be bleak.