Tamil Nadu, one of the most industrialized states in India, has grappled with increasingly severe power shortages in recent years. Like many other parts of the country, Tamil Nadu has a stark energy deficit, (estimated to reach 26.5% this year) leading to blackouts and poor service especially during peak hours. Many factors contribute to these shortages, including a lack of accurate data about electricity demand, weak grid infrastructure, and coal shortfalls. But the cost of power shortages for both consumers and industry is clear.

Better energy planning can help address power shortages. In April 2013, the Tamil Nadu Electricity Governance Initiative (TEGI)—a network of consumer and civil society groups—was launched to improve energy planning and implementation in the state. TEGI has been pressing the state government to be more proactive and systematic, and to engage with consumers on issues of electricity reliability, with the goal to find long-term solutions to the energy crisis.

TEGI has been using the Electricity Governance Initiative’s (EGI) new tool, 10 Questions to Ask About Integrated Resources Planning (10Qs on IRP) as a research framework to evaluate the state’s current planning approach and start understanding how it can be improved. The 10Qs on IRP is a tool designed to help make decision-making processes more transparent and enable greater engagement in the electricity sector. To date, TEGI’s work provides a good example of how this tool can be used to start putting Integrated Resources Planning (IRP) principles into practice.

Integrated Resources Planning

Integrated Resources Planning (IRP) is a planning approach that helps meet long-term energy requirements, by considering all cost-effective options of supply and energy efficiency measures, while incorporating principles of equity, environmental sustainability, reliability, flexibility and other country-or state-specific goals.

While IRP does not present a silver bullet solution to all energy problems, it does address many shortcomings of conventional power planning: frequent underestimation or overestimation of demand requirements; lack of consideration for all supply and demand side options, including energy efficiency measures, as well as for social and environmental costs of energy generation; and little or no public involvement throughout the process. IRP processes have been used in various jurisdictions; to date, 28 U.S. States have legally mandated IRP processes, and countries such as South Africa and Thailand have adopted approaches that incorporate key elements of a good IRP.

TEGI: Working Together to Address the Electricity Gap

The TEGI network, led by the Citizen Consumer and Civic Action Group (CAG) and Madras School of Economics, seeks to build a network of industry, farmer’s groups, environmental NGOs and commercial enterprises as well as independent energy experts in the sector in Tamil Nadu. Through workshops, newsletters and the exchange of information and ideas, network members have begun to develop a deeper understanding of the nature and magnitude of problems that need to be tackled. Ultimately, TEGI’s aim is to encourage and aid the Tamil Nadu government to reduce the demand-supply gap in electricity by developing more comprehensive planning processes and a clean energy resource path.

As TEGI says:

The objective is to find long-term solutions given multiple and seemingly conflicting needs: adequacy in terms of quantity and quality, improved and affordable access for rural areas, maintaining a certain quality of the environment, ensuring the financial viability of the utility, promoting use of cleaner energy sources and more efficient use of electricity.

Holistic solutions through IRP

TEGI believes that this objective can be achieved by adopting a more integrated approach to electricity planning, one that includes demand growth implications from all of sectors and more energy efficiency (EE) measures and renewable energy (RE) in the energy mix, in a transparent and inclusive manner.

Using the 10Qs on IRP, TEGI has developed some early findings, which it presented at a public workshop in September 2013, “Holistic and Inclusive electricity planning in Tamil Nadu—A roadmap towards an integrated approach”. Among other insights, TEGI’s research found that planning in the state is being carried out in the absence of robust data on the actual demand for electricity and that a significant portion of electricity consumed is not metered. Furthermore, despite being one of India’s top 5 states for clean energy capacity, Tamil Nadu’s electricity planning process currently fails to integrate RE and EE in its state plans.

These findings are now being used by TEGI to develop a set of recommendations and to begin conversations with the State Planning Commission, the State Energy Department and other state policy makers. Recommendations put forward by TEGI include:

  • The state should put in place a mechanism to effectively determine electricity demand. Without clear data of what the actual demand for electricity is, it is difficult to determine how much of supply is required, leading to under- or over-estimation of demand and investments in new generation capacities.

  • In order to capture the benefits of clean energy, the Tamil Nadu state government should strengthen the electricity planning process to make it more inclusive of diverse stakeholders including TEGI, energy efficiency agencies and renewable energy producers, and be better integrated with the state’s RE and EE programs.

These types of efforts are being replicated in other parts of India as well. The Indian Institute of Science, CIVIC Bangalore and other EGI partners in the neighboring state of Karnataka have started a similar initiative to assess electricity planning processes in their state through the use of the 10Qs on IRP framework.

For both initiatives, the 10Qs on IRP framework has proven to be a valuable resource for identifying gaps in state electricity planning, and has also served as a critical tool for engaging stakeholders and building capacity of those who want to engage more with government, regulators and utilities on planning policies that impact them. EGI’s goal is for more stakeholder groups to start using this tool, along with other 10Qs to Ask about frameworks included in the series, to engage with electricity sector decision-makers and ultimately lead to better energy decisions going forward—for consumers and the environment.

Learn more: Download the 10Qs on IRP framework, here.