Thiruvananthapuram, Oct. 15: If Bengal has shown that the gas subsidy cap could be making pilferage difficult, Kerala has thrown up a flip side.
A jump in the use of induction cookers — blamed on gas shortage linked to a tanker accident as well as the six-cylinder cap on subsidised LPG — last month has undermined a phased load-shedding drive aimed at saving power in Kerala.
Such has been the rise in the use of the cookers that morning power consumption, which used to peak between 7 and 7.30am, now hits a high between 5 and 5.30am. Officials feel the gas price spike has forced households to switch on the electric appliance and cook as much as possible before power cuts kick in at 6am.
The trend was noticed a day after a 30-minute load shedding from 6am was announced by the Kerala State Electricity Board (KSEB) on September 27. Officials conceded that the load shedding in the first 10 days had not resulted in power savings.
A senior KSEB official expressed surprise at the way the board seemed to have been outwitted by its customers.
“It is unprecedented that there is a sudden demand around 5.30am since the load shedding started. To meet this, two generators at a hydroelectric project that are otherwise rested at that time have to be turned on. This is affecting their life-span.”
S. Venugopal, member (finance) at the state power board, is convinced the cookers are behind the spike. “We tried to investigate which electrical equipment may be responsible and found that induction cookers were the most-sold item during the Onam festival last month. Many retailers gave away such cookers as gifts along with bigger purchases,” Venugopal said. Onam is to shoppers in Kerala what the pre-Puja season is in Bengal.
K.M. Dharesan Unnithan, director of the state-run Energy Management Centre, said conservative estimates put Onam sales of the cookers at 1.5 lakh.
“There are several brands from India and China and quite a few of them are non-standard (use more power). If we take a moderate number of 1 lakh pieces in use at a particular time, the resultant load will be 200MW. This could coincide with the morning peak,” said Unnithan, who has studied the use of the cookers.
A big reason is that power is relatively cheap, especially for those in the lower tariff slabs. “When the cost of almost all consumer goods, appliances and services is increasing every year, electricity tariffs have gone without a revision for almost a decade,” Unnithan said in his study.
There are other reasons, too. “Changed lifestyles and socio-economic patterns with more nuclear families and increasing working hours of women mean they have less time for cooking. This objective can be met using the induction cookers,” the study added.
But Unnithan agreed the recent power spurt appeared to have been triggered by the cap on subsidised LPG.
“If at least cooking gas supply could be ensured, we could have avoided this trend of people using induction cookers,” he said, ruing the delay in a project that would have supplied liquefied natural gas to homes. That project is facing opposition to acquisition of land needed for pipelines.