Diesel, the alternative source of power: Cheap and handy, yet hazardous


The operators of commercial spaces such as malls, shops and other such establishments in Uttar Pradesh have won their supposed fight for customers' right to shop and spend leisure time in a comfortable environment. Having asked such establishments to down their shutters after 7pm in the wake of an acute power shortage, the UP government has revoked that order and allowed these establishments to run using alternative power generation sources.

Of the alternative sources of power generation in the country, the most commonly used happens to be diesel generators. DG sets, as they are usually known, have become a common phenomenon across the country, particularly across the urban centres of development such as housing societies boasting 247 power backup, large well-heeled independent households, malls, multiplexes, big and small shops and even nursing homes in and around residential areas. Among the largest users of DG sets, however, are the mobile phone towers spread across the urban as well as rural landscape. "India is increasingly getting dieselised," says Anumita Roychowdhury, an executive director at the Centre for Science and Environment, a Delhi-based, non-profit advocacy group.

Data from the petroleum ministry reveals that after vehicles and the farming community, the largest amount of diesel is being guzzled by DG sets installed by establishments such as those mentioned above. At 7 per cent, DG sets' share in the diesel consumption pie may seem small in comparison with other segments such as transport (63 per cent) and farming (17 per cent) but it is a newer phenomenon and one that is growing fast.

The DG sets market is largely unorganised, but it is estimated that sales of such sets are growing at more than 25 per cent per year. Estimates suggest that more than 2 lakh DG sets are sold annually for non-industrial power generation purposes alone. There are primarily two reasons for diesel gensets' growing popularity in urban centres. One is the acute shortage of power resulting into outages lasting 4-10 hours a day. Secondly, being a subsidised fuel, diesel turns out to be a relatively cheap medium for power generation.

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