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The recent power tariff hike has thrown the spotlight on the quality of services offered by Tangedco. Many consumers may not mind paying higher tariffs to keep Tangedco in business but would prefer that the services rendered match the charges they pay for the power.
Many households across the state have at some point or the other faced the problem of fridges, TVs and Air Conditioners conking off or the voltage stabilizers that support them getting damaged. Replacement of equipment is often the only option. Sometimes, the equipment conks off when power comes back on after going off, or in the nights apparently when the voltage dips due to air conditioners switching on.
Power plants are obliged to supply power whose voltage, frequency and so on are within a certain range. There is something called the grid code that they have to adhere to. Similarly, the power that is supplied to consumers has to have certain properties as per the electricity supply code. The voltage, for instance, has to be within 10% of 220 V.
The power that is supplied to consumers has to have certain properties as per the electricity supply code. The voltage, for instance, has to be within 10% of 220 V.
The law is as yet vague on the level of enforceability of these standards. But most experts believe that utilities are mandated to supply power of a certain quality and if they fail to do that, then they are answerable. This would mean that Tangedco is liable to compensate its power consumers if their fridge, the air conditioner and the voltage stabilizer conks off because of the poor quality of power.
P Muthusamy, former director of engineering at the Tamil Nadu Electricity Regulatory Commission, says that consumers today have the advantage of digital meters that show voltage and other information of the power that is being supplied. He advises that when an equipment conks off, the consumer can take a photo of the digital display for each of the three phases on the meter, if it’s a three-phase supply, and file a complaint demanding compensation with the Consumer Grievance Redressal Forum of the TNERC. They can approach the ombudsman too if the issue is not resolved. The mandate is that complaints have to be disposed off within one month of filling, he says.
Muthusamy advises that a key aspect of the complaint is some form of evidence of the problem – a photograph would serve well. And for this the consumer may have to patiently record the display at various times of the day to show that this is a recurring problem. “The consumer is certainly empowered to ask for compensation for equipment damaged by poor power quality,” he adds.
K Ravichandran, technical director at Foretec Electric, explains that power quality is a major topic and highly technical. The electricity that comes to us has so many elements beyond just voltage or even frequency. The layman just about understands voltage or uses the term surge if he or she finds the air conditioner at their home getting damaged.
Transients, harmonics, multiple frequencies and so on are some nuanced aspects of the power supply that may need to be looked at. “If you try and speak on the phone somewhere near the MRI machine at a scan center, you would find the line disturbed. This is the impact of some equipment,” he adds.
Ravichandran talks about power pollution. Industries that put the power to many different uses – not just fans, TVs and A/Cs – often end up polluting the power lines, or the grid. That is they bring down the power quality by injecting undesirable aspects into the electricity.
Another example of “polluted” power affecting devices is hospitals. “Today ECG readout or even the creatinin measurement in our urine can be affected if the quality of power going into the measuring instrument is poor. This has tremendous implications for diagnosis and treatment,” he says, adding that many of recent uses of power are adding complexity. Ravichandran says the EV chargers can pollute the power in the grid and corrective action should be taken.
Appavoo Subbiah, former chief electrical inspector to the government, talks about the problem of neutral cut and harmonics that often damage our equipment. The utility has to take responsibility for these.
Appavoo Subbiah, former chief electrical inspector to the government, says if a group of people are affected by these problems, they can get together and sue the utility, Tangedco. He talks about three problems in the electricity supply that are beyond just voltage and frequency: neutral cut, lightning and harmonics. While lightning is an act of nature, neutral cut and harmonics are man-made and Tangedco is responsible.
Neutral cut is momentary earth fault resulting in flow of high current in our house that can damage our fridge and air conditioner. This happens because earthing arrangements are different in different regions within the state. The high voltage entering the system in our house causes expensive electronic items and domestic equipment to fail immediately due to neutral floating. Appavoo Subbiah says standard and uniform earthing arrangements should be adopted across the state.
Harmonics, or power pollution that Ravichandran talks about, are injected into the electrical system by industrial users, IT companies and shopping complexes. International norms are there for this. Regulations are pending notification in Tamil Nadu and protection measures should be implemented, Appavoo Subbiah says, adding harmonics will significantly increase the neutral current and damage domestic equipment.
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