Electricity and Power Supply in Assam State, Northeastern India

In remote Assam State, in northeastern India, irregular and inadequate power supply has held back even low-tech primary industries, such as silk. Finally, that is starting to change.

By the numbers

losses in transmission and distribution in 2004: 38.94%
losses in transmission and distribution in 2008
1.1 million people
electricity consumers in Assam in 2004
about 1.7 million people
electricity consumers in Assam in 2008

Source: Project Completion Report 2010.

Watch a video: ADB Lights Up Industries and Homes in Northeastern India

Guwahati, Assam State—Improved power supply inspired Ramen Chandra Das, 35, a silk maker in Sualkuchi Village, to purchase two power looms in 2013.

“Power supply has increased to 8–9 hours a day from 1–2 hours a day in 2000, and my profits have grown to Rs20,000–Rs30,000 ($368–$553) per month,” he says.

For generations, the men and women of almost every household in Sualkuchi, a small village perched on the bank of the Brahmaputra River, 35 kilometers (km) west of Guwahati, in Assam, northeastern India, have woven silk saris and shawls by hand. A regular electricity supply has meant weavers can use power looms to supplement the work they do with handlooms, making more, and easier work, for the villagers.

“A power loom will enable my family to continue our traditional business more profitably,” says Ramen, noting that India’s silk products now increasingly have to compete with imported silk and other products from the People’s Republic of China and other parts of India such as Benares and Bangalore.

Keeping up with demand

In Assam, demand for electricity has grown far faster than supply. In 2004, before the project started, the Assam State Electricity Board produced only 120 megawatts (MW) against a peak demand of 614 MW, while transmission and distribution losses were estimated at 38.9%.

Resulting power shortages, low voltage power, and load shedding undermined Assam’s industrial competitiveness and agricultural potential.

Without action, the problem was poised to worsen. By 2021–2022, peak demand for electricity is estimated to reach 3,985 MW.

The Assam Electricity Regulatory Commission was set up in May 2001 to ensure adequate and reliable energy supplies. Meanwhile, to meet future demand, ADB approved the Assam Power Sector Development Program in 2003 with a loan of $250 million, to help the Government of Assam improve quality, quantity, and access to power supply.

According to Rathindra Lal Barua, chief general manager of project planning and design at the Assam Power Distribution Company, supply has increased to 300 MW from 100 MW in Guwahati.

“All households get power supply at 11 kV; and there are no system constraints,” he says. “The improved load in the city has resulted in hospitals and malls springing up.”

Improved electricity supply is also attracting new industries to the Boko industrial area (about 50 km from Guwahati), as well as to Tezpur City and the Balipara Division (about 200 km from Guwahati). Boko, for example, is supplied by a 220 kV substation, which was also built with ADB assistance.

“Power supply has increased to 8–9 hours a day from 1–2 hours a day in 2000, and my profits have grown to Rs20,000–Rs30,000 per month.”

—Ramen Chandra Das, silk products business owner

“Total power supply in Assam has been increased to 5,000 MU (million units, or 5 gigawatt hours [gWh]), and is expected to increase to 7,500 MU (or 7.5 gWh) next year,” says Rathindra. “This achievement, together with the effort to implement 100% metering and reduce power theft, is reflected in improved revenues.”

According to Rathindra, power theft was previously such a big problem that 12 special police stations had to be established to deal with it.

Substations at work

The 132KV Narangi Grid Substation, commissioned in 2009 with ADB assistance, is meeting the demand for power in Guwahati City. It currently feeds four smaller 33 kV substations, which then distribute the power throughout the city. Narangi also feeds the Guwahati Refinery, which processes crude oil from the oil fields in Upper Assam to help meet the energy needs of the region.

Before the construction of the Narangi substation, the four distributor substations were fed by the 132KV Chandrapur substation, which is 27 km farther away. Bringing the supply source closer to the 33 KV distribution substations has improved energy quality and reduced losses.

Managed by an all-woman team, the Narangi Substation serves eastern Guwahati’s households, schools, hospitals, and industry.

Resident engineer Jayashree Devi, 39, has been in charge of overall maintenance, staff management, and administration at the Narangi Substation for the past 3 years. According to Devi, demand for power in Guwahati City is already such that Narangi’s supply needs to be supplemented by the substation at Chandrapur.

“Total power supply in Assam has been increased to 5,000 MU (million units, or 5 gigawatt hours [gWh]), and is expected to increase to 7,500 MU (or 7.5 gWh) next year.”

— Rathindra Lal Barua, chief general manager, project planning and design, Assam Power Distribution Company

“We’re on call  24x7 and have to be ready to restore power in a crisis—as was the case when the northern grid went down in July 2012, blacking out almost all of northern India,” says Devi. 

Power distribution companies, such as India Carbon at Noonmati in Guwahati, directly benefit from the power supplied by the Narangi substation. India Carbon requires a reliable power supply to manufacture calcined petroleum coke, a byproduct of the oil refining process used to make aluminum, steel, and titanium.

“Previously we had 2-hour load shedding … which badly affected productivity,” says Pranab Jyoti Bora, deputy general manager of India Carbon.  Today, he says, power supply averages 75%. “We are contemplating diversifying our products, and taking on more employees.”

Meawhile, the Assam State Electricity Board improved cost recovery to 91% in 2009 from 72% in 2004—thanks to tariff adjustments, lower power-generation costs, and improved collection efficiency—and reduced transmission and distribution losses to 29.61% in 2008.

“ADB’s partnership with Assam in the state power sector has helped the Government of Assam implement its power sector reforms program and establish a fully functional regulatory regime in the state,” said Hun Kim, Country Director of India Resident Mission of ADB. “ADB has helped the state enhance the quantum, quality, and reliability of power supply, opening up economic opportunities for businesses and ensuring more electricity for households, schools, and hospitals.”

When the project was completed in 2009, it had made power accessible to about 1.7 million people. In other words, Ramen Chandra Das, soon to be the proud owner of two new silk looms in Sualkuchi Village, is not the only one profiting from improved power supply in Assam.