India Electricity

Since I spent a lot of time in the power generation business I am always interested in electricity systems. India is probably the first country I’ve ever been to where you can regularly witness electricity theft from the system on a large scale.

The electrical systems seemed to be reliable during the time I was there, although it was likely “low season” since it wasn’t very hot out (November) which I assume sets the peak demand for India.

The power routinely turned on and off in one of the hotels I stayed at. The lights would go out completely for a moment until the “hum” of the backup generator kicked in. Likely the inclusion of backup power is an absolute requirement for the type of higher level tourist hotels that I stayed in.

High quality hotels in India had the European model where you had to put your key card in the slot when you entered the room in order to turn the power on or keep it running for more than a few minutes. This model power down the room when you are out.

The newer office parks where the IT service industry was located had what appeared to be modern electrical systems with many of the lines buried underground. The transmission lines along the highway often appeared new, even if they ran right by huts and houses that obviously had no power since they weren’t connected to the local distribution system.

India also appeared to be air conditioned in the major tourist areas for hotels and shopping as well as the newer office parks. The buildings were designed as if to rely on central air conditioning and the backup power was there to provide electricity when the power goes out (although I don’t think they could run A/C indefinitely).

Cross posted at LITGM

10 thoughts on “India Electricity”

  1. That second photo is absolutely crazy. I would be surprised if the residents of that area aren’t getting constant current of some sort through their bodies since I am positive that the grounds there are non-existent.

  2. Those pictures look like the cabling in America in the prior to 1910 before power generation was socialized. Each company ran their own cable (they were in the begin DC generators which were short range) and the poles and anchors on buildings were treated as a kind of public easement that anyone could attach a wire to.

  3. Just a month ago we discovered that the wire for our chicken coop was hot. There are little surprises all along the way with that place but we are fixing them as we go unlike that insanity in India.

  4. When my father helped my grandfather do some renovations to the grandparents’ little cottage in Pasadena – which was built in the teens and early twenties – Dad was absolutely boggled to discover that the house electrical system was based on bare copper wire run between ceramic posts set in the wall cavities. And that the house hadn’t actually caught fire at any time over the subsequent forty years or so.

  5. Sgt. Mom,
    That’s “knob and tube” wiring and is common in houses built in the 20’s in Ca. All 5 bungalows my parents and I fixed up in northern Ca. of that era had it. The hardware store from the same era down the street still had bins of the ceramic parts to repair it (we used Romex). The ceramic and copper parts are fine. It’s the cotton insulation in the switch and outlet boxes that degrades and the Bakelite (brown “plastic”) outlets and switches that crack and crumble that you have to watch out for.


  6. That photo of the pole looks like Mexico. When I used to spend a bit of time in Ensenada, we used to see that arrangement all the time. It seemed that there were no meters and everyone just hooked up.

  7. My question is who pays for the “power” then. Or is there just some sort of flat tax on everyone to pay for it since it clearly isn’t being metered? Which would, I imagine, encourage most people to use as much power as possible if they are all paying the same price.

  8. My house has remnants of the “knob and tube” wiring up in the attic. It was built somewhere between 1910 and 1915; not sure when the wiring was put in – probably later in the ’20s.

    I didn’t know they originally used bare copper wire!! Some stretches of the old wiring are of the cloth-covered type; others are bare copper. I assumed the bare stretches had originally been covered and the cloth had dry-rotted or been nibbled away, but maybe the bare wires are the original spec and the cloth-covered stretches are later additions or rewiring.

  9. T.K. Tortch,

    …but maybe the bare wires are the original spec …

    They were. In the beginning the only flexible insulator they had was asbestos cloth with was fairly expensive. Big cables, like undersea telegraph line, were coated in rubberized cloth that wasn’t very flexible. The easiest solution was to simply separate the lines by a joist or the like and put them where people or critters wouldn’t blunder into them. Even if they did, you had to touch both wires at the same time or ground yourself to get shocked. The later rather hard to do in the attic space of all wood house.

    When I was a kid doing roofing work circa 1980, we found all the glass insulator stuck on either side of the joist in many old clapboard farmhouses. My cousin and I were puzzled but my grandfather explained and later I verified with some book learning.

    The system worked because most houses had no more than a single, one plug outlet per room, usually hanging from the ceiling. A lot of farmhouses only one plug in the kitchen and then another line to the barn or chicken coop. Since the electricity has to arch to cause a fire, and most arcs and them most dangerous archs are between the wires themselves and not a ground, bare separated wires are quite safe, perhaps more so than carelessly installed paired wires we use today. Back in the day, most electrical fires started where the wires came together in the appliances or lights. That’s how United Laboratories got its start.

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