India is second only to China in population. With more than 1.2 billion people residing within its borders, this is a country with a rapidly growing economy, the third in the world in terms of purchasing power and 11th in terms of gross domestic product.
But two days of massive power outages have left the rest of the globe wondering if India has the infrastructure in place to support its rate of growth. The grid in India constantly struggles to keep up with demand, but this week’s outages were the largest in more than decade.
On Monday, more than 350 million people in seven northern states were affected while Tuesday’s massive blackout spread to east and northeast areas. The capital city of New Delhi was notably affected as well.
The consecutive power grid collapses left half the country–that’s 600 million people–without power for hours. Public transportation and roadways were at a standstill as people waited, suffering in stifling summer temperatures.
While airports and hospitals were able to remain operational thanks to backup power sources, many businesses were closed. CNN posted a slideshow from around the region that showed school children reading by candlelight and a barber giving a haircut in almost total darkness.
Experts say, quite simply, the grid was overloaded and unable to keep up with a surging demand for electricity. India’s Power Minister Sushilkumar Shinde said that they are investigating the cause of the massive failure, but believe that agricultural regions in particular may been been using excessive amounts of power.
The general surge in demand during the last several weeks is attributed to the fact that this year’s monsoon season, typically spanning from June to September, has delivered a fifth less rain than is usual.
This has a ripple effect across the country: farmers require more electricity for irrigation and operations and there is less water supply for hydroelectric power sources. Without the natural coolant effect of the rain, people depend more on air conditioning to cope with the high humidity and hot temperatures 24 hours a day.
The U.S. State Department’s country report on India sides with onlookers who say that a crisis like this large scale power failure shows how imperative it is for India to grow its infrastructure at the same rate as demand. Even today, a third of Indian households don’t even receive enough electricity to power one lightbulb.
“Economic growth is constrained by inadequate infrastructure,” said the U.S. report, adding that India is particularly open to foreign investment for power generation within the country.