The power crisis in India, which manifested itself in two spectacular collapses of the power grids and left hundreds of millions of Indians groping in the dark, has given media commentators in the West reason to mock India’s ‘superpower’ ambitions.
“India wants to be a power on the world stage,” noted Foreign Policy magazine. “But back home it’s having power troubles of a more mundane variety.”
“India’s power outage puts its superpower dreams in a new light,” a report in the Los Angeles Times announced, noting that the blackouts would make it more difficult to attract investment.
“How could a superpower run out of power?” wondered the Daily Mail. It too said that unless India made huge investments in the energy sector, it would see many more power failures “which could jeopardise its future as a superpower.”
Indian commentators too have been scathing. Writing in the Financial Times, social anthropologist Ramachandra Guha flags the outage to advance his oft-propounded theory that India will never be a superpower, but will at best muddle along.
In contrast to such derisive tones, over in China, which too faces enormous energy challenges as it keeps up a supernormal pace of growth, India’s crisis is being seen as an opportunity for Chinese power equipment suppliers to open up yet more lucrative business opportunities in India.
Chinese suppliers likeShanghai Electric, Harbin Electric and Dongfang Electric, which already have a footprint in India, are counting on the expressions of outrage in India following the grid collapse for two consecutive days to speed up investments in energy projects in the next few years. Already, India has become the largest market for export of Chinese power equipment, and it only looks like it will get better for them.
In the Chinese companies’ estimation, they are well positioned to feed the unmet demand in India for power equipment, given that they have already established themselves in India, are competitive on costs, and are giving local equipment suppliers, including Bhel, a run for their money. Together, they are associated in projects that are expected to generate an additional 40,000 MW of power over the next few years.
In fact, Chinese companies are so invested in India that they are beginning to grow roots here. In March this year, Shanghai Electric, which counts Reliance Power, JSW Energy and Sanjiv Goenka’s CESC (among others) as its clients, set up an office in Gurgaon as a step towards eventually establishing a manufacturing plant in India.
At the inauguration of that office, Chinese ambassador to India Zhang Yan said that the opening of the Indian office of Shanghai Electric reflected the company’s “long-term strategy” of cooperating with Indian counterparts. Shanghai Electric, he added, would be able to service its Indian clients and set up warehouse to supply spare parts. “Furthermore, It will prepare the ground for Shanghai Electric to set up a manufacturing base in India in the future.”
That aspiration may have been advanced substantially after the recent power outage, and the expected acceleration in power projects under public pressure for services.
But even beyond the pragmatic exploitation of a business opportunity, the commentary within the official Chinese media has been somewhat more understanding of India’s developmental challenges than Western media narratives have been.
Even the normally jingoistic Global Times newspaper, which is known rather more for thunderous warnings to India to not mess with China, used the occasion of the power outage in India to reflect on the commonality of the challenges that India and China face.
“The most serious blackout in human history was not caused by any one factor, but actually reflects the overall level of India’s development,” it observed. “Other developing countries including China can use the incident to reflect on their own problems.”
Like India, China too needed to generate more power to support higher living standards of the people, the daily noted. Yet, there were difficulties in further expanding electricity production. “Thermal power is limited by the accessibility of more coal and oil. Building more hydropower stations is facing stronger resistance from public opinion.”
And prospects for developing nuclear power had dimmed after the Fukushima nuclear meltdown in Japan in 2011. And although the wind power industry was growing fast, it could not be expected to play a major role in the country’s power grid.
“India is stuck in a dilemma, but China is also facing a developing bottleneck,” it added.
India’s crisis is being seen as an opportunity for Chinese power equipment suppliers to open up yet more lucrative business opportunities in India.