A few scattered rooms in a neighborhood in Kolkata (Calcutta), India, remained lit on Tuesday, despite a massive power grid failure that left 680 million people—double the population of the United States—without electricity for several hours.
The blackout—one of history's worst—lasted two days. An initial, 15-hour outage on Monday was fixed, but shortly after, at 1 p.m. local time Tuesday, a far larger collapse swept the country.
"Even before we could figure out the reason for yesterday's failure, we had more grid failures today," R. N. Nayak, chairperson of the state-run Power Grid Corporation, told Reuters.
The outage—which affected 22 of the country's 28 states—stalled hundreds of trains, led to massive traffic delays, and stranded 200 coal miners in West Bengal when electricity stopped flowing to mine-shaft elevators.
Photograph by Bikas Das, AP
Haircut by Candlelight
A barber in Kolkata (Calcutta) cuts a customer's hair by candlelight during Tuesday's blackout.
The cause of this week's vast power outages in India is not immediately clear. The government announced that it would appoint a three-member panel to submit a report within 15 days.
Power has been largely restored as of 11:30 p.m. local time on Tuesday, according to the website of the government-run Power Grid Corporation of India, which supplies half of the country's power.
India has long struggled to provide power to its more than 1.2 billion inhabitants. For its power plants, the country relies on huge imports of coal and oil to supplement its own vast coal reserves, which are not of a high enough quality for the latest generation of power plants.
The "cheap-coal power age is over," Soumya Dutta, national convener of the India People's Science Campaign, an activist group that focuses on energy and climate-change issues, told National Geographic News.
An electrical short circuit sparked the fire that gutted this train car and killed 32 people in the Indian city of Nellore on Monday.
The duration and geographic extent of this week's power outage were unprecedented in India. Energy experts warn that such occurrences could become more likely—the country's per capita energy consumption is expected to double by 2020.
Photograph from AFP/Getty Images
Commuters wait for a train in New Delhi, India, on Monday during a massive power grid failure that halted hundreds of trains.
To reduce its dependence on coal, India is experimenting with alternative forms of energy, such as solar power, wind power, hydropower, and, in rural areas, so-called husk power—electricity fueled by methane gas released by rice husks.
The government had also planned to build the world's largest nuclear power plant in Jaitapur as part of an effort to meet the country's daunting energy demands.
Muslim girls study by candlelight inside a religious school on the outskirts of New Delhi during Monday's massive power outage.
One day after power was largely restored in India following a massive power grid failure, the country was hit by a second, even larger outage on Tuesday.
Photograph by Parivartan Sharma, Reuters
An employee at a power station near New Delhi scales an electric pylon on June 8.
Arup Roy Choudhury, chairperson of the state-run NTPC, India's largest power producer, has blamed the government for chronic fuel shortages that have worsened the country's energy crisis and delayed steps to increase power generation, according to The New York Times.