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Photo Source: Dawn

Pakistan Reader# 534, 23 January 2023

Left in the dark: Major power outage in Pakistan impacts essential cities



The delay in the power grid, its implications and Pakistan’s foray into solving its energy feasibility

Bhoomika Sesharaj

On 23 January, Pakistan experienced a significant power breakdown affecting essential cities in the country, including Rawalpindi, Lahore, Islamabad, Quetta and Karachi. The Ministry of Energy confirmed that the system frequency of the national power grid “went down” at 0700 hours in the morning and caused a “widespread” breakdown in the power system across the country. The ministry said that the system maintenance is “progressing rapidly” starting from the restoration of grid stations from Warsak. Additionally, the Ministry also said that a “limited” number of grids of the Islamabad Electric Supply Company (IESCO) and the Peshawar Electric Supply (PESCO) were restored.

Quetta Electric Supply Company (QUESCO) said that two transmission lines had tripped and that nearly 22 districts of Balochistan including Quetta were out of power. K-electric spokespersons said that the company is “busy restoring power” and that the maintenance of the sector is their “first priority” adding that the issue is being looked into. IESCO said that the power outage in the country has affected nearly 90 per cent of Karachi, affecting the electricity supply of 117 IESCO grid stations and that a full restoration would “take some time.” 

The delay in the power supply
Responding to the power outage, Energy Minister Khurram Dastgir said that the power outage is not “major” and that the breakdown was caused by frequency variation and voltage fluctuation in the south of the country and that the power generating units “shut down one by one.” He said that the grid restorations would be restored in the country within the next 12 hours. Further, Dastgir laid that at the time of power generation, the consequence of each megawatt on the power tariff is considered that the demand for electricity is “lower in winter” and that the system is usually turned off at night and switched on “one by one” in the morning. Speaking about Karachi, he said that the electricity situation in Karachi is “complicated” and that K-Electric has its own system which would be supplemented by 1100 MW of power and the grid would be restored soon. 

IESCO’s response to the situation remains inconclusive as it maintained the management is in “constant communication” with the authorities all over the country to continue its restoration efforts. This comes as the power grid broke down in October in 2022, with power restoration taking longer than expected, leaving nearly 220 million people without electricity for basic activities like pumping drinking water and hospitals. Earlier this month, the government issued a directive to all the malls and markets in the country to shut by 2200 hours under a new energy-saving plan, where it expects to save nearly PKR 62 billion this year.

Pakistan’s power crisis and the severity it poses
Resounding the imperativeness of the power outage, the National Power Regulatory Authority (NEPRA) said that it has taken “serious notice” of the power breakdown in the country and has issued directives to the National Transmission and Despatch Company (NTDC) to submit a “detailed report” on the blackout as well. The agency said that it had imposed fines on trippings similar to this one in 2021 and 2022 and has “consistently” issued directives and suggestions to resist these matters from repeating. Although the authorities involved in the issue have rushed to solve the energy feasibility in the country, the power breakdown poses a larger problem to the country as it faces vulnerability in the energy sector in the coming days. 

Pakistan’s power sector is riddled with debt and lacks resources to run its oil and gas-powered plants and has struggled to invest in credible infrastructure and power lines that could tackle the crisis. Power officials in the country have consistently complained of load shedding and transmission lines being too long and insufficient and remarked that the country can rely on its power installed capacities to meet the increased demand for electricity, but fares less when times of voltage fluctuations arise in the country. 

Along with a fragile economy and an impending global economic slowdown, Pakistan’s dependency on imported fossil fuel for its energy poses a threat to its renewable energy goals in the future. The power outage exposes the country’s breakdown in energy governance and questions the government’s plan for the future of energy production in Pakistan. The country stands at nearly PKR 2.47 trillion in circular debt and mostly records it because of fuel payments which would be reduced if the government focusses on carving out solutions with renewable energy. In FY2021, the net foreign direct investment (FDI) in the power sector increased to USD 911.1 million from USD 765.6 million in the previous year and mostly consisted of investments in the coal sector.

Energy experts hold that the country is “far, far away” from meeting its sustainable development goals of 20 per cent renewables by 2025, and said that the country would see impending doom in its way if it continues to depend heavily on its fossil-fuel-based power projects. Pakistan’s transition into the renewable sector could bring the country about USD 866 million in investment in the next 10 years, with the shift bringing gradual and necessary change for the energy sector. The impact of these shifts could exhibit long-term monetary gains and prevent the effects of climate change.

References
Major power breakdown hits Pakistan after grid failure,” The Express Tribune, 23 January 2023
Tahir Sherani, Qazi Hassan, Ghalib Nihad, “Restoration efforts underway as major power breakdown hits Pakistan,” Dawn, 23 January 2023
KE, NEPRA put on notice for power outages,” The Express Tribune, 22 January 2023
Salman Siddiqui, “Pakistan's foray into renewable energy,” The Express Tribune, 28 December 2023

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