Hours after major outage hits Pakistan, govt says power restoration under way

Published January 23, 2023
<p>A shopkeeper uses his mobile phone’s torch light at a market during a nationwide power outage in Rawalpindi on January 23. — AFP</p>

A shopkeeper uses his mobile phone’s torch light at a market during a nationwide power outage in Rawalpindi on January 23. — AFP

A massive power cut across Pakistan continued after night fell on Monday, affecting most of the country’s 220 million residents, including in the metropolises of Karachi and Lahore.

Energy Minister Khurram Dastgir said on Monday night, more than 12 hours after the breakdown occurred, that officials had begun restoring electricity across the country.

Power was beginning to return in parts Islamabad and Balochistan, said Dastgir.

The minister had earlier said that electricity across the country would be fully restored by 10pm after the breakdown — triggered by “frequency variation” in the national grid — hit Pakistan.

The grid should be fully functioning by 10pm, Dastgir told Reuters, adding: “We are trying our utmost to achieve restoration before that.”

In a televised address, the minister said that there had been a widespread power breakdown in the country, adding that officials were working on restoring electricity.

“Today at 7:34am, there was unusual voltage and frequency fluctuation in the North-South transmission corridor because of which the national grid’s system frequency was affected and a widespread breakdown was caused.”

He said that the country’s transmission system had not been affected but explained that electricity was required to get power plants and dams up and running.

Talking about the steps taken to address the outage, he said that there was a power plant in Uch which was currently operational. He said that power generated from the plant, which was providing electricity to several areas in Sindh, was also being diverted to Balochistan and parts of Punjab.

He further said that electricity from the Thar coal power project was partially being provided to K-Electric which was working on restoring operations.

He assured the nation that he was personally overseeing the matter at the National Power Control Centre (NPCC) and that the officials concerned were working hard to restore power. He expressed the hope that power would be restored across the country by tonight.

The minister said that the National Transmission and Despatch Company (NTDC) had been directed, on the orders of the prime minister, to get all power plants up and running even if they were dependent on expensive furnace oil. He further said a three-member team had been formed by the premier to probe the incident.

Separately, in a tweet, he said that electricity had been restored partially in distribution companies of Islamabad, Peshawar, Quetta, Multan and Sukkur.

According to the Ministry of Energy, the system of frequency of the national grid went down at 7:34am today resulting in a widespread breakdown in the system.

“System maintenance work is progressing rapidly,” it tweeted.

The last major power outage in the country, reported in October last year, took more than 12 hours to restore. The electricity blackout took out approximately 8,000MW from the system.

‘Nothing major’

In an interview with Geo News earlier today, Dastgir said the breakdown was not “major”.

“In winter, the demand for electricity reduces nationwide, hence, as an economic measure, we temporarily close down our power generation systems at night.

“However, when the systems were turned on in the morning today, frequency variation and voltage fluctuation was observed in the south of the country […] somewhere between Dadu and Jamshoro […] because of which power generating units shut down one by one,” he explained.

Dastgir went on to say that the restoration of grid stations in Peshawar and Islamabad had begun. “I can assure you that power will be fully restored across the country within the next 12 hours,” he added.

Talking about Karachi, the minister said: “We provide K-Electric about 1,000-1,100 megawatts routinely […] power in the city will be restored within a few hours.”

PM Shehbaz forms committee; Nepra takes notice

Meanwhile, Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif took strong notice of the power breakdown in the country and constituted a high-level committee to probe the cause for the incident.

The premier sought an urgent report from the energy minister on the matter. He stressed on uncovering the reason behind the power breakdown and pinpointing those responsible.

He ordered the authorities concerned to take swift measures to restore power, saying that inconveniencing the public would not be tolerated.

The National Electric Power Regulatory Authority (Nepra) also took “serious notice” of the country-wide power breakdown.

In a statement, it directed the NTDC to submit a detailed report on the electricity blackout.

Nepra also apprised that it had previously imposed fines on similar trippings, partial/full blackout(s), system collapse(s), and tower collapse(s) in 2021 and 2022 and has consistently issued directives and recommendations on mitigating such events as well.

No power problem at major airports; PTCL says services may be affected

The Civil Aviation Authority has said that there were no power problems at major airports across the country.

“The situation is under control thanks to the alternative systems. We are using standby power to provide uninterrupted electricity to all the airports,” the authority’s spokesperson said in a statement.

He added that the electricity supply at the Peshawar airport has been restored.

The Pakistan Telecommunication Company Limited (PTCL), however, warned customers that they may face degradation in services due to the power outage.

“Once the power is restored, you will be able to enjoy uninterrupted PTCL services again,” the company said.

KE assessing situation in Karachi

In Karachi, power outages were reported in Malir, Landhi, Gulistan-i-Johar, Akhter Colony, II Chundrigar Road, New Karachi, Gulshan, Ibrahim Haideri and Korangi.

In a tweet, K-Electric spokesperson Imran Rana confirmed that the country-wide breakdown had affected the power supply in Karachi as well.

He said KE teams were assessing the situation and the process for the restoration of electricity had been initiated.

Later, Rana said that the company’s first priority was to restore power to strategic facilities including hospitals, airports, etc.

Three transmission lines trip in Balochistan

Meanwhile, Quetta Electric Supply Company spokesperson Muhammad Afzal told Dawn.com that three transmission lines in the province — 220kV Uch-Sibbi, 220kV Dadu-Khuzdar and 220kV Dera Murad Jamali — had tripped.

“This has resulted in a massive power outage across Balochistan,” he said.

The affected cities include Quetta, Pishin, Qilla Abdullah, Chaman, Loralai Zhob, Qilla Saifulllah, Mastung, Sibbi, Ziarat, Kalat and Khuzdar.

Afzal added that restoration efforts were underway by the NTDC.

117 grid stations affected in Islamabad

Meanwhile, in Islamabad, nearly 117 grid stations were affected due to the breakdown, the spokesperson of the Islamabad Electric Supply Company said.

“System maintenance is being directly monitored from the central control room and power is being restored in a phased manner to protect the system from damages,” he told Dawn.com.

The spokesperson elaborated that restoration at 132kV grid stations in Zero Point, Rawal, F-16, F-6, D-12, F-6, I-8 and Chaklala was underway, adding that complete repair of the system will take time.

‘Serious energy crisis’

After the breakdown, a number of journalists and politicians took to Twitter.

PTI leader and former human rights minister Shireen Mazari criticised the government, saying that the “incompetent cabal of crooks” was bringing the country down.

Journalist Owais Tohid said the power breakdown raised fears that “a country with a fragile economy is heading towards a serious energy crisis in harsh winter”.

Journalist Iftikhar Firdous said the situation will “add to the panic and anxiety in the country”.

Shahbaz Rana, another journalist, tweeted that the power outage was a “symbol of governance breakdown and economic meltdown”.

“It is the price that the nation will pay for the inflated egos of our rulers. If things do not improve from here, there will soon be breakdowns of supply chains of almost all essential goods,” he added.

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