Seventy per cent of the country plunged into darkness late Sunday night after the National Power Control Center (NPCC) developed technical faults.
According to several media outlets, faults in the NPCC, situated in the capital, developed around 11:30 pm. The faults led to a blackout in all major urban centres, including Karachi, Lahore, Islamabad, Rawalpindi, Peshawar, Quetta, Hyderabad and Faisalabad.
Talking to The Express Tribune on condition of anonymity, an official from the Pakistan Electric Power Company (Pepco) said an overload on the transmission system was behind the massive breakdown. He blamed the incumbent government for not upgrading the transmission and distribution system, and choosing instead to spend over Rs1 trillion on power subsidies.
The official did not specify a timeframe for the resumption of power across the country.
Another official in the power sector said that the problem could have emerged as the 550MW Uch power plant had stopped working. According to the official, the system tripped due to low generation and high electricity demand across the country.
“Total generation at the time of blackout in the country was 8,500MW against the demand of 13,000MW,” he maintained.
After the Uch power plant tripped, Hub power plant followed, causing a failure in Karachi Electric Supply Company’s transmission system. Subsequently, Mangla and Tarbela powerhouses went down as well.
According to the official, power plants which could produce 4,000MW were not working due to a fuel shortage and had been shut down. When contacted, National Power Control Center (NPCC) General Manager Masood Akhtar told The Express Tribune that “we are trying to restore the power supply.”
When asked about the reason behind the breakdown, he said “we do not know the reason at this juncture.” Akhtar, however, did not respond to the query when asked about the scale of power breakdown and the number of affected cities or areas of the country.
At least 60% of Karachi was reportedly blacked out.
“It had us by surprise. This wasn’t a planned outage so we could not do anything about it,” said KESC spokesperson Aminur Rehman.
“We are trying to bring back the system online. But this might take a few hours,” he said.
Former Pepco head Munawar Baseer said the main reason for such a broad impact was the absence of safety nets in the vast inter-linked power system.
“This is no rocket science. For instance if there is a sudden disconnection of supply from Tarbela dam and the entire system comes under stress… there should be way to stop that tripping right there,” he maintained.
Talking to The Express Tribune, Quetta Electric Supply Company (Qesco) spokesperson Shafqat Khan revealed 22 districts across Balochistan were without power. Makran division, however, still had electricity since it received its supply from Iran, he added.
The simultaneous power breakdown fired up rumour mills, with many fearing it pointed to a military coup considering similar outages in the past.
Pakistan’s national grid runs from Karachi to up north. While the thermal power plants are located in Sindh and the hydel power plants in K-P, the major consumption exists in Punjab.
Experts say this distribution of system especially with the power shortfall leaves the country vulnerable to such a breakdown.
Meanwhile, a statement from the Prime Minister House read that Prime Minister Raja Pervaiz Ashraf had taken notice of the situation. He ordered the faults be resolved as soon as possible.
Published in The Express Tribune, February 25th, 2013.