Millions left powerless: Country grinds to halt as massive power outage paralyses life

Three-member investigation committee to probe matter as PM directs fixing responsibility


Zafar Bhutta January 23, 2023
A man sits outside his shop during a country-wide power breakdown in Karachi, Pakistan January 23, 2023. PHOTO: REUTERS

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ISLAMABAD:

A massive breakdown in the national grid on Monday triggered the worst electricity outage across the length and breadth of the country in months, paralyzing life and highlighting the weak infrastructure of the heavily indebted nation.

The authorities concerned began restoring power to millions of people late in the night as an inquiry has been launched into the outage, which began at around 7:00am local time and has so far lasted more than 12 hours during the peak winter season.

As evening drew on and homes were without electricity in the dark, Minister for Power Engineer Khurram Dastgir wrote on Twitter that authorities had started restoring power across the country.

Dastgir had told reporters earlier: "We have faced some hurdles but we will overcome these hurdles, and will restore the power."

The outage, which the minister had said was due to a voltage surge, is the second major grid failure in three months, and adds to the blackouts that Pakistan's nearly 220 million people suffer on an almost-daily basis.

Power was beginning to return in parts of the federal capital and Balochistan, said Dastgir. Karachi is likely to see electricity restored in the next three to four hours, a spokesperson for K-Electric said.

The country had witnessed partial blackouts several times in the past. But this may be the first historical breakdown that affected the entire country and ran for several hours without remedy.

Read Grid failure sets off huge power outage

Some of power plants were shut on a temporarily basis to conserve expensive electricity generation that backfired on Monday when high demand in electricity caused a frequency disturbance in the electricity generation.

The power plants were being temporarily shut during the night time, which has backfired on Monday, when the system was turned on in the morning, frequency variation and voltage fluctuation occurred in the south part that had caused nationwide power breakdown.

The outage affected the entire country, including Karachi, Lahore, Quetta, Peshawar and Islamabad.

In January 2021, there was a country-wide power breakdown, which had plunged the entire country into darkness. Again in October 2022, partial outages occurred which had pushed Karachi, Hyderabad, Sukkur, Quetta, Multan, and Faisalabad, and other areas into darkness.

At that time the authorities concerned had attributed the breakdown to a technical fault in the system.

Taking serious notice of the power breakdown, Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif has ordered a high-level probe into the outage.

“Why did this power crisis emerge in the country?” the premier asked and directed the power minister to furnish a report and fix responsibility.

Dastgir said that the transmission system had tripped due to unusual fluctuation in the voltage of the national grid. “Electricity is being restored in different parts of the country in a gradual manner and, hopefully, it will be fixed completely tonight,” he added.

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The minister said the entire transmission system was safe despite such a massive power breakdown.

A power plant located in the Uch area was functional, and power supply to some areas of Balochistan and southern Punjab had already been restored.

The minister said partial power supply to Karachi had also been started through Thar Coal Power plants.

He said the NTDC had been given the instructions to freely switch on any power plant, including the expensive power generation unit, to meet the demand.

The minister said a three-member investigation committee has been constituted to probe the matter.

Meanwhile, during a briefing to the minister, an official of the National Power Construction Corporation (NPCC) that the countrywide outage was caused by a sudden plunge in the frequency of the power transmission system, leading to tripping in the Guddu power station and then cascading to other stations.

Due to high demand and low supply in the grid, the restoration work faced difficulties. The breakdown occurred due to a fault in a major transmission line from the Guddu power station to Quetta, said an official of the power division.

He said that due to a disconnection between the power plant and the transmission line, the frequency went down from a certain required level and resulted in cascading effects on other stations. Other reasons are being investigated.

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Meanwhile, another official said that on Sunday night owing to low demand for power, the power generation system was temporarily shut, but in the morning when engineers tried to restore it, voltage fluctuation occurred forcing the engineers to shut down the power grid stations.

The National Electric Power Regulatory Authority (NEPRA), in a statement, said that it has taken "serious notice" of the power outage and directed the National Transmission and Despatch Company (NTDC) to submit a "detailed report".

The statement also said that the regulator has previously imposed fines on similar outages in 2021 and 2022. It also shared that NEPRA has consistently issued directives and recommendations on tackling such events in the future.

The official said that the power demand has increased in South while in the North the demand was low which has created an imbalance and frequency issueresulting tripping of the plants.

The Ministry of Energy said that a major power breakdown was reported across the country on Monday morning after the frequency of the national grid decreased.

The system of frequency of the national grid went down at 7:34am on Monday which resulted in a countrywide power breakdown. Restoration of the system was progressing rapidly, it further said.

Restoration work of grid stations has been started from Warsak and limited grid stations of Islamabad Electric Supply Company and Peshawar Electric Supply Company have been restored in an hour, it was further stated.

 

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