Pakistan sunset

Pakistan suffers nationwide power outage

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Pakistan suffered a “widespread breakdown in the power system” after an energy-saving measure by the government backfired.

Pakistan suffered a nationwide power outage that left nearly 220 million people without electricity for several hours today (Monday 23 January) due to a technical fault.

The country’s Ministry of Energy said in a statement the system frequency of the country’s National Grid went down at 7.34am local time. 

“System maintenance work is progressing rapidly,” the tweet added.

All the country's major urban centres were affected by the outages, including the biggest city Karachi, the capital Islamabad, as well as Lahore and Peshawar.

Energy minister Khurram Dastgir Khan told a local TV channel that the national grid switches off power-generation units temporarily at night during the winter to save fuel costs. However, this measure left technicians unable to boot up the system at all after daybreak. 

“There was a fluctuation in voltage and power-generating units were shut down one by one due to cascading impact," Dastgir said. "This is not a major crisis."

He reassured the nation that power will be fully restored within the next 12 hours.

Nonetheless, the outage spread panic and raised questions about the cash-strapped government’s handling of the crisis. The outages have affected transport and health services in urban centres and impacted local businesses. 

Imran Rana, a spokesman for Karachi’s power supply company, said the government’s priority was to “restore power to strategic facilities, including hospitals,” airports and other places.

The situation was reminiscent of a massive blackout in January 2021, attributed at the time to a technical fault in the country’s power generation and distribution system. The country suffered a complete breakdown in its electricity network in 2013 when another power plant developed a technical fault.

Pakistan's last major blackout in October took over 12 hours to restore and mainly affected the southern parts of the country.

The outage comes as the country struggles with a worsening energy crisis and a foreign exchange reserve that has dwindled to alarmingly low levels.

Pakistan gets at least 60 per cent of its electricity from fossil fuels, while nearly 27 per cent of the electricity is generated by hydropower. The country is no stranger to power cuts, with many essential facilities such as hospitals choosing to rely on local diesel generators to ensure an uninterrupted supply.

Earlier this month, Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif ordered all federal departments to reduce their energy consumption by 30 per cent, while his government ordered all markets to close by 8.30pm and restaurants by 10pm. However, the appeal was largely ignored.

At the moment, talks are under way with the International Monetary Fund to soften some conditions on Pakistan’s $6bn (£4.9bn) bailout, which the government thinks will trigger further inflation hikes.

In 2020, the country announced plans to revamp its national electricity grid in order to lower its carbon impact. It wanted 30 per cent of its energy to come from renewables by 2030, up from the present 4 per cent share.

Climate change mitigation policies have often been struck down by Pakistani politicians in the past, although the country finally passed a major bill in 2017 which established a policy-making Climate Change Council, along with a Climate Change Authority.

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