Lights Out in Pakistan as Energy-saving Move Backfires

Lights go out in Pakistan as energy saving measure fails

Traders and workers wait for electricity in a market following a nationwide power outage, in Lahore, Pakistan, Monday, January 23, 2023.

Credit: AP Photo/KM Chaudary

Much of Pakistan was without power for several hours on Monday morning as a government power-saving measure failed. The blackout spread panic and raised questions about the cash-strapped government’s handling of the country’s economic crisis.

Power was cut across Pakistan during low-use hours overnight to save fuel across the country, authorities said, leaving technicians unable to turn on the system all at once after dawn.

The blackout was reminiscent of a massive blackout in January 2021, attributed at the time to a technical failure in the country’s power generation and distribution system.

The nationwide outage on Monday left many people without drinking water as the pumps run on electricity. Schools, hospitals, factories and shops were without power amid harsh winter weather.

Energy Minister Khurram Dastgir told local media on Monday that engineers were working to restore power across the country, including in the capital Islamabad, and tried to reassure the nation that power would be restored. completely in the next 12 hours.

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According to the minister, during the winter, electricity consumption tends to drop overnight, unlike in the summer months when Pakistanis turn to air conditioning for respite from the heat.

“As an economic measure, we temporarily shut down our power generation systems” on Sunday night, Dastagir said.

When engineers tried to turn the systems back on, a “fluctuation in voltage” was observed, “forcing engineers to shut down power grid stations” one by one, it added.

He insisted that this was not a major crisis and that electricity was being restored in phases. Backup generators have been activated at many locations and key businesses and institutions, including hospitals, military and government installations.

Karachi, the country’s largest city and economic hub, was also without power on Monday, as were other key cities including Quetta, Peshawar and Lahore.

In Lahore, a closure notice was posted at Orange Line metro stations, with railway workers guarding the sites and trains parked on the rails. It was unknown when the metro system would be restored.

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

Pakistan gets at least 60 percent of its electricity from fossil fuels, while almost 27 percent of electricity is generated by hydropower. The contribution of nuclear and solar energy to the national grid is around 10 percent.

Pakistan is dealing with one of the country’s worst economic crises in recent years amid dwindling foreign exchange reserves. This forced the government earlier this month to order shopping malls and markets to close at 8:30 p.m. for energy conservation purposes.

Talks are underway with the International Monetary Fund to ease some conditions on Pakistan’s $6 billion bailout, which the government believes will lead to further increases in inflation. The IMF delivered the last crucial tranche of $1.1 billion to Islamabad in August.

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Since then, talks between the two sides have oscillated due to Pakistan’s reluctance to impose new tax measures.

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