Power cuts have started early this summer, despite several assurances to the contrary, reports Ahmed Kotb
By the end of last month, several governorates -- including Cairo -- started to experience power cuts shortly after promises by government officials that there would not be recurrent blackouts like in the previous years.
According to Mahmoud Balbaa, president of the Egyptian Electricity Holding Company, last week's blackouts that took place in areas in Cairo, Beni Sweif and Fayoum were caused by a shortage of natural gas and diesel in some power stations, leading to a loss of about 3,000 megawatts of the national grid's capacity. The shortage happened after one gas field experienced a sudden malfunction, which has now been repaired, according to Balbaa.
During the last few years there was a dramatic rise in electricity consumption due to the dramatic increase in the number of air conditioning units from 700,000 in 2006 to five million in 2011. With all of these units working during peak hours, which are two hours following dusk, the national grid was, apparently, unable to handle the pressure which forced the government to resort to daily and random power cuts in order to prevent the grid from collapsing.
About 40 per cent of total electricity production is consumed by homes, while industry uses 35 per cent. In industrialised countries, home consumption is lower than that of the industrial sector.
During the last few months, as Egypt prepared for a heated presidential contest, preparations were also underway for a not-so-cool summer.
In order to cope with rising demand on energy, some LE13 billion was allocated for an emergency plan announced by the Ministry of Electricity and Energy to increase the national grid's capacity by adding 2,400 megawatts through a number of immediate projects. The total capacity of the grid is approximately 28,000 megawatts. The maximum load on the grid this year was reported 28 May, reaching 22,500 megawatts.
Aktham Abul-Ela, deputy minister of electricity and energy, told Al-Ahram Weekly that it is impossible to provide all of the grid's power at once. "Power stations and units go through maintenance procedures and they cannot all work at once with the same efficiency," he explained, adding that some stations suffer from a shortage of fuel.
The Ministry of Electricity and Energy, and the Ministry of Petroleum have been accusing each other lately of being responsible for the power cuts. Hassan Younis, minister of electricity and energy, was quoted on different occasions as saying that the Ministry of Petroleum doesn't supply electricity stations with enough diesel and gas, thus leading to a lowering of the capacity of the grid and, as a result, blackouts. On the other hand, officials at the Ministry of Petroleum say that there have not been any shortages of supply to electricity stations.
The emergency plan, like that of last year, was adopted by the Ministry of Electricity and Energy in order to prevent resorting to power cuts to ease the load on the grid. There were very few blackouts reported last year. According to Abul-Ela, consumption during rush hours, two hours starting from dusk, increases by 6,000 megawatts and costs about LE8 billion.
This year, however, blackouts lasting for hours have started as early as May. In the previous years, mandated power cuts used to be in the months of July and August, during which the highest temperatures are recorded. Financial losses were countless.
Ahmed Bahgat, a professor of electrical engineering at Cairo University, believes that power cuts will be inevitable this summer because the national grid is overloaded.
Moreover, Bahgat says, energy consumption has jumped in the past two years by more than 11 per cent per year. The normal consumption growth average was eight per cent annually. "Several energy projects are needed to meet that exceptional growing demand," he stressed.
Abul-Ela said that the energy sector received LE12 billion for the implementation of energy projects for the five-year plan, 2012-2017, which are expected to fuel the national grid with 14,500 megawatts.
He also said that the fiscal year 2012/2013 is expected to witness investments in the electricity sector worth about LE20 billion, which will add 12,000 megawatts to the grid's total capacity.
He added: "Rationalising energy consumption is essential if we are looking for an effective and immediate solution. Rationalisation can be as simple as replacing ordinary lamps with energy saving ones, and turning off an unneeded air conditioner."