Al-Ahram Weekly Online   25 - 31 July 2012
Issue No. 1108
Published in Cairo by AL-AHRAM established in 1875

Power to the people?

Power cuts have been igniting demonstrations across the country, reports Reem Leila

Click to view caption
A grocery owner resorts to candle lights as a result of continuous power cuts

Egypt has been experiencing recurrent power cuts since the beginning of summer, with the problem being made worse by the extra demands placed on the electrical grid by the advent of the holy month of Ramadan. Electricity shortages are now a problem in Cairo, Alexandria, Sohag, Qena, Luxor, Aswan, and Nubia, as well as in the Nile Delta governorates of Beheira and Qalioubiya.

Several Cairo districts have been experiencing regular power cuts, especially Helwan, Shubra, Maadi, Haram, Heliopolis and Nasr City. In Upper Egypt, residents of the town of Sohag protested against the power cuts last week, and the police had to prevent them from attacking the electricity company's offices and governorate buildings.

Villagers from Edfu near Aswan blocked railway traffic for at least three hours on 17 July in protest against the power outages, and the protests only ended when security officials intervened and promised to coordinate with the authorities concerned to solve the problem.

Residents of Luxor expressed their anger at the electricity outages by demonstrating in front of electricity company offices, and the residents of Qena demonstrated in front of governorate buildings and blocked highways, complaining at power outages that have reached 18 hours a day in an effort to reduce loads.

Minister of Energy Hassan Younis declared that emergency measures would be taken to ensure the electricity supply on 19 July, especially during peak times. "Our policy is to rationalise electricity consumption," he said, telling the press on the same day that the shortage in electricity had now reached more than 3,000 megawatts due to increases in consumption.

"Two new electricity generating stations were inaugurated on 21 July, and each will produce 1,800 megawatts," Younis said.

Meanwhile, the National Electricity Control Centre (NECC) has been reducing the load on the country's grid by cutting off power from factories and other organisations that have not paid their electricity bills, these also including individuals, shop owners, and bakeries that are behind in paying their bills.

Mahmoud Balbaa, head of the Electricity Holding Company, has called on people to rationalise their consumption of electricity at this difficult time. "Peak electricity consumption across the country is from 6pm to 9pm, and the NECC is obliged to reduce consumption in order to protect the electrical grid during peak times," he said.

Recent electricity shortages have been due to delays in connecting the West Damietta and Abu Qir power stations to the electrical network. These stations, planned to be connected last May, will be offline until the beginning of August because of technical problems.

The present increased consumption has been due "to an excessive increase in the number of air conditioners, due to the high temperatures," Balbaa said, though he also blamed the Ministry of Petroleum for the cuts. "Due to the fuel crisis that the country has been suffering from over recent months, the Ministry of Petroleum has not been supplying the electricity stations with enough fuel, leading to a reduction in capacity and blackouts."

In order to meet the escalating demand for energy, nearly LE12 billion has been allocated to the emergency plan announced by the Ministry of Energy to increase the capacity of the national grid, with some 2,400 megawatts being immediately added.

Last year, Egypt also saw serious electricity shortages, especially during July and August, but this year's shortages began in May. According to Aktham Abul-Ela, deputy minister of energy, the dramatic rise in consumption is due to the increase in the number of air-conditioning units, up from 900,000 in 2006 to more than five million in 2011.

Many of these units work during peak hours, putting enormous strain on the national grid. As a result, the authorities have had no choice but to implement a temporary solution by cutting power supplies intermittently, he said.

According to Abul-Ela, energy consumption has been increasing by eight per cent per year in recent years, but it increased by 11 per cent in 2011 and 2012. Some 40 per cent of Egypt's electricity production is consumed by domestic users, with industry using some 35 per cent. In industrialised countries, domestic electricity consumption is generally lower than industrial consumption.

"The energy sector will implement projects worth LE12 billion during the 2012-2017 five-year plan," Abul-Ela said. "These projects are expected to add an extra 14,500 megawatts to the country's national grid." During fiscal year 2012/2013 there will also be investment in the electricity sector that will add 12,000 megawatts to the grid's total capacity, he added.

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