When darkness prevails
Recurrent power cuts that gripped Egypt this month have crippled production in various sectors, Nesma Nowar reports
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People expressed their anger at power cuts by blocking roadways in several provinces across Egypt
Maye Abdel-Azim had to hold a meeting with one of her clients in a dark room this week. "Starting mid-July and for two weeks in a row we have been witnessing daily power cuts that extended for up to two hours," said Abdel-Azim, managing director of Media & More, an advertising agency.
Power cuts were disastrous for her work, according to Abdel-Azim. She explained that she failed to deliver her work on time because electricity blackouts crippled production at her office. Consequently, she had to put off delivery deadlines to later dates. "The work produced in these two weeks could have been carried out in three days had it not been for recurrent power cuts," Abdel-Azim told Al-Ahram Weekly.
Abdel-Azim is not the only victim of power cuts. Power outages have taken their toll on the tourism sector as well. Chairman of the Egyptian Tourism Federation (ETF) Elhami El-Zayat told the Weekly that he has received several complaints from hotels in the Red Sea resorts of Sharm El-Sheikh and Hurghada. Recurrent power cuts hamper the use of air conditioning units in hotels.
El-Zayat pointed out that power cuts give tourists a bad impression about the quality of services in Egypt, which in turn could affect tourism negatively.
On Sunday, the Health Ministry warned of a "disaster" in hospitals due to continuing power cuts. Assistant Minister of Health Abdel-Hamid Abaza has been quoted as saying that the ministry asked the Ministry of Electricity to supply hospitals with power through two different sources, in order to protect the lives of patients.
Industries have also been affected by electricity blackouts. Owners of factories in Abu Rawash industrial zone have called upon officials to end the electricity crisis. They said that power cuts are hindering production.
Bakeries are in no better condition. Farag Wahba, head of the bakeries division at the Cairo Chamber of Commerce, said that due to power outages bakeries were not able to run ovens and this led to spoiling of the dough used to make bread. "This in turn caused losses to the owners of bakeries," Wahba said.
Power cuts began in May but have escalated during July prompting a spate of demonstrations across Egypt. Cairo and many other governorates have been experiencing regular power cuts that extended, in some cases, to more than four hours. Citizens in Cairo have threatened not to pay their electricity bills.
In a press conference last week, Minister of Electricity Hassan Younis said there is a 3,000 Megawatt increase in electricity loads at peak times. He added that this is costing the state dearly, at levels that surpass available resources.
Aktham Abul-Ela, deputy minister of electricity and energy, attributed power outages partly to increased electricity consumption as a result of a large increase in the number of air conditioning units in homes and buildings, reaching six million units in 2012. The number of air conditioners in 2006 was as low as 900,000, according to Abul-Ela.
Abul-Ela added that the lack of security has resulted many illegal buildings that added to electricity consumption. "Electricity consumption has climbed by 12 per cent this year, whereas economic growth stood at two per cent." Abul-Ela told the Weekly.
He further said that households comprise 42 per cent of total electricity consumption, while industry consumes 32 per cent. "This does not happen in any country around the world." He added that air conditioners eat up a quarter of Egypt's generated electricity. He also noted that in Ramadan, the Islamic month of fasting, electricity consumption normally peaks.
Compounding the problem, Abul-Ela stated that 1,800 megawatts were supposed to be added to the national grid through linking the grid with two power plants in West Damietta and Abu Qir. However local protests at both sites prevented the early completion of those plants. "If these 1,800 megawatts had been added to the grid, we would not have had these power cuts." He said.
Another reason that led to the power cuts, according to Abul-Ela, is a shortage in fuel and natural gas needed to run power plants. He said that his ministry has asked the finance ministry to allocate funds for the Egyptian General Petroleum Corporation (EGPC) to provide power plants with the needed petroleum products.
Indeed, mismanagement on the Petroleum Ministry's side has contributed to the power cuts problem, according to Hossam Arafat, head of the general division of petroleum products at the Federation of Chambers of Commerce. Arafat said that the Ministry of Petroleum has been late in importing fuel oil used in operating power plants.
Arafat also believes that the government lacks the liquidity needed to import required petroleum products. According to Arafat, Egypt needs $35 million daily to meet its petroleum needs. He also pointed out that there is no coordination between the ministries of electricity and petroleum.
Meanwhile, Arafat attributed a good part of the problem to the fact that many old cables in the national grid need replacement. "This makes it a rickety grid that can not bear any overload."
Abul-Ela stated that power outages have begun to ease. He attributed this to a decrease in temperatures and consistent supply of natural gas and fuel to power plants.
In order to meet soaring energy consumption in coming years, several projects are underway. Abul-Ela stated that the energy sector would implement energy projects worth LE12 billion during a five-year plan, 2012-2017, which are expected to add an extra 14,500 megawatts to Egypt's national grid.
Also, an agreement will be signed with Saudi Arabia to exchange electricity current with them, as peak hours for electricity usage in Saudi Arabia are in the morning while peak hours in Egypt are in the evening.
But when it comes to immediate and effective solutions to current power cuts, Abul-Ela underlined the importance of rationalising energy consumption. "Rationalising consumption should be part of Egyptians' culture."