Tuesday,14 August, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1240, (2 - 8 April 2015)
Tuesday,14 August, 2018
Issue 1240, (2 - 8 April 2015)

Ahram Weekly

Cuts too soon

Power outages have already become a daily routine despite the fact that it is not yet summer, reports Ahmed Kotb

Al-Ahram Weekly

Recent weeks have seen repeated power outages, leaving Egyptians wary of what could happen later in the summer. Electricity outages at this time of year are not common, but this week they became both more frequent and more regular.

The Ministry of Petroleum announced its responsibility for last week’s outages on Thursday, citing stoppages in natural gas production at some fields in the Western Desert and the Mediterranean due to maintenance procedures that had affected the flow of gas to some power plants.

The repair work at the gas fields lasted a couple of days, leading to power cuts, the ministry said.

Electricity outages have been used over the last few years by the ministry of electricity and energy as a way of easing loads on the national grid when consumption exceeds production levels.

But the highest load reached last week was 23,950 Megawatts (MW), still considerably lower than the national grid’s total capacity of over 32,000 MW.

According to the Electrical Utility and Consumer Protection Regulatory Agency (EUCPRA), Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday of last week witnessed electricity production falling behind consumption between 8pm to 11pm.

This period saw severe blackouts in parts of the country due to an inability to provide some power stations with fuel. Under these circumstances, power is intentionally cut by the ministry in alternating districts across the country to prevent the collapse of the grid.

People are frustrated because the early outages came after promises by Minister of Electricity and Energy Mohamed Shaker that there would be no more power cuts, even during the summer when electricity consumption soars due to the greater use of air-conditioning units.

The latest such promise was made during Shaker’s speech at the Egypt Economic Development Conference in March, when he said that “Egypt will not suffer from power cuts next summer.”

Mohamed Al-Yamani, a spokesman for the ministry, said that fuel supply shortages were the only problem facing electricity production at present. “If the fuel supply is stable, blackouts will be rare,” he said, adding that more than 60 per cent of the maintenance work on the electricity stations had been completed as part of preparations for the summer.

“Fuel shortages are the real reason behind the blackouts,” he stressed.

Almost 65 per cent of Egypt’s total daily natural gas production, or 3.23 billion cubic feet out of 5.03 billion cubic feet, is consumed by electricity power plants. The latter also consume 26,000 tons of mazut fuel per day. Natural gas and mazut are the two main sources of energy used to run the electricity stations.

To mitigate against possible shortages of fuel, the Egyptian Natural Gas Holding Company (EGAS) finalised import agreements over the last few months to bring in about 90 shipments of natural gas throughout 2015 and 2016.

The latest contract was finalised earlier this month with the Russian energy company Gazprom, according to which Egypt will receive seven shipments of liquefied natural gas per year to total 35 shipments over five years. The date for the first shipment has not yet been specificed.

The shipments should secure Egypt’s growing needs for natural gas, at least in the short term, but only if there are no delays in receiving them.

The Egyptian General Petroleum Corporation announced it will be responsible for paying for  all the natural gas shipments throughout the current fiscal year which ends in June.  This comes after previous incidents where shipments were delayed due to shortages of hard currency.

Al-Yamani said that the ministry had prepared an emergency plan for the summer to add 3,632 MW to the national grid at a cost of $2.6 billion. “The plan should be implemented by the end of May,” he said.

He said the ministry was capable of preventing power outages this summer provided the fuel supply was stable. However, last week’s blackouts had proved that securing fuel supplies to power stations would not necessarily be an easy task, he said.

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