Monday,24 September, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1209, (14 - 20 August 2014)
Monday,24 September, 2018
Issue 1209, (14 - 20 August 2014)

Ahram Weekly

The power goes off

Egypt’s electricity cuts are back with a vengeance, writes Mona El-Fiqi

Al-Ahram Weekly

While electricity cuts have become almost a daily problem for many Egyptian households, last week saw the electricity supply going off more often and for longer periods.

Over the past couple of years summer has become synonymous with power cuts, particularly because the higher temperatures increase demand for energy to operate air-conditioners. Production is lower than consumption during the hot summer months.

To ease the pressure on the power grid and to prevent it from collapsing, electricity companies have taken to cutting the electricity in many districts for at least one hour a day. The outages have become so routine that almost everyone knows when the electricity is due to go off in their area.

However, last week this system was disrupted when the electricity went off at least three or four times in a single day, sometimes for only a couple of hours but reaching 18 hours in some governorates.

“In the past, power cuts were the exception and not the rule. But today having electricity has become the exception,” said Ahmed Mansour, a government employee who lives in Giza.

All over the country people are complaining about power cuts. In Cairo’s Nasr City district, electricity cuts occur three or four times a day.

“Food rots in the fridge, water does not reach the taps, and elevators stop,” said Hisham Ibrahim, a Nasr City resident, describing how his family has suffered from the cuts. “It makes daily tasks almost impossible,” he added.

The situation has become so bad that President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi held a meeting with the ministers of electricity and petroleum on Friday to discuss ways of easing the problem.

Mohammed Shaker, minister of electricity and renewable energy, said in a statement that the power cuts are due to the high temperatures, fuel shortages, technical failures, and attempts to sabotage the grid.

Mohamed Al-Yamani, a spokesman for the ministry, told the Weekly that there were many reasons behind last week’s problems. “The first was the sudden failure of the Al-Koraymat power station, leading to a shortage of 1,250 megawatts,” Al-Yamani explained.

The hot weather puts a strain on the electrical grid, reducing its efficiency and causing a reduction in output of about ten per cent, he said. The problem has been worsened by the fact that some power plants are out of service due to maintenance.

Energy consumption is currently peaking at around 34,000 megawatts, while maximum capacity is 27,000 megawatts.

A shortage of the fuel needed to run the power stations is another reason for the problems, Al-Yamani said, adding that the Ministry of Petroleum is arranging for extra deliveries of natural gas from Algeria.

Official figures show that electricity generation consumes more than 55 per cent of the country’s total natural gas production.

In June, the Ministry of Petroleum announced that it is providing power stations nationwide with around 80 million cubic metres of natural gas, 26,000 tons of mazut (a heavy, low-quality fuel), and 1,500 tons of diesel per day in an attempt to avoid the blackouts.

According to Al-Yamani, the problem of electrical outages has increased over the past three years because there has not been the necessary expansion of electricity production due to the political instability. He said that production needs to increase annually to meet the energy demands of a growing population.

As long as such problems remain, Al-Yamani said the ministry will continue to cut power for one hour a day in each district.

The minister has given instructions that the cuts should be distributed fairly and that power to institutions such as hospitals and bakeries should not be interrupted.

Officials are hoping that as the new power stations come online the situation will improve. A new power station in Ain Sokhna is expected to begin operation by the end of August and will generate 600 megawatts.

Al-Yamani said that the government has approved the installation of solar energy panels at more than 1,000 government buildings so that they can generate their own power and ease the burden on the national grid.

However, with people unhappy about the electricity shortages the Ministry of Electricity may have trouble collecting payments from consumers, especially since higher tariffs went into effect in July.

Mohammed Ramadan, an employee of national television, lives in Al-Matariya in Cairo. He said the new tariffs had almost tripled his monthly bill from LE60 to LE170.

“The problem is that the government started applying the new tariffs in July when the power cuts were at their highest. It is unfair to pay more than double the usual bill when power cuts occur four or five times a day,” Ramadan said.

Al-Yamani said that the increases in prices are aimed at encouraging investors to establish new power-generation projects.

He said that the coming month will see fewer power cuts and that many of the current problems should be solved by next year.

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