Restoration under way after nationwide power outage

A power breakdown gripped the whole country, including areas of K-Electric, on Monday bringing life to a standstill when the system breakout occurred at 7:34 am due to frequency disturbance, over-voltage, and load variation in the South region (Sindh & Balochistan) of National Transmission & Despatch Company (NTDC) due to technical issues at 500kV Jamshoro & Guddu Grid Stations.

Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif took notice of the breakdown and ordered a probe into it. He also constituted a high-level committee to investigate as to why the system went down. Officials announced late Monday that power was restored in many cities, 15 hours after the outage was reported.

According to a foreign wire service report the breakout happened as an energy-saving measure by the government backfired. It all started when electricity was turned off during low usage hours overnight to conserve fuel across the country, officials said, leaving technicians unable to boot up the system all at once after daybreak.

Many major cities, including the capital of Islamabad, and remote towns and villages across Pakistan were without electricity for more than 12 hours. As the electricity failure continued into Monday night, authorities deployed additional police at markets around the country to provide security.

Earlier, Federal Minister for Power Engineer Khurram Dastgir Khan also claimed that electricity would be restored by 10 pm. This is the third power breakdown that affected the whole countrymen. The countrywide blackout earlier hit the country in 2015 and then in 2021 exposing the governance breakdown in the powers sector. Every time the fault appears at 500kV Jamshoro & Guddu Grid Stations that poses a big question mark on the ability and sincerity of the top mandarins of the Power Division as to why they have not been able to upgrade and maintain the said grid stations.

Earlier, the authorities concerned tried five to six times to energise the system from Tarbela but they failed. They also tried in vain to restore the system from Warsak. And during the restoration, the north region of NTDC (Islamabad-Lahore-Multan) collapsed for 5-6 times due to continued oscillations in the transmission network.

However, later on, the authorities managed to restore the system gradually and succeeded in restoring the electricity in Islamabad by up to 80 percent by 8pm followed by the gradual restoration of electricity in other parts of the country.

The minister for power claimed that till 10 pm the electricity would be restored in the whole country. However, experts are of the view that electricity restoration may be extended till (today) Tuesday.

The blackout also forced banks, hospitals, textile, industries, and commercial and business outlets to close their operations. Even the official activities in the Federal Government Secretariat in Islamabad also remained dormant because of no electricity. So much so the situation also triggered panic buying of diesel by people at petrol pumps in major cities to run their generators.

Mobile and internet services in various pockets of the main cities were also affected. And to this effect Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) directed the companies to ensure services refueling generators at the maximum number of affected sites.

Top sources in the power sector said that the deteriorated and old transmission & distribution network in the south causes partial and full blackouts, tower collapses, and transmission lines tripping affecting the entire country. Non-provision of Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition (SCADA) and functional telecom system in the grid stations and transmission lines is also an issue that leads to such situations.

They said that provision of adequate investment and manpower, training, and vehicles to field staff in the south, timely completion of projects involving augmentation, new grid stations, and transmission lines in the south, and the removal of system constraints is the solution to prevent such blackouts.

In a statement, Karachi Electric — the sole power provider of Karachi — said the company’s system’s protective mechanisms were able to prevent any damage to our infrastructure.

“KE teams are active and directly supervising the restoration efforts across Karachi,” the utility said, adding that its teams are also in contact with relevant authorities to reestablish the link between Karachi and the national grid.

Progress across the country and KE is proceeding at a cautious pace, prioritising the stability of the network frequency. Strategic installations such as the airport, Karachi Port, and hospitals are being restored first. Partial restoration of some areas has, according to the KE, been achieved.

The textile sector suffered a massive loss amounting to $70 million so far due to the ongoing countrywide breakdown, said a spokesperson of the All Pakistan Textile Mills Association (APTMA).

He maintained that the massive power failure badly affected industries across the country. The textile sector will have to face losses worth billions of dollars if the situation is not controlled soon, he said.

In Peshawar, Lahore, and other cities, long queues of vehicles were seen at almost every fuel station due to the shortage of oil amid the countrywide power breakdown. Petroleum Dealers Association provincial chairman said there was no fuel at 50 percent of the petrol pumps in Peshawar.

Most of the elective scheduled operations were postponed because of the power outage, however, emergency surgeries were performed at hospitals across the country. Earlier when the power breakdown hit the country in January 9, 2021, National Electric Power Regulatory Authority (Nepra) had recommended some actions to the Power Division which were not implemented that resulted in the blackout on January 23, 2023.

Nepra had asked the government to direct the NTDC for arranging a comprehensive study from a reputed international firm to mitigate the adverse effects of Power Swing and suggest Out of Step (OOS) Protection in order to avoid major power breakdowns. Nepra would be taken on board for framing of TORs, the bidding process, and final selection of the consultant in due course.

The NTDC and distribution companies (Discos) must be directed to conduct a study of 500kV/220kV and 132kV systems respectively in order to find out the defects and deficiencies and suggest remedies for prevention of faults and timely system recovery in case of partial and total breakdowns.

The regulator had also asked the Power Division to direct the NTDC for taking actions including the recommendations of the inquiry report which was completed after the 2021 blackout. The inquiry report had recommended that the existing SCADA system was insufficient and covers only 500kV network and partly 220kV system. The SCADA needs to be extended up to 132kV level for proper operation and control by the National Power Control Cell (NPCC).

The NTDC should prepare the contingency plans and procedures for restoration of power supply under emergency and partial/ complete power failures and ensure the provision of Central Event Recorder having a resolution of mili seconds (ms) for proper analysis of events. And no operation of power houses and grid stations should be carried out without the knowledge and directions of the NPCC.

The inquiry report also recommended providing at least one machine of each power plant with a capacity of 200MW and above in Island Mode. And the Black Start facility will be made available at the power plants suggested/ selected by the NPCC, especially for those located in the south and central zones.

Nepra had taken action against NTDC and penalised it with Rs50 million fine for a full blackout that occurred on January 9, 2021, due to 500kV Guddu Grid Station, Rs10 million for partial blackout occurred on Sep. 1, 2021 due to 500kV Jamshoro Grid Station. The regulator also imposed penalty on the NTDC with Rs10 million for partial blackout on May 22, 2021 due to the collapse of 500kV towers in Matiari, Jamshoro and Dadu. Ends

Like rest of the country, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa also experienced the worst power breakdown on Monday as the entire province was left without electricity for several hours.

The officials of the Peshawar Electric Supply Company (Pesco) were clueless for hours when they were reached for the major cause of the power breakdown in the province. It caused suffering to the people as in some places people complained of the lack of water for drinking and other purposes.

The power breakdown also disconnected millions of people across the province as cellular phone service providers shut down their towers in many areas due to the lack of power. In some areas the cell phone were made available for some time by using generators but they shut down their services apparently they didn’t want to continue their services by using generators.

Major hospitals also faced serious difficulties as they never experienced breakdown for such a long time of period. Power supply was restored to a few areas of Peshawar at 12:30 pm but it suspended again after a few minutes later.

Most of the shops and markets were shut earlier due to the hours long power breakdown. In Peshawar, the shops and markets having generators continued their businesses even during the breakdown but many other shops lacking the generators were closed earlier.

“Initially we didn’t know about the cause of the breakdown and used UPS but the batteries died and then there was no other option to shut the shop,” said Wasim Anwar Khan, a shopkeeper of Batkhela Bazaar in the Malakand district.

Power supply had started restoring to some of the areas in KP latter at night. However, people in Mardan, Swabi, Nowshera, Haripur, Abbotabad, Swat, Buner, Shangla, Upper Dir, Lower Dir, Upper Chitral, Lower Chitral, we’re still waiting for the power supply to be restored. 

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