News Analysis: Five factors behind countrywide power breakdown

Tuesday, Jan 24, 2023

By Munawar Hasan

LAHORE: A major cascading power failure depriving more than 225 million people of electricity supply from Gilgit to Karachi was triggered by a human error, and became a hard nut to crack due to a bunch of reasons, it was learnt on Monday.

There was no weather-related issue, nor any fault on generation, transmission or distribution sides. Rather officials of National Power Control Centre (NPCC), National Transmission & Despatch Company (NTDC) and Ministry’s officials concerned failed to plan and systematically increase power generation to meet early morning demand.

Had there been efficient power generation in place, a morning uptick in demand could have easily been met and there would have been no breakdown at all. Lagging behind in meeting demand of national grid is a criminal negligence, to say the least.

Peaking of power, which refers to electricity consumption at its highest points, for instance, usually occurring early morning and in evening during typical winter days, is a routine exercise that has miserably been messed up due to reasons better known to the power managers. A jump of 2000-3000mw in peak demand should have been manageable with much ease in lean winter period having wee hour demand in the range of four figures.

The power blackout this Monday morning was caused by failure of thermal power plants to start operation in line with the demand curve, said sources. Hence, the mismatch of system frequency led to knocking out national grid after tripping due to imbalance between demand and supply of electricity.

Second reason is said to be compromise in natural gas and liquid fuel-run thermal power plants’ ability to meet day to day power demand, mainly due to high cost of fuel and liquidity crunch on the back of ballooning circular debt.

Third reason, according to sources, has been waning resilience of national grid against large-scale power outages. It stems from faltering mechanism put in place by the NTDC to isolate such faults to limited area, claimed sources.

Talking about fourth reason of prolonged suspension of power supply, an official said that bad governance used to be one of the most common causes of human errors as lack of training, poor coordination, stress and faulty equipment are all hallmarks of such catastrophic breakdowns. It seems that contingency plan for restoration of electricity was not properly executed. Lack of coordination among power generation plants, transmission and distribution networks only further exacerbated issues related to the breakdown.

Fifth and last factor responsible for the blackout was undue delay in synchronising readily available hydropower generation with the grid. Although, Warsak and later Mangla power houses successfully linked with parts of distribution systems of Peshawar and Islamabad electric supply companies, Tarbela Power House could only be connected to national grid late at around 8pm after successive futile attempts. Ghazi Barotha was energised even later due to faults in transmission and distribution systems.

Many believe institutions should investigate Monday’s massive shutdown as they consider it an outcome of a conspiracy to break the bone of Pakistan’s already crippling economy.

Since 2014, ten major power blackouts have been reported. Such tripping usually starts in mid of the country where Punjab and Sindh borders meet or hydropower plants in the North. However, Monday’ mega outage was purely on the back of low power generation, insist sources.