KARACHI: Pakistan’s energy minister on Monday said technicians were working to restore a major national grid breakdown that left millions of people across the country without electricity all day, saying that power would be restored by the evening.
The second major outage in three months has raised questions about infrastructural weakness and the urgent need to upgrade an aging power grid in a country of 220 million people.
While Pakistan has enough installed power capacity to meet demand, it lacks adequate resources to run its oil-and-gas powered plants. The energy sector is also heavily indebted and cannot afford to invest in new infrastructure and power lines.
The latest breakdown, which occurred at about 7:30 a.m., also comes as the Pakistan economy is in a tailspin, with foreign reserves dwindling, inflation at decades-high levels and industrial growth slowing.
Authorities are working on restoring power before Monday ends, Energy Minister Khurrum Dastgir Khan told a media briefing in the evening.
“There is no major fault … in winter the system is closed due to low demand at night and is switched on in the morning,” Khan said in a separate statement issued Monday morning.
As part of an energy-saving move, electricity is turned off across Pakistan during low usage hours overnight to conserve fuel. Technicians were unable to boot the system all at once after daybreak, the energy minister said.
“Today morning, when the system was switched on, a huge breakdown occurred due to a drop in frequency between Jamshoro and Dadu,” he added, referring to two regions in the country’s south.
Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif ordered an investigation into the breakdown and summoned an “immediate report” from the energy minister.
“Why did such a massive crisis of electricity arise? Those responsible should be identified ... the difficulties of the masses are intolerable,” the PM was quoted as saying.
Pakistan had previously suffered through similar blackouts, including one in January 2021 and another last October, when it took a whole day for authorities to restore power in major urban centers, including Karachi.
Pakistan’s commercial capital and home to the stock exchange, Central Bank and a giant port had no power for more than eight hours after the outage on Monday morning.
“Work is underway on restoring the power in Karachi. Power is being supplied on a priority basis to strategic installations like airports, hospitals and Karachi port,” said Imran Rana, spokesperson for the city’s sole power distributor, K-Electric.
Chaudhry Amin, CEO of the Lahore Electric Supply Company (LESCO), which supplies power to some of Pakistan’s most populous cities in Punjab province, said that all LESCO grid stations had tripped, “depriving industrial, commercial and domestic consumers of electricity.”
Millions of people were deprived of their main mode of transportation in Lahore after the city suspended its train service.
“Suddenly I felt a jolt that shook the train. The train became slow and lights, heaters and air conditioners turned off,” Chaudhry Nauman Arif, a university student, told Arab News, saying that passengers were stuck in the train for 40 minutes before finally being safely offloaded.
A spokesperson for the Pakistan Civil Aviation Authority said that airports were not facing any power issues, while national highways and motorway police said that traffic signals in most areas of the country had failed due to the power outage.
“If electricity is not restored until darkness, keeping in mind the law and order situation, kindly make sure your car and house doors are locked properly to avoid any incident,” the highway police said, citing reports that power restoration would take at least 15 hours.
Pakistan gets at least 60 percent of its electricity from fossil fuels and almost 27 percent from hydropower. The contribution of nuclear and solar power to the nation’s grid is about 10 percent.