Power cuts continue across Egypt: What really causes the problem?

Amr Kandil , Monday 24 Jul 2023

The Egyptian government has introduced a new load-shedding program this week, which involves power cuts at specific times throughout the day.

power short cut
File Photo: The Zamalek neighborhood of Cairo, during a power short cut, in Egypt. AP


This requires citizens to check their watches before using elevators.

The government's lack of clarity on the frequency of power cuts and whether load reduction can occur multiple times in the same area has caused confusion among the public, as expressed on social media.

Despite the government's repeated assurances of increasing the capacity of its power grid and achieving energy self-sufficiency, the public remains puzzled about the cause of the blackouts.

Record consumption and power surplus

Since June 2015, Egypt has been self-sufficient in electricity and currently has an electricity surplus of over 25 percent.

The Ministry of Electricity and Renewable Energy announced on 17 July that national electricity consumption had reached record highs due to the heat wave that has affected Egypt since last week.

With temperatures across most of Egypt nearing 40 degrees Celsius and reaching up to 45 degrees in the deep south, power cuts have become unbearable for those staying indoors.

“For the first time, electricity loads have reached the maximum consumption level recorded in previous years, reaching 34,650 megawatts (MW), while work is underway to stabilize the power supply,” the ministry said in a statement.

The Ministry stated that although consumption reached 44,900 MW, there was still a reserve capacity of 9,800 MW, indicating that the available capacity had not been exceeded.

What causes the problem?

The Minister of Electricity Mohamed Shaker has attributed the need for load reduction to the decreasing gas supply to power plants, as stated in his press statement.

 “We are currently implementing temporary load reductions to reduce pressure on the gas network,” Prime Minister Mostafa Madbouly said during the weekly cabinet meeting on Wednesday 19 July, after two days of citizens' complaints of repeated power cuts without prior notice, which had resulted in damage to some electrical appliances.

Madbouly said in a presser on 27 July that Egypt is required to generate 34 gigawatts during peak hours, for which 129 million cubic meters of gas and diesel are required daily.

Madbouly explained that since the start of the heatwave on 17 July consumption have soared to nearly 36 gigawatts daily, which required procuring from 144 to 146 million cubic meters of gas and diesel daily. 

He added that Egypt needed to ease loads since not doing so would have required coming up with anywhere between 160 to 165 million cubic meters of gas and diesel daily - an amount that is not currently feasible to procure.

Gas shortage mystery

Despite Egypt's repeated emphasis on having a significant electricity surplus and natural gas exports of around 8 million tons worth $8.4 billion in 2022, there is currently a shortage in gas supply to power plants.

According to a report by the Organization of Arab Petroleum Exporting Countries (OAPEC) in July, Egypt was able to maintain its gas exports at 1.9 million tons during Q1 of 2023.

Egypt announced the achievement of self-sufficiency in natural gas consumption in 2018 and the cessation of gas imports due to the gradual increase in local production and the discovery of gas fields, particularly the Zohr gas field in the Mediterranean.

In August 2022, the government announced a nationwide energy consumption rationing plan aimed at saving 15 percent of natural gas usage and redirecting it towards exports to generate foreign currency.

Earlier this month, Minister of Petroleum and Mineral Resources Tarek El-Molla denied claims of a reduction in local production and stated that Egypt did not export any quantities of liquefied natural gas (LNG) in June due to increased local consumption.

In an interview with CNN Business Arabic on Wednesday, El-Molla announced that the ministry plans to resume the export of LNG in October.

Saheeh Masr, a fact-checking platform, has disclosed that Egypt has exported LNG over the past four summers, with a total value of $2.68 billion according to data from the Central Bank of Egypt.

Despite the alleged surplus in gas and electricity, the root cause of the problem remains a mystery as power plants continue to experience an insufficient gas supply.

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