Following two days of increased power cuts, Egypt's government on Wednesday announced plans to increase the country's supply of electricity by importing natural gas and diesel in the short term and beginning construction on three new power plants.
The blackouts on Monday and Tuesday saw reports of up to five separate power cuts throughout the day in some neighbourhoods, as compared to an average of once or twice per day.
Energy consumption is currently peaking at around 22,000 megawatts (mW), much less than the 34,000 mW used in the hottest months of summer – which raises concerns about continuing fuel shortages in the coming months.
Gaber El-Desouki, chairman of the Egyptian Electricity Holding Company, addressed this week's power cuts on Wednesday at a joint press conference with Khaled Abdel-Badie, of the Egyptian Natural Gas Holding Company (EGAS).
El-Desouki said that the electric grid had been missing between 3000 and 4000 mW per day on Monday and Tuesday – compared to an average of 1000 to 2000 mW during the last two weeks.
He said the blackouts became more frequent as several units of power plants had been out of service for maintenance, while others had been stopped due to previous plans as well as being out of fuel.
However, he assured that the situation would improve.
“Today things are getting better, as work resumed in some units. There will be a gradual improvement during the next two weeks,” El-Desouki said.
But he said that while the cuts would decrease, no one should expect them to end anytime soon.
Construction should begin this summer on three new power plants in Giza, Banha in the Nile Delta and the Red Sea town of Ain Sokhna, all of which will have a total capacity of 2400 mW, El-Desouki said on Wednesday.
He and Abdel-Badie said they would coordinate their efforts to assure that the fuel supply covered the needs of the electricity sector. Some power plants will be run on diesel fuel and solar power to free up supplies of natural gas, they said.
In the short term, Egypt is preparing to import natural gas beginning in August, as the government is finalising a deal to buy a floating unit to re-gas a Liquid Natural Gas (LNG) unit based in Ain Sokhna, Abdel-Badie said.
Abdel-Badie also revealed that the government plans to import LNG directly but that the procedures are usually complicated.
“Long term deals to sell the gas of LNG projects are usually signed before the project is finalised," Abdel-Badie said. "That is why a tender that was announced seven months ago did not succeed.”
Instead of launching a tender offer, the government is negotiating with different partners for any available quantities of LNG in the international market to provide the gas Egypt needs in 2014.
Abdel-Badie said that the government will launch a new tender for 2015, as it will need to import natural gas for three to five years until the country can restore its previous levels of production.
Egypt was a gas exporter, but production has fallen off in the last three years of political unrest.
A concession given to British Petroleum (BP) in north Alexandria was expected to produce 1 billion cubic feet of gas per day by late 2014, but work was suspended after the 2011 uprising.
Abdel-Badie, the EGAS chairman, said that the government is working with BP to resume work and start production by 2017/18.
In addition to the power plants and the fuel imports, the government is also working towards increasing power generated by the High Dam in Aswan, Upper Egypt.
Egypt's energy demands will have to be met soon. A Facebook group formed to publicly file complaints with the electricity ministry denounced the government this week for the power cuts, arguing that many pieces of electrical equipment had been damaged.
Other campaigns have urged people to stop paying their electric bills if the service is continually interrupted.
Power cuts have become more frequent in Egypt since August 2008, but are mostly limited to the summer. The phenomenon of blackouts in winter first started in December 2012, but has intensified this year.