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Blackouts intensify in Egypt as consumption soars, production lags

Power cuts have increased this week in Egypt as production capacities fall and - the government says - terrorists target electricity pylons

Marwa Hussein, Tuesday 19 Aug 2014
power cut
The Agouza neighborhood, background, is seen during a power cut, in Giza, Egypt (Photo; AP)
Electricity consumption in Egypt hit unprecedented levels on Monday, with some Cairo neighbourhoods seeing up to six blackouts during the day, lasting from one to two hours each time.

The country's electricity minister, Mohamed Shaker, said that consumption during the day hit a record-high 27,700 megawatts (mW) while production capacities were only at 22,000 mW – 20 percent less than what was needed.
The power cuts often leave local businesses hurting. Hossam Arafat, head of the oil products division at the Cairo Chamber of Commerce, said that gas stations' profits have been badly hit by the recurring shortages.
Blackouts in Egypt have become more frequent each summer since they first started in August 2008, due to a shortfall between production and consumption.
Frequent long blackouts running up to the 30 June protests last summer were said to be partly responsible for President Mohamed Morsi's ouster.
Officials have attributed the cuts to several factors – mainly fuel shortages – but lately they have claimed sabotage by "terrorist groups".
The electricity ministry announced on Saturday that 300 attacks on electricity pylons have taken place in the last few weeks for a cost of LE260 million (some $37 million).
Officials have blamed Islamic groups like the outlawed Muslim Brotherhood for the attacks.
However, experts point to the country's chronic energy deficiencies, exacerbated by recent political unrest.
"During the last two years, the main problem has been fuel shortage, which has become drastic as natural gas production has decreased after the [2011] revolution," said an expert in the field who requested anonymity.
Production from old natural gas fields will decrease with time, he explained, but due to Egypt's deteriorated security situation – and the government's delay in paying back international oil firms over the last three years – discovery rates have slowed down.
Egypt's Oil Minister Sherif Ismail told Reuters at the beginning of August that the country owed around $5.9 billion to foreign oil firms as of the end of June.
The minister said Egypt wants to repay these debts as part of a scheme to revive investor confidence in the country's economy after years of recent turmoil.
Heat waves also seriously affect production, as production capacity can drop up to 20 percent in the high temperatures felt this week.

Lack of maintenance in the central power grid is another reason for the shortages, said the source and other experts.
"Some power plants are very old and their production capacity has decreased with time," added the source.
But while electricity consumption increases as temperatures soar, as people rely more on air conditioners, the problem should ease significantly by mid-September, when the intense summer heat begins to taper off.
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