Blackouts are back

Ahmed Morsy , Wednesday 24 Apr 2024

Daily power cuts to alleviate pressure on the electricity network have returned

Blackouts are back


Following a suspension for a month and half during Ramadan and the Eid Al-Fitr vacation, some governorates have resumed a daily load-shedding programme. But for now, complains 33-year-old engineer Hani Ragheb, the public has no idea when the outages will occur, making it impossible to plan when to use elevators or even ATMs. Before Ramadan, he says, the blackouts would take place according to a schedule.

Cabinet Spokesperson Mohamed Al-Homsani said the government “acknowledges citizens’ frustration with load shedding,” adding that the practice would end at the earliest opportunity.

Government sources said the practice had been resumed because of cost increases following the floatation of the pound and as a preemptive step to avoid depletion of natural gas reserves before the hot summer months when demand increases.

In recent years Egypt has built several huge power plants that combined increased electricity production by over 30,000 MW. They include the Borollos power plant, the Beni Sweif power plant and the New Administrative Capital power plant, the latter costing 2 billion euros. The government has also announced on a number of occasions that Egypt now enjoys an electricity surplus of more than 25 per cent.

Without the new power plants, Prime Minister Mustafa Madbouli said in August, Egypt would have power for just three hours a day.

While the national grid is capable of meeting Egypt’s electricity needs, supplying fuel to power stations requires dollar liquidity, pointed out Al-Homsani. In July 2023, when scheduled power cuts were first introduced, Egypt suspended exports of liquefied natural gas (LNG) in favour of supplying power stations.

In a February interview, Minister of Petroleum and Mineral Resources Tarek Al-Molla said Egypt is expecting to again suspend LNG exports during the summer in order to meet heightened domestic demand.

In August 2022, Egypt — which achieved self-sufficiency in natural gas in 2018 — reduced domestic consumption of gas by 15 per cent and redirected it towards export to generate foreign currency. At the time, the prime minister said that replacing 15 per cent of the natural gas used for electricity generation with mazut and diesel would generate $450 million per month.

According to Al-Homsani, Egypt will save $1 billion annually through the daily power-cut scheme, freeing up funds to buy essential commodities. Eliminating the outages, he continued, will require an increase in foreign investments, guaranteed dollar liquidity, and increased exports.

In January, the Ministry of Electricity and Renewable Energy increased electricity prices for residential and commercial use from between seven to 20 per cent, prompting many people take to social media to voice their frustration with the daily power cuts. Why, they ask, do we have to suffer through power cuts when we pay our electricity bills?

On 26 April, at midnight, the clocks forward, marking the return of daylight saving time (DST). In August 2022, when justifying its plans to implement DST, the government argued that it could potentially reduce power consumption by 10 per cent. The estimate proved optimistic. Observers point out that it did little to help last year. Barely three months after the clocks went forward in April 2023 the Electricity Ministry announced record levels of electricity usage for July, reaching 34,650 MW during peak hours.



* A version of this article appears in print in the 25 April, 2024 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly

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