Nature, KE or NTDC: What is causing Karachi’s power outages?

October 4, 2018

People in Karachi woke up on Thursday to a major power breakdown, the second one of this scale in just two days, because of a fault somewhere in the transmission line that was triggered by changing weather—humidity and moisture.

Unlike routine load shedding or rolling blackouts, which people in Karachi are accustomed to, these back-to-back outages happened late night or early morning when factories are shut, offices closed and lights switched off. This was not because of a power shortage. It was due to a transmission system that broke down several times this week but made headlines only after it spread over half the city in the last two days.

The cuts lasted up to three hours in most areas. Household work that required water were affected. UPS and small generators do not supply enough power to run water pumps. This shouldn’t be surprising when Karachi’s main water pumping station also reported that the recent power failure caused a 72-inch pipeline to burst, suspending the supply to some areas.

Even small businesses complained about losses as a result of Wednesday’s power failure, which in some areas stretched up to 10 hours.

Official story

K-Electric (KE) says they could not receive their daily 650 Megawatt (MW) of supply from the National Transmission and Dispatch Company, which developed a fault at 6:30am. This had a rollover effect on Karachi, causing a supply shortage. By 10 am the supply was back to normal, KE says.

So by KE’s account, NTDC is to blame.

The NTDC says, however, that they fixed the fault in an hour (by 7:30am, KE says 8am) and by that time it was supplying 421 MW to Karachi.

The national power dispatch company says they supply only 650MW or 21% of Karachi’s overall need, which is 3,000MW. An NTDC fault, therefore, should not affect the whole city.

 

Karachi needs

 

 

Karachi gets

 

KE produces

 

 

NTDC adds

 

Comes from other producers

 

 

3,000

 

 

2,800

 

2,200

 

650

 

150

The October 4 breakdown was triggered by the fault in the NTDC transmission, but the one before was due to a problem in KE’s own transmission.

Humidity levels crossed 85% on Wednesday, which was unusual and that caused a constraint in KE’s network. As a result, several feeders tripped and the supply was suspended, KE says. High levels of humidity affect transmission, but this year it has occurred too frequently, the company says.

Both KE and NTDC said the faults in their lines occurred because of humidity. However, there are some who don’t buy that explanation.

“This humidity level is normal for this time of the year. It happens every year,” says Abdul Rasheed, a director at the met office in Karachi. The humidity level stays 83% to 84% on night these days, he adds.

When it is rainy or foggy, humidity is 100% but there is no power failure. “The KE’s problem seems to be something else,” he said, and he is not the only one who thinks so.

Renowned economist Kaiser Bengali believes the power generation has gone up but successive governments have failed to improve the transmission system. “The capacity to produce is there, but it can’t be transmitted to the end user.”

Bengali says focusing on generation is meaningless if the government doesn’t fix the way power is distributed in the system, an important part of the energy supply chain.

When SAMAA Digital raised this point with the NTDC spokesperson, he said it was incorrect. “We are working on our transmission daily,” he said. “Seven of our big towers are being replaced in Hub.” They have just replaced some towers in Port Qasim. The NTDC has done 50 projects in the last two years and another 51 are in the pipeline. This is a 40-year-old system, we are identifying outdated lines, replacing them and even adding new networks, he said. For example, the government is laying a $1.3 billion transmission line from Matiari to Lahore.

 

 
 
 
 
 


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