Repeated country-wide breakdowns

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IT should be a matter of grave concern that the country has not been able to address the causes that lead to repeated country-wide power breakdown raising serious questions about what is happening in the power sector that otherwise has been the top priority of the successive governments.

A power breakdown gripped the whole country, including areas of K-Electric, on Monday bringing life to a standstill.

The system breakout occurred due to frequency disturbance, over-voltage, and load variation in the South region (Sindh & Balochistan) of National Transmission & Despatch Company (NTDC) due to technical issues at 500kV Jamshoro & Guddu Grid Stations.

Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif has taken notice of the development and ordered a probe into the alarming situation and investigations would bring to light the factors and reasons behind the total collapse of the system but one is not sure about the ability of those responsible for maintenance of the network to evaluate the situation in a highly professional manner and take steps to prevent recurrence of such a phenomenon.

Though the political leadership and senior officials are expressing determination to address the causes but similar commitments were also made in the past when country-wide breakdowns shocked the nation.

There are reasons to believe that either there is something seriously wrong with the network itself or there are some mischief-mongers who pose embarrassment for the Government and the country.

Country-wide power breakdown is not an ordinary development as it inflicts huge damage to the national economy, adds to the woes of the ordinary citizen, brings industrial, commercial and agricultural activities to a virtual standstill and shatters confidence of the people in the ability and dependability of the system.

The nation-wide blackout also provides an opportunity to criminals to carry out their plans and pose security risks for individual, private and public properties and that is what one witnessed during the latest power outage when incidents of theft and street crimes increased in parts of the country.

It also badly affected mobile and internet services as the standby arrangements made by the service providers collapsed due to prolonged blackout and their inability to get additional fuel to run generators due to closure of the petrol stations.

No doubt, the Government prioritized restoration of electricity for strategic installations but reports indicate some critical installations and processes of Pakistan Atomic Energy Commission (PAEC) remained dormant and commercial activities at airports and seaports were badly affected due to shutdown.

Domestic and international departures and arrivals were hampered causing difficulties and delays for passengers for their travel plans.

An indication about the extent of losses incurred by the economy can be gauged by a statement of the All Pakistan Textile Mills Association (APTMA) which said it suffered a loss of about $70 million due to the ongoing countrywide breakdown adding that the massive power failure badly affected industries across the country.

It also cautioned that the textile sector will have to face losses worth billions of dollars if the situation is not controlled soon.

In this backdrop, the recommendation of the NEPRA to the Government of Pakistan deserves serious consideration by the authorities concerned.

It has suggested that the National Transmission and Despatch Company (NTDC) should arrange a comprehensive study from a reputed international firm to mitigate the adverse effects of Power Swing and suggest Out of Step (OOS) Protection in order to avoid major power breakdowns.

NEPRA should be taken on board for framing of TORs, the bidding process and final selection of the consultant in due course.

It proposed that the NTDC and distribution companies (Discos) must be directed to conduct a study of 500kV/220kV and 132kV systems respectively in order to find out the defects and deficiencies and suggest remedies for prevention of faults and timely system recovery in case of partial and total breakdowns.

The Government should demonstrate its full commitment to address the challenge and this should prove to be the last country-wide blackout.

Experts like legendary nuclear scientist late Dr.A.Q.Khan suggested on different occasions to make stand-alone power supply arrangements for cities and towns so that technical issues at one plant or grid should not affect the entire chain and it is time to take steps for splitting of the system into manageable circles.