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Major power breakdown plunges Pakistan into darkness

Publication Date : 25-02-2013


A massive power breakdown plunged major parts of Pakistan into darkness late on Sunday night. From Islamabad to Karachi, most major cities reported power outage.

There was suspension of electricity supply in Lahore, Gujranwala, Multan, Quetta, Peshawar and Sukkur and other cities and towns across the country because of a major fault in the National Power Control Centre (NPCC) system.

In Karachi, 36 grid stations tripped, plunging at least 70 per cent of the city into darkness. Other cities and towns in Sindh also reported complete power outage.

In most of Balochistan, including Quetta, there was no power supply.

The entire country suffered the blackout, third in the past decade, as the power generation, transmission and distribution system collapsed.

The domino effect was created by the stretched Uch Power Station which tripped at around 11pm. Its tripping took down a few 500kv transmission lines which it shared with Hubco, and the cascading effect quickly reached Hubco.

With both these plants generating around 1,750MW, constituting almost 25 per cent of total national generation at that time, the tripping down also affected Mangla Dam, followed by all generators, except one, of Tarbela Dam.

Within 10 minutes, the entire country had plunged into darkness as safety mechanisms in all plants switched them off to protect them from any damage.

“Luckily, there has been no damage to transmission lines, powerhouses, IPPs and dams’ generators,” an official of the national grid said. For this reason, it will be easier to restore the system this time than on previous two occasions, he said.

The effort had begun and two grids at Sanjani and University of Islamabad had been energised within two hours after the breakdown, he said.

The official said that once the Islamabad system was put back on its feet, the engineers would start reviving supply to the rest of the country.

It should not take more than seven hours. “But it is a national tragedy and the power managers should have been more vigilant.”

A former managing director of the Pakistan Electric Power Company (Pepco) said “extremely low generation and very high demand overstretching the whole system” had caused the breakdown. Such an eventuality created a low frequency and left the entire system extremely vulnerable.

He said there was no guarantee that it might not happen again the next week if the fundamental crisis was not addressed.

On Sunday night, the generation had dipped to less than 8,000MW, with demand hovering above 13,000MW - a deficit of 5,000MW in the winter. Such high pressure on a system which has no backup has its cost.

What makes the accident assume a criminal proportion is the fact that over 4,000MW generation capacity was lying idle even at the time the system collapsed. There is no fuel to run these 4,000MW plants.

It was in fact the absence of fuel that had had an effect on the system, triggering the national blackout.

No lessons had been learnt from the last two national breakdowns, the former official said.

In the federal capital and Rawalpindi, not only electricity supply to residential areas was disrupted but traffic signals also stopped working at about 11.30pm.

An official at an electricity complaint centre told Dawn that the staff had been informed by higher management that there was a minor fault in Hubco due to which load was shifted onto the Mangla and Tarbela grid stations but they tripped, causing a blackout across most of the country.

A large number of residents came out of their homes and there was a sense of panic in the air. Soon rumours started spreading that the blackout was the result of a terrorist attack on the national grid system. There were also speculations about a cyber attack on the system.

The major power breakdown hit almost all of Karachi a little before midnight. The voltage dipped and lights went out across the city.

The breakdown hit the DHA, Gulshan-i-Iqbal, Gulistan-i-Jauhar, Nazimabad, North Nazimabad, F.B. Area, Landhi, Quaidabad, Manghopir, Northern Bypass and adjoining areas.

The voltage fluctuation apparently caused a fire in a KESC sub-station near Nagan Chowrangi.

After initial confusion, the Karachi Electric Supply Company said a fault in the National Transmission and Dispatch Company’s (NTDC)transmission lines had affected its system..

The company said its teams were coordinating with the NTDC.


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