Thu | Feb 2, 2023

Lights out in Pakistan as energy-saving move backfires

Published:Monday | January 23, 2023 | 8:39 AM
Shopkeepers and workers wait for electric power at a market following a power breakdown across the country, in Lahore, Pakistan, Monday, January 23, 2023. Much of Pakistan was left without power for several hours on Monday morning as an energy-saving measure by the government backfired. The outage spread panic and raised questions about the cash-strapped government’s handling of the crisis. (AP Photo/K.M. Chaudary)

ISLAMABAD (AP) — Much of Pakistan was left without power for several hours on Monday morning as an energy-saving measure by the government backfired.

The outage spread panic and raised questions about the cash-strapped government's handling of the country's economic crisis.

Electricity was turned off during low usage hours overnight to conserve fuel across the country, officials said, leaving technicians unable to boot up the system all at once after daybreak.

The outage was reminiscent of a massive blackout in January 2021, attributed at the time to a technical fault in Pakistan's power generation and distribution system.

Monday's nationwide breakdown left many people without drinking water as pumps are powered by electricity. Schools, hospitals, factories and shops were without power amid the harsh winter weather.

Energy Minister Khurram Dastgir told local media on Monday that engineers were working to restore the power supply across the country, including in the capital of Islamabad, and tried to reassure the nation that power would be fully restored within the next 12 hours.

According to the minister, electricity usage typically goes down overnight during winter — unlike summer months when Pakistanis turn to air conditioning, seeking a respite from the heat.

“As an economic measure, we temporarily shut down our power generation systems” on Sunday night, Dastagir said. When engineers tried to turn the systems back on, a “fluctuation in voltage” was observed, which “forced engineers to shut down the power grid” stations one by one, he added.

He insisted that this was not a major crisis, and that electricity was being restored in phases. In many places and key businesses and institutions, including hospitals, military and government facilities, backup generators kicked in.

By late afternoon Monday, Dastagir told reporters at another press conference that Prime Minister Shahbaz Sharif ordered a probe into the outage.

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