San Francisco Chronicle

Lights out in Pakistan as energy-saving move backfires

- By Munir Ahmed

ISLAMABAD — Most of Pakistan was left without power Monday 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.

It all started when 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.

Many major cities, including the capital of Islamabad, and remote towns and villages across Pakistan were without electricit­y for more than 12 hours. As the electricit­y failure continued into Monday night, authoritie­s deployed additional police at markets around the country to provide security.

Officials announced late Monday that power was restored in many cities, 15 hours after the outage was reported.

Earlier, the nationwide electricit­y breakdown left many of some 220 million people without drinking water as pumps powered by electricit­y failed to work. Schools, hospitals, factories and shops were without power amid the harsh winter weather.

Energy Minister Khurram Dastgir told local media that engineers were working to restore power and tried to reassure the nation that power would be fully restored within the next 12 hours.

The minister said 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” Sunday night, Dastgir 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.

Before midnight, power was back in Karachi, the country’s largest city, and in many other major cities including Rawalpindi, Quetta, Peshawar and Lahore, the capital of eastern Punjab province. In Lahore, a closing notice was posted on the Orange Line metro stations, with rail workers guarding the sites and trains. It was unknown when the metro system would be restored.

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