Darkness looms?

As summer nears, Egyptians are bracing themselves for the worst. Recurrent shortages of natural gas have hampered the country’s capacity to generate electricity which in turn has resulted in power cuts across the board. Many Egyptians have experienced the bitter taste of what it feels like to live without electricity over the past few years.

Temperatures are still relatively modest compared to the hot summer months, but power cuts have been experienced across the country during the past few weeks, getting worse over the course of last week when power outages in Alexandria lasted for more than five hours, crippling people’s activities.

In Daqahliya, dozens of people blocked streets in protest at power cuts that amounted to six hours daily, while in Sharqiya outages have happened more than five times a day. Cairo has not been immune to power cuts either, with some neighbourhoods seeing outages more than three times during the day.

The government’s answer to the cuts is to try to take the pressure off the national grid. Electricity consumption currently stands at around 22,000 megawatts (MW), much less than the 34,000 MW seen in the hotter months of summer. This means that it is not increased domestic demand that is causing the cuts, but the fuel shortages that are affecting the power stations.

This energy crisis was intensified after the 25 January Revolution because natural gas production in Egypt, a country that boasts the third-largest reserves in Africa, has declined since 2011. “Egypt’s production of natural gas has dropped by 14 per cent to 5.2 billion cubic feet (bcf) a day,” Hafez Al-Salmawi, director of the Egyptian Electric Utility and Regulatory Agency (EgyptERA) told Al-Ahram Weekly. “The country needs from 90 to 100 bcf of gas and around 20,000 tons of mazut per day to function properly,” he added.

Minister of Electricity Mohamed Shaker stated recently that the power outages would depend on the quantity of fuel supplied to the power stations, warning that if shortages reached 20 per cent this would result in six-hour electricity outages. Shaker was unusually frank about the problem, saying last week that the blackouts were unlikely to end before 2018.

He said that it was sometimes necessary to cut power to protect the national grid, adding that the maximum capacity the grid could carry was 28,000 MW and that high temperatures in summer could also impact the efficiency of electricity generating units.

Egypt’s five-year economic plan ending in 2017 aims to increase power generation by upping the capacity of the country’s power stations, adding 12.5 megawatts to the current capacity to reach some 40 by 2017. According to Al-Salmawi this should be paralleled by securing more money to import fuel and a plan to rationalise consumption.

Egypt needs to increase its capacity to 60 megawatts by 2020 to solve its power problems. In order to reach these levels, $50 billion worth of investment is needed and the private sector will need to contribute the bulk of this sum, Al-Salmawi added.

The government is also trying to encourage foreign companies to expand their exploration and production of the country’s oil and gas resources by paying the money that is overdue to these firms.

Al Ahram Weekly

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