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Students attend a class at a government high secondary school during a nationwide power outage in Rawalpindi on January 23, 2023. A massive power breakdown in Pakistan on January 23 affected most of the country's more than 220 million people, including in the mega cities of Karachi and Lahore. Image Credit: AFP

Islamabad: Millions of people across Pakistan were without electricity for an entire day due to a national grid failure on Monday morning.

The authorities said they are working to restore power. Pakistan’s energy minister said that it could take at least 12 hours to fully restore power. “God willing, power will be restored to the whole country by tonight,” said Energy Minister Khurrum Dastagir. This is the second major day-long power outage in three months.

Blackouts have been reported in all major cities including Islamabad, Karachi, Lahore, Rawalpindi, Gujranwala, Peshawar, and Quetta. The Energy Ministry said the country’s national grid went down at 7.34am local time, “causing a widespread breakdown in the power system”. Residents in Karachi and Peshawar said they gradually got power back after 10 hours. Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif ordered an investigation into the massive power failure and sought an “immediate report” from the energy minister.

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A shopkeeper uses his mobile phone's torch light at a market during a nationwide power outage in Rawalpindi on January 23, 2023. Image Credit: AFP

Disruption

Homes, schools, hospitals, factories, and shops were without power throughout the day as business streets and offices were buzzing with generators. The unexpected power cut also impacted the telecom infrastructure in the country as mobile phone subscribers raised concerns about the lack of phone and data services across Islamabad and affected regions. “Telecom networks are running on backup power supply since morning. The prolonged outage across the country is making it more challenging to keep the network up and running because backup power and fuel are also limited,” a telecom industry official told Gulf News.

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A view of a closed metro station due to a country-wide power breakdown in Lahore, Pakistan January 23, 2023, in this screengrab obtained from social media video. Image Credit: Saad/Twitter@Saa_di1 via REUTERS

The Pakistan Telecommunication Company Limited (PTCL) cautioned that customers may face degradation in services due to the outage. However, the Civil Aviation Authority said that the power cut did not cause any disruption in flight operations across the country due to “alternative electric systems” at the airports.

What caused the outage?

Energy Minister Khurram Dastgir told a local TV channel that the breakdown was caused by a “variation in frequency” in the country’s southern region. Electricity units were turned off during low usage hours in winter at night as part of an energy-saving move, officials said, but the system could not be restarted all at once. “When the units were turned on this morning, a frequency variation was reported between Jamshoro and Dadu. There was a fluctuation in voltage and the power generation units were shut one by one, triggering a cascading effect, he explained.

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Shopkeepers and workers wait for electric power at a market following a power breakdown across the country, in Lahore, Pakistan, Monday, Jan. 23, 2023. Image Credit: AP

The outage raised questions on social media about the government’s handling of the country’s economic and energy crisis. Pakistan is currently facing multiple challenges, including a severe energy crisis. To save energy and money, Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif has directed all federal departments to reduce their energy consumption by 30 per cent while the government ordered all markets to close by 8.30pm and restaurants by 10pm.

Limited grids back online

Authorities said that efforts are underway to restore power in different parts of the country and that power had been restored in a “limited number of grids” in Islamabad, Peshawar and Karachi.

In Islamabad, nearly 117 grid stations were affected due to the breakdown, the Islamabad Electric Supply Company (IESCO) spokesperson said. “Power has been restored at more than 50 feeders connected to various grid stations,” IESCO said in its evening update. “Power is being restored in a phased manner so that the distribution system is protected from any hazard”, the company said.

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Volunteers of the Edhi Foundation, a non-profit social welfare programme, work at a communication and control room during a country-wide power breakdown in Karachi, Pakistan January 23, 2023. Image Credit: Reuters

Some 11 hours later, several regions of Karachi and Peshawar got power back by 6pm.

K-Electric spokesperson Imran Rana said that the electric company teams were engaged in the restoration of electricity. “Power supply to strategic installations such as airports, hospitals, and Karachi port is being restored on a priority basis,” he said, adding that the K-Electric administration is in constant touch with the national grid authorities.