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.
Electricity was turned off across the country during low usage hours overnight to conserve fuel across the country, leaving technicians unable to boot up the system all at once after daybreak, officials said.
The outage was reminiscent of a massive blackout in January 2021, attributed at the time to a technical fault in the country's power generation and distribution system.
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, during winter, electricity usage typically goes down overnight. “As an economic measure, we temporarily shut down our power generation systems" on Sunday night, he 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, Dastgir said.
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.
Karachi, the country's largest city and economic hub, was also without power Monday, as were other key cities such as Quetta, Peshawar and Lahore.
Imran Rana, a spokesman for Karachi's power supply company, said the government's priority was to “restore power to strategic facilities, including hospitals,” airports and other places.
Pakistan gets at least 60% of its electricity from fossil fuels, while nearly 27% of the electricity is generated by hydropower. The contribution of nuclear and solar power to the nation's grid is about 10%.
Pakistan is grappling with one of the country's worst economic crises in recent years amid dwindling foreign exchange reserves. This has compelled the government earlier this month to order shopping malls and markets closed by 8:30 p.m. for energy conservation purposes.
Talks are underway with the International Monetary Fund to soften some conditions on Pakistan’s $6 billion bailout, which the government thinks will trigger further inflation hikes. The IMF released the last crucial tranche of $1.1 billion to Islamabad in August.
Since then, talks between the two parties have oscillated due to Pakistan's reluctance to impose new tax measures.