Debilitating rolling blackouts escalate in Bangladesh as utilities cry for gas

State Minister Nasrul Hamid hoped power cuts will end by September, but the critical gas shortage continues to fuel questions about when the electricity outages will end

Tabarul Haqbdnews24.com
Published : 7 Oct 2022, 08:10 PM
Updated : 7 Oct 2022, 08:10 PM

Tanzina Afrin has been strictly following a routine and it was easy for her to stick to her plan because her family is a tiny one – of three members only. Now the homemaker in Dhaka’s Rampura is finding it difficult to stay on schedule.

After her husband goes out for work, their 2-and-a-half-year-old child wakes up whenever a power cut occurs, disrupting the routine. Blackouts occur even at night and early morning.

“And I can’t complete my chores, such as washing dishes, because the water supply often stops due to the power cuts. This wasn’t the case even some days ago,” Tanzina said.

Households and small businesses have been suffering in Dhaka and elsewhere since the recurring power cuts were brought back in July after a decade due to a shortage of fuel, especially gas, to produce electricity amid the Russia-Ukraine war.

The government had said an area would see a maximum of two hours of power cuts a day and the distributors would publish timetables for the blackouts.

State Minister for Power, Energy and Mineral Resources Nasrul Hamid had hoped in August power cuts would be a thing of the past from the end of September if the situation improved globally, but the war in Europe has continued to rage.

In Bangladesh, power distributors have been sweating to keep up with the timetables of rotating blackouts.

Some believe the situation has worsened following the crippling blackout caused by a grid failure on Tuesday. Now the capital is experiencing three to five electricity outages a day – each one hour long.

Even on the weekend on Friday, when offices were shut, the distributors could not maintain the schedule of the power cuts due to a lack of supply.

Tinku Ranjan Das, a complaint supervisor at Dhaka Power Distribution Company, said some areas were experiencing hour-long power cuts after every two hours. “It’s happening across the country.”

The company’s Managing Director Bikash Dewan said a supply crunch led to the situation "which will improve once production increases".

Kausar Amir Ali, managing director of Dhaka Electric Supply Company, said a lack of gas for power production has forced them to halt supply at day and night alike.

In Friday’s timetable, the DPDC said Jurain would face up to six hours of outage. It was three to four hours for Dhanmondi, Moghbazar, Azimpur, Khilgaon, Kajla, Matuail and Demra.

DESCO areas were predicted to suffer "less" – two to three hours.

‘UNBEARABLE’

Ahmed Kausar, a resident of Jatrabari, said the situation has reached an “intolerable” level after the grid disaster. “Power cuts are occurring when we need electricity the most. This has created problems in the water supply also.”

Roksana Swarna, a housewife at Shonir Akhra, resorts to heating food in a microwave oven due to a shortage of gas in her kitchen. The power cuts mean she is now having difficulty using the microwave oven to heat her children’s food. “We have a stove, but gas supply often stops.”

The trouble doesn't end there. “Mosquito attacks intensify when power cuts occur at night.”

Mahir Amir Milon, a university student residing in Old Dhaka’s Koltabazar, said: “We can’t sleep well in our mess due to excessive heat during the power cuts at night. The recurring power cuts are also hampering our study before the final exams.”

“The main thing is we aren’t used to such predicaments. It’s unbearable.”

SERVICES, BUSINESSES STRUGGLING

Aminul Islam, general manager of Monira General Hospital in Dhaka’s Agargaon, said they do not have any option but to adapt to the current situation.

“We used to require 20 litres of fuel before [per month] to run our power generators. Now we need at least 30-35 litres. The situation worsened during the recent national grid failure. We're operating under capacity, and running an air-conditioned system only in the NICU [Neonatal intensive care unit],” he said.

The strict power-rationing measures have taken a massive toll on productivity, believes Al Mansur Siddiqui, an official of Uttara-based IT farm, TiCON System Limited.

“We've power generators, but we can’t afford to have many more to meet our needs. We're keeping our air-conditioning system shut to keep our operations running. But the conditions of the devices are worsening, hence productivity has gone down a lot."

Atiur Rahman Nur, a staff of a Nikunja-based start-up, broke down the numbers to back up the “productivity-gone-down” theory.

“Our estimation says the recurring power cuts are ruining at least one hour of productivity a day and, resulted in 17 percent less production than before. We would've agreed to adapt to it considering the current global political and economic climate, but I don’t agree with the way the current administration went on with it. The government needs to come up with the right policy and execute it,” he said.

Bangladesh Mobile Phone Subscribers’ Association Chairman Mohiuddin Ahmed accused the government of making a “false promise” of keeping the power cuts to one hour “It’s a two-fold fraud," he remarked.

"First, they [the administration] promised that the power cuts would last an hour at most. It never was, from day one it was always up to five hours. Second, power companies are asking for a ‘demand charge’ in their bills, claiming it was to ensure that they can provide ‘uninterrupted quality electricity’. But they can’t,” he said.

Laundry proprietor Hanif Sarder in Dhaka’s Bangshal said that he was not getting uninterrupted electricity. He was facing power cuts

at least five times a day, but his bills went up instead.

“My customers are not getting the services they expect of me as I can’t deliver their washed and pressed clothes in time due to recurring power cuts.

"Strangely," Hanif added, "I found that the bills keep getting higher if power cuts take place on a regular basis. Last five days were terrible. I don’t know how I can keep doing my business."

AUTHORITIES APPARENTLY GAVE UP

Bikash Dewan, the managing director of the DPDC, was on record when he admitted that they were unable to fix the situation any time soon.

“Today [Friday] is a weekend. Our demand is at least 1,450 MW. Instead, we are getting 950-1,000 MW. There is a gap of at least 450 MW and in no way can we fill that gap without affecting frequent power cuts.

"We did our best to make the situation bearable for our customers. Can’t do it anymore,” he said.

Bikash does not know when things will improve, but the only solution he can offer is - increasing power production.

“We can only run our power stations and add more electricity to the power grid if we get gas [from the government],” he said.

He also believes there is a slight possibility of the situation getting better if electricity from coal-fired Payra and Rampal stations is added to the national grid.

“Either we need to add the powers from Payra and Rampal [power stations] as soon as possible or wait patiently until December, when the demand for electricity decreases, for the recurring power cuts situation to improve,” he explained.

Md Kausar Ameer Ali, managing director of the Dhaka Electric Supply Company Limited, or DESCO, conceded that the demand remained the same, but the power generation capacity of stations has gone down significantly.

“At present, we're facing a demand-supply gap of up to 200 MW on average weekdays. It’s Friday today and ideally, the gap should have been less, but it’s not.

"There’s a gap of 67 MW even today. We’re publishing schedules of power cuts in each locality, but we can’t stick to it in the current situation.”

Toufique Imrose Khalidi
Editor-in-Chief and Publisher