Pakistan power grid hit by nationwide breakdown with outages in all major cities

Much of Pakistan was left without power for several hours on Monday morning after an energy-saving measure by the government backfired.

Electricity was turned off across the country during low usage hours overnight to conserve fuel, leaving the grid unable to meet demand at daybreak, officials said.

Mobile phone masts and airports were among the facilities left without power, causing wider chaos.

The outage spread panic and raised questions about the cash-strapped government's handling of the crisis.

Blackouts were reported in most cities including Karachi, Quetta, Peshawar and Lahore.

Supply to some areas has been suspended by up to 90 per cent, according to initial reports.

The contry’s energy ministry said the system frequency of the national grid was reduced at around 7.34am on Monday, which resulted in “widespread breakdown in the power system”.

“System maintenance work is progressing rapidly,” it said in a tweet.

Electricity supplies are regularly cut off across the country during low usage hours overnight, especially during winters, to conserve fuel. Pakistan’s power minister Khurrum Dastagir confirmed to Geo News that power generation units had been temporarily shut down on Sunday night as a fuel-preserving measure, with the country reeling from an ongoing economic crisis.

Officials said that when technicians went to turn on the system after daybreak, the network failed.

Mr Dastagir denied it was a “major crisis”.

“When the systems were turned on at 7.30am this morning one by one, frequency variation was reported in the southern part of the country between Jamshoro and Dadu. There was a fluctuation in voltage and the systems were shut down one by one,” said Mr Dastagir.

After 10am local time, the energy ministry said in an update that restoration work on the power grids had begun and some grids, including those operated by the Islamabad Supply Company and Peshawar Supply Company, had been at least partially restored.

More than six hours later with key facilities including factories, hospitals and schools grinding to a halt due to the outage, Mr Dastagir told Reuters supplies were partially restored and engineers are working to restore the grid fully by 10pm local time.

“We are trying our utmost to achieve restoration before that.”

He added that power had been partially restored in Islamabad, Peshawar, Multan and Sukkur.

Videos on social media showed a train stuck on a bridge and passengers trapped inside walking on foot on the tracks.

The Civil Aviation Authority said there were significant issues from power outages at airports across the country, though backup systems mean the situation was “under control”.

“The situation is under control thanks to the alternative systems. We are using standby power to provide uninterrupted electricity to all the airports,” the authority’s spokesperson said in a statement.

Several private power distribution companies also confirmed the breakdown at their end amid massive power outages across the country.

The Quetta Electric Supply Company (QESCO) said two transmission lines in towns between Sindh province and Quetta had tripped. It said that 22 districts of Balochistan, including Quetta itself, are without power.

The Islamabad Electric Supply Company said 117 grid stations were without electricity, adding that “no clear reason has been given by the Region Control Center”.

In the first week of January, authorities in Pakistan ordered shopping malls and markets to close by 8.30pm as part of a new energy conservation plan aimed at easing Pakistan‘s economic crisis.

Pakistan is grappling with one of the country’s worst domestic and foreign financial crises following unprecedented floods last year and dwindling foreign exchange reserves.

The government is attempting to save energy and curtail the costs of imported oil, on which Pakistan spends $3bn annually. Most of Pakistan’s electricity is generated by using imported oil.

It gets at least 60 per cent of its electricity from fossil fuels, while nearly 27 per cent of the electricity is generated by hydropower. The contribution of nuclear and solar power to the nation’s grid is about 10 per cent.

The cash-strapped nation is also in talks with IMF to soften some conditions on its $6bn bailout deal, which the government thinks will cause a further increase in inflation.

A similar power outage occurred in Pakistan in October 2022, when a large part of the country was without electricity for almost 12 hours.