Egypt begins scheduling power cuts as heatwave strains national grid

Hot weather has increased country's energy consumption dramatically, resulting in blackouts that anger citizens

The sun sets behind electricity pylons outside Cairo. The government has repeatedly asserted that the power cuts are essential to ease pressure on the grid. AFP
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Egypt’s ministries of electricity and petroleum are to begin scheduled power cuts on Tuesday amid a continuing heatwave that has intensified pressure on the country’s grid and natural gas supplies.

Last month, as the country saw some of its hottest temperatures on record, the government began cutting power in select areas of 24 of Egypt’s 27 provinces amid a significant rise in power consumption as citizens stayed at home and kept their fans and air conditioning units on.

Given the government often boasts of being ready to export surplus electricity, the power cuts have shocked and angered Egyptians, adding another layer to their daily struggle to make ends meet in a crushing economic crisis.

The power cuts were randomly implemented throughout last month, and citizens were inconvenienced by being unable to anticipate when and for how long they would be without power.

In response to repeated complaints, the cabinet released a schedule on Monday night detailing which areas would be out of power and for how long. The schedule is divided up by cities which are then divided into districts.

The government has repeatedly asserted that the power cuts are essential to give the nation’s power grid a reprieve from increased consumption amid the heatwave.

Power consumption hit 34,650 megawatts, its highest level for the year, in July, according to a statement issued by the Ministry of Electricity and Renewable Energy last week.

Despite the rise, which was revealed by the cabinet to be around 11 per cent in July compared with last year, consumption had not yet exceeded the national power grid’s maximum capacity of 44,900 megawatts, with a reserve capacity of 9,800 megawatts, the ministry said.

On Sunday, the cabinet’s spokesman Nader Saad said that the power cuts could continue into August or, in the worst-case scenario, September if the heatwave does not relent.

The government has said that the power cuts are being implemented equally across all areas, rich and poor.

However, there have been reports that some areas, particularly densely populated neighbourhoods, have been disproportionately affected by the cuts.

Sherihan Hassan, a resident of Cairo’s lower-income Talbia district, told The National that power cuts happen four times a day for an average duration of one hour.

But Aya Khaled has not had any power cuts. She lives in Heliopolis, an affluent neighbourhood where a number of government officials own homes and a national intelligence agency has an office building.

“I live very close to the Ettihadeya presidential palace,” Ms Khaled said. “There are also a number of prominent businessmen living in the area.

“When I first heard that some areas were getting power cuts, I prepared for it myself, but it has not cut out one single time throughout the last month.”

Another resident, Ahmed Alaa, who lives in the central district of Agouza, told The National that his street, which also hosts the Chadian Embassy, has also not lost power throughout July.

Last week, the cabinet mandated that public sector employees work from home every Sunday – provided that their presence at the workplace is not essential – to reduce power consumption.

Coastal provinces such as the Red Sea and Marsa Matruh are exempt because of their importance to the country's tourism sector.

In July, temperatures in Egypt rose dramatically, reaching 46°C in some provinces.

The heatwave and subsequent power cuts led Cairo residents to spend a lot more time outside their homes in the city’s parks and public spaces.

Updated: August 01, 2023, 2:03 PM