At the Shobra el Kheima electricity plant in northern Cairo, one of the nation’s 55 such facilities, Sayed Shadada, 49, a 29-year veteran at the plant, called what is happening now the worst he’s seen.
“It all started after the revolution,” Shadada said.
The explanation for what has happened is a combination of factors. The 2011 revolution disrupted an already broken electricity sector. Natural gas production declined. A drop in the number of tourists dried up foreign currency income, cutting the value of the Egyptian pound and hindering the government’s ability to pay for fuel, whether imported or produced locally by international oil companies.
Moreover, the deteriorating security problem has made it harder to secure plants. Egypt’s minister of electricity told the state-owned al Ahram newspaper earlier this month that two power plants, one in Banha in Egypt’s northeast corner and the other at Ain el Sokhan, about two hours east of Cairo, are ready to operate but cannot because the government cannot provide the personnel to protect them.
All the while, consumption is increasing.
According to official figures, Egypt’s national electricity consumption is expected to rise to 29,500 megawatts per day by summer even as the country only produces 27,000 megawatts a day. From 2000 to 2010, electricity production grew an average of 4 percent per year; consumption grew at an annual rate of 5.2 percent, Helmy of the Egyptian Center for Economic Studies told al Ahram.
The impact can be seen in the city’s industrial parks, where extended power outages have meant layoffs as factories can’t operate.
The impact is felt at the household level, too.
“The fluctuating current ruins my electric appliances. And if something is ruined, I am poor and I cannot replace them,” said Mirfet, 40, a nurse who refused to give her last name (“I don’t want any trouble”) while working at the Menya al Amh hospital near Morsi’s hometown, Zigazig, just north of Cairo.
Egypt now depends on oil-rich countries like Qatar, Libya and Kuwait to provide fuel. But the amount is still not enough to run power plants at full capacity and meet summer demand.
Earlier this month, the government announced that Egypt had received a shipment of natural gas from Qatar to alleviate the problem. In many cities, people felt an improvement almost immediately, with power staying on. But the respite lasted just two days before power outages started again.
Aktham Abou-Elella, undersecretary of state and the spokesman for the Ministry of Electricity and Energy, said solving such problems would take at least four years.
Until then, the government has asked people to be patient.
“I apologize to all the people for having such problems,” Morsi was quoted as saying in an interview with al Ahram. “God willing, people should excuse us. We are doing our best.”