A wake-up call for the power sector
Tuesday's blackout that affected about 60 percent of the country, following a national grid failure, is not the first of its kind in Bangladesh, but it certainly felt like a short kiss of death for our perennially struggling power sector. For five to eight hours, 32 districts in Dhaka, Chattogram, Sylhet and Mymensingh divisions – forming the eastern region of the national grid – were left without electricity. Several crores of people had to suffer as a result. Businesses took a heavy hit. Crucial services like hospitals and mobile-internet connections were disrupted. It took about ten hours for the power supply to be fully restored.
There is no way to downplay an outage of this magnitude, as there is no way to think the authorities could get away without giving a satisfactory answer or taking appropriate action.
There is no way to downplay an outage of this magnitude, as there is no way to think the authorities could get away without giving a satisfactory answer or taking appropriate action. Perhaps this would have been easier to explain, and accept, if it was an extension of the countrywide scheduled load shedding introduced on July 19 to reduce the cost of gas imports, which produce about three quarters of our electricity. But it was not. An initial assessment indicates that the grid malfunctioned when a substation in Ghorashal "tripped", after demand for electricity had suddenly dropped, causing a power surge. This resulted in power stations tripping one after another. The exact reason, officials say, can be ascertained after the control rooms of all affected stations are examined.
Whatever triggered the failure, however, a report by The Daily Star shows that there have been some longstanding issues that may have paved the way for it. These include our poor electricity transmission equipment, lack of a smart grid, and lack of automation at the National Load Dispatch Centre. For example, according to an expert, if we had a smart grid, engineers would have instantly noticed the fall in demand and adjusted electricity generation accordingly. Also, while the government spent a lot of money over the last three fiscal years to set up new power transmission lines, modernising the lines didn't get enough attention. According to data from the Power Grid Company of Bangladesh (PGCB), 71 incidents of power interruptions occurred between FY 2016-17 and FY 2020-21, thanks to problems in transmission lines. This shows a pattern potentially leading to Tuesday's grid failure.
When a disaster of this scale happens, it shows there is something seriously wrong with how the energy sector is being run or planned. We're told that several probe committees are currently at work. Regardless of concerns over the authenticity and outcome of official investigations – which often become a face-saving exercise with no accountability for those responsible – we would hope that the authorities would take this incident seriously and undertake necessary reforms. The power sector, which in recent months has been hit by one scandal after another, could really use a fresh direction including a shift away from bad policies and practices, including inflated prices of power, financial irregularities, overdependence on imported gas for power generation, etc.
We urge the government to take Tuesday's grid failure as a wake-up call for that much-needed reform in the energy sector.