THE latest near-countrywide power breakdown happened at exactly the same place where multiple such events have already occurred over the years.
The point at the Guddu thermal power station is a crucial junction in the national grid, from where transmission lines go out in three directions, towards the south, north and west in the direction of Quetta.
The region itself is a desert, with hot and humid temperatures in the summers and prone to powerful gusts of wind. Both these weather-related features have been blamed for large-scale power breakdowns in the past.
This time it is not clear what the precise cause of the breakdown was, nor does it really matter to most of the country. Keeping a power grid operational in adverse conditions has its challenges, but it is certainly not rocket science.
Basic common sense tells us that a significant role needs to be played by power-sector professionals. Yet that is precisely what is lacking in Pakistan. The last professional who occupied an important position in the power sector was Fiaz Chaudhry, the managing director of the National Transmission and Despatch Company. He was pushed out unceremoniously because, being a professional, he had fallen afoul of the factional politics that the power bureaucracy is full of.
Today, all important posts, from NTDC to NPCC, PPIB and Pepco to name a few, are staffed with DMG officers, who are more qualified for factional rivalry and railroading members of their own clique into vacant positions than to run the power sector of the country.
The breakdown that caused a massive power outage in Punjab and much of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa for most of the day is an obvious example of the incompetence of this entire lot. It is the clearest signal yet that the power bureaucracy is in dire need of reform, which should begin with replacing DMG cadres in positions of authority with properly credentialed professionals.
The same critical node in the grid cannot be allowed to be a source of tripping that cascades through the entire system, causing power plants to fall like dominoes. No doubt the bureaucracy will move to save its skin the same way it has in similar situations in the past: by fabricating an eyewash of an inquiry report.
The plain fact is that technology exists that can help prevent cascading effects of tripping in one section of the grid from knocking out all other power plants. Unfortunately, the bureaucrats who are running the show in our power sector have far too pedestrian a grasp of the technicalities they have to supervise to be able to properly select and oversee the installation of such technology. The result is repeated tripping at the same point in the grid, and endless blackouts across the country.
Published in Dawn, May 18th, 2018