March 7, 2014
Gov’t foresees more problems in electricity grid
Blisteringly hot day leads to new power demand record as blackouts spread
On a day when walking just two blocks downtown meant sweating as if having gone for a jog, blackouts cropped up once again in Buenos Aires yesterday, foreshadowing what could be a problematic summer as electricity demand surged past the 23,000-megawatt mark.
The blistering heat led to a record in electricity consumption with 23,334MW, easily breaking the previous high of 22,552MW that had been set on July 22, 2013, according to the Planning Ministry.
In fact, the day was so hot that the records were broken on five different occasions.
Even Federal Planning Minister Julio De Vido acknowledged the potential for trouble, a stark contrast from last year when he assured that summer supply was guaranteed.
The new record and blackouts renewed the debate over whether a margin remains between demand and power generating capacity.
The government insists everything is working normally and that even at the peak point of demand there was still 2,500MW to spare.
“This summer we will be 1,500 megawatts higher than last summer (in terms of consumption), and the chance of power outages will increase due to greater demand,” De Vido said yesterday.
The 22,830 megawatts registered at midday, when De Vido spoke, broke the previous record, but the minister added the figure would almost surely rise above the 23,000 barrier by the end of the day, with temperatures forecast to rise to a blistering 35 degrees celsius in Buenos Aires City.
He also recognized there could be trouble ahead.
“Evidently, the chance of blackouts will increase due to greater consumption. There is also greater demand by industry, and some transformer or cable could fail,” De Vido said.
The hottest point yet of this week-long heat wave struck soon after De Vido spoke, with various reports of outages gradually cropping up in the capital.
De Vido urged citizens to pursue “reasonable consumption,” adding that “this does not mean not using air conditioners, but using them in a reasonable manner.”
The official also praised the Energy Secretariat for its publicity campaign to encourage saving energy.
Debating the figures
The wholesale electricity regulator CAMMESA says installed capacity is at 31,056MW. At the same time the lack of availability at thermal plants stands at 29.3 percent, evidence of what critics say is the lack of maintenance in generating plants.
The figures suggest that if maintenance and repair issues were addressed, Argentina could expand its effective installed capacity without building new plants.
Argentine Energy Institute (IAE) vice-president Gerardo Rabinovich claimed that CAMMESA’s data indicate an effective generation capacity of 22,000MW, below yesterday’s consumption record.
Energy companies take several actions to prevent outages: first they reduce voltage, then they ask parts of the industry sector to withdraw from the grid temporarily; and if demand does not wane, they resort to bringing out of service machines onto the grid, thereby compensating for the deficit in capacity, Rabinovich told the Herald yesterday.
According to Rabinovich, only 300 MW were incorporated to the grid’s installed between October last year and the same month this year, when 1,000 MW should have been added to meet rising demand.
“The system is truly running on the verge,” Rabinovich continued, adding that the sector’s isolation from foreign credit has hindered prospects of rectifying the situation.
“Frozen tariffs discourage investment, so companies do not have sufficient resources to replace obsolete cables or pay wages,” Rabinovich said.
Former Energy secretary Emilio Apud told the Herald that frozen tariffs in the sector have undermined the ability of distributors to front costs, most of which have been affected by persistent inflation, estimated at about 25 percent by private consultancies.
Electricity rates in the capital have largely remained frozen since 2001 for the vast majority of users.
For his part, former Energy secretary Enrique Devoto also weighed in, telling the Herald “this is not so much a problem of capacity but of distribution.”
In the dark
Yesterday, people in the Buenos Aires City neighbourhoods of Palermo, Villa Crespo, Belgrano, Nuñez, Floresta, Caballito, Paternal, Colegiales, Villa del Parque, Parque Patricios and Saavedra and the Greater Buenos Aires districts of Avellaneda, Lanús, Castelar, La Matanza, Paso del Rey, Moreno San Isidro, Vicente López, and Ituzaingó vented their frustration on social networks, slamming the Edenor and Edesur private energy companies for their perceived failure to address its persistently faulty infrastructure.
“The companies say they (the blackouts) are specific situations, but they’re as specific as their lack of investment,” Argentine Consumers’ Union head Fernando Blanco Muiño said yesterday.
Blanco Muiño described the energy firms’ excuses as “a mockery of Argentine consumers,” adding he would like to see “what they have used the billions of pesos of subsidies on, which are not reflected in the service they provide.”
Water supplies were also affected in several areas.