Rangoon Power Supplier Blames Rise in Blackouts on High Demand

By San Yamin Aung 11 May 2015

RANGOON — Rangoon residents have in recent weeks complained of frequent blackouts, a familiar problem that has nonetheless defied a pledge by the city’s electricity authority to provide 24-hour power to residents during the summer, when pre-monsoon season water levels dwindle and sap the nation’s hydroelectric dams of their generating capacity.

Ahead of the hot season, the municipal government power supplier said in January that it would be able to provide 24-hour electricity to residential areas since new natural gas turbines in four Rangoon townships and two additional turbines donated by Thailand would bolster the city’s electricity generating capacity.

The Yangon Electricity Supply Corporation (YESC) told The Irrawaddy last week that it had failed to fulfill its promise due to an unanticipated increase in demand.

“We are providing power from hydropower stations and natural gas turbines 24 hours a day, but the power cuts are because of high consumption,” said Yan Lin, chief engineer of YESC, formerly the Yangon Electricity Supply Board until it was renamed on April 1 ahead of a planned privatization later this year.

He said that normally, Rangoon uses about 890 megawatts of power daily, but consumption has increased to 1,095 megawatts during the summer months.

“Starting from March, the weather became hot and so people consumed more [electricity],” said Yan Lin, who is also a member of YESC’s interim board of directors. “They turn on air-cons [air conditioning units] and fans, pump water so they can take baths more frequently to lower their temperature.

“The loads from using air-cons are very high. Many people turn on air-cons the whole night and also, it was not easy to install air-cons in the past but now it is easy and almost every house has a refrigerator and air-con now,” Yan Lin added.

With demand compounded by dozens of ongoing constructions projects, the country’s biggest city currently accounts for more than half of the average daily power consumption nationwide, which is over 2,000 megawatts.

“We can’t say not to use more.,” Yan Lin said. “In general, the transformers can handle it but since consumption is up, the transformers can’t manage it and the fuses are blown, sometimes two or three times a day and we have keep swapping in new ones.”

Burma typically faces power shortfalls from March through May, when the country’s main source of electricity, hydropower, is reduced because less water flows to the dams. The commercial capital, which is home to the country’s major industries and around 5.7 million people, has suffered from chronic energy shortages further aggravated by growing demand.

A local resident from North Dagon Township said that beginning in mid-April, daily power cuts of at least an hour had become the norm, and even when electricity was available, appliances like her TV, air conditioner and refrigerator were functioning poorly in the evening because the voltage level was insufficient.

“Although the power outages are common, it is worse in the hot season. They have said that they would provide enough electricity but we still face the worst power shortages in the hot season,” she said.

Yan Lin, the YESC chief engineer, said the rise in electricity consumption and attendant increase in power cuts began before the Thingyan water festival. The city supplier was better able to meet demand over the mid-April holiday, when many offices were closed and factories shuttered. Post-Thingyan, the problem was exacerbated when inclement weather felled trees that temporarily disrupted transmission lines.

Aung Khaing, who is also a member of the YESC interim board, told state daily The Mirror on Monday that certain inevitabilities beyond the electricity supplier’s control were to blame for the frequent blackouts. He cited the aforementioned bad weather, the repair and maintenance of natural gas turbines and other disruptions like vehicles knocking down power lines.