The government took up several austerity measures, including scheduled load shedding in July to cushion a looming energy crisis. The 1-2 hour scheduled blackouts were to save the generation cost of 1,000-megawatt electricity every day, as the authorities promised the situation to normalise by September.
But after three months of the measure, rural Bangladesh is now facing power cuts up to 11-12 hours daily, while major cities are also sweating with frequent and long electricity outages. People are left fuming without electricity even at midnight while the mercury hovers around 35°C.
According to the authorities, the demand-supply gap now stands at more than 1,400MW as the country lacks around 1,000mmcf gas supply daily – the key power production input for Bangladesh.
Gas crunch deters the power generation. Besides, electricity production by diesel and furnace-fed plants have also been slashed due to high input costs, Nasrul Hamid, state minister for Power, Energy and Mineral Resources, told reporters on Monday.
He said the oil-guzzling electricity plants are now being run for only eight hours a day, prompting the power cuts even at midnight.
Citing gas rationing for industries and power plants, he said, "No matter how optimistic we are, we are not in a comfort zone in terms of dollar exchange rate for energy supply."
According to the state minister, the power situation may persist in October too.
The maximum demand forecast for Sunday was 13,800MW, while the highest generation on the day was 12,383MW. Therefore, the country experienced around 1,417MW of load shedding on Sunday, according to the Power Grid Company of Bangladesh and the Bangladesh Power Development Board.
Power plants with around 4,118MW generation capacity sat idle on Sunday thanks to the energy crunch, said the Power Grid Company of Bangladesh. Plants with 3,413MW capacity remain shut for maintenance.
At present, the country has 154 different fuel-based power plants owned by public and private operators and the derated capacity of those plants is 21,710MW. Of them, 70 plants are gas based that can generate around 11,178MW of power with around 1400mmcf of gas per day.
But Power Development Board officials said they got only 990mmcf of gas on Sunday, which resulted in less power generation and doubling the length of power cuts in many areas.
They said the production has dropped further recently because the engineers and technicians at the power plants are maintaining "extreme caution" after 4 October's national grid failure that caused a crippling blackout of around eight hours in over half of the country.
Four divisions stand out
After the national grid failure on 4 October, blackouts are now more frequent in Dhaka, Chattogram, Sylhet and Mymensingh divisions.
However, power supply to the country's northern, southern and south-western swathes are comparatively good, according to officials.
Mohammad Solaiman Badsha, assistant manager of the Power Grid Company of Bangladesh Bogura office, said usually electricity is supplied to the country by dividing it into two regions – the east and the west.
The eastern part, which mainly plunged into darkness during the national grid collapse, comprises Dhaka, Chattogram, Sylhet and Mymensingh divisions.
"The divisions are now facing long and rolling blackouts as the grid issue occurred there," the power grid company official told The Business Standard.
He said Khulna, Jashore, Rajshahi and Rangpur divisions – who receive power from the western region transmission – are not facing severe power outages.
He said, "There was a minor issue in Rajshahi after the grid failure, but it has already been solved."
Although most parts of the country are now facing load sheddings more frequently, power supply to 21 southern districts is quite uninterrupted, according to the state-owned West Zone Power Distribution Company Limited.
Mohammad Mostafizur Rahman, executive director of the West Zone Power Distribution Company Limited, said there had been no load shedding in their region for five consecutive days till 9 October.
"In the last five days, the Power Grid Company of Bangladesh Limited had supplied our cent percent demand," he told The Business Standard.
Before 5 October, some areas of the southern district had brief power cuts, according to Deputy Assistant Engineer of the west zone power distributor Shubhra Prakash Sarkar.
"We used to do much of the load management at night," he said.
Saikat Ali, a dweller of Khulna city's Sonadanga area, said, "Power cuts were frequent in the first week of October. But currently the situation is quite good as daily load shedding is not more than 20 minutes now."
Jashore Sadar resident Sahida Begum said they did not have any blackouts in the last three days. However, there were frequent power outages before that.
Narail municipality resident Mosharraf said they did not have any power cut on 9 October.
Rural businesses take a beating
Frequent power cuts severely weigh on rural businesses and small traders who cannot afford diesel-fed generators.
"We are left without electricity 10-12 hours per day. There was no electricity for the whole day after the power cut in the early hours of Saturday – leading to almost zero sales on that day," Baker Ahmed, owner of an electronics shop at Lalpur Bazar of Ashuganj upazila in Brahmanbaria, told The Business Standard.
Akhaura College Para furniture trader Rubel Ahmed said blackouts now force his workshop to sit idle most of the time.
Nurul Ahsan Liton, manager of a printing and packaging firm in Begumganj Bscic industrial estate, said their production has decreased by almost half in the past couple of days due to the load shedding.
"There are power cuts 3-4 times a day, as each of the blackouts last up to two hours. Apart from eroding the production, the cuts damage our equipment in the production lines," Liton was disappointed.
Traders in rural Noakhali said an eerie silence descends on local bazaars as the evening falls. This has led to thefts and robberies at local markets.
Tanvir Ruheel, owner of a salon in Sylhet city called Beauty Fame Clinic, told The Business Standard that his shop entirely depends on electricity. But the power supply has appeared to be horrible for the last five or six days.
"Many customers have to be turned away due to prolonged power cuts," he added.
Amjad Hosen, manager of a private clinic named Well Care in Lakshmipur, said they had to incur an additional Tk2 lakh diesel generator bill in the last 15 days. But even the costly generator is not the solution, as they have been unable to conduct any major surgery thanks to long blackouts.
Lakshmipur sawmill owner Kamal Uddin said businesses are suffering the most due to the inconsistent power supply.
"It now takes five days to cut logs into lumber, which previously used to take just a day. We are forced to incur losses by letting the mill sit idle," he said.
The Business Standard district correspondents contributed to the report.