It’s Monday and power hasn’t been restored since the start of the blackout on Thursday, except intermittently and in a few places. Why is this happening?
We can’t know when the current capacity of the national grid will be restored because we don’t know whether the Guri turbines suffered damage, and if so, what kind of damage it was. It is likely that Corpoelec technicians are rerouting power through parts of the system that don’t have enough capacity, eventually overloading them, so the protection equipment triggers a shutdown.
If there’s damage at the Guri turbines, what kind of damage could it be, how can it be repaired, and how long would it take to repair?
There is accrued damage. Only Guri II was overhauled in 2012 but the rest of the plant is severely outdated. To get it to top shape, it would take at least a year after a purchase order is signed. The type of damage they suffered is most likely related to a phenomenon called cavitation, which erodes the turbines. It is also possible that given the frequency of the grid rejection failures that the turbines have seen, there is also major damage on the blades, the penstock (pipe in) or the draft tube (pipe out) due to pressure surges. In general, this equipment is very robust and is designed to deal with grid rejections, but perhaps not this frequently.
Do you think Venezuela needs foreign aid (financial and technical) to overcome this electric emergency?
The government has no management or financial capacity to execute the expansion the system needs.
It would definitely need financing. Whether that comes in the form of aid or loans, matters little. In 2012, Austrian company Andritz finished the overhaul of the largest units in Guri, there’s no reason why they (or another turbine supplier) would be unwilling to do the repairs. There are only a couple of companies in the world capable, though. According to sources, Andritz has not been contacted by anyone from Venezuela in the past few days.
The government has no management or financial capacity to execute the expansion the system needs. Other countries have dealt with this by opening the power market to private entities, but it would require an ideological shift and legal reforms from this administration. Perhaps it’s an opportunity for the National Assembly to do something about it. Relying on the private sector by offering attractive wholesale power prices would lessen the burden both in the management and financing fronts.
If Guri isn’t working, what’s the alternative for generating power in the country?
There is accrued damage. Only Guri II was overhauled in 2012 but the rest of the plant is severely outdated.
Guri has about half the installed capacity. Currently, there’s nothing available to pick up Guri’s generation.
How many of the country’s needs can be covered with fuel-powered generation only?
About 40% of the power demands could be met as long as fuel is available (spoiler alert, it isn’t).
What about backup plants that places like hotels, hospitals, clinics or police and fire stations can use to operate? Are there enough of them? Can the country keep minimal services thanks to those plants?
The country could function at a minimum if those facilities have backup plants just for critical systems. In the case of hotels, it would be basic lighting and fire protection but no AC, no TVs, no elevators. Hospitals would power cold storage and ORs. The problem is that there are also lengthy lines at gas stations because too many of these stop operating when the blackouts occur.
In general, what will the country face this week if power isn’t fully restored?
It will be tragic. From economic loss to spoilage of food and critical medication that needs cold storage. People will die because of lack of basic services. Every system in Venezuela is in a very fragile state and something like this throws a heavy shock to all of them.