ISLAMABAD: Millions of people in Pakistan were plunged into darkness on Monday as the power supply abruptly cut off in many areas, including the capital Islamabad and financial hub Karachi, leaving schools, hospitals and factories without electricity.
According to the details, the small group of Indian hackers named SideWinder also known as APTS claimed in their telegram channel that they were behind the outage. Apparently, their claims and the type of files released through Telegram suggest some degree of their involvement in the recent outage incident.
The primary target was apparently National Transmission & Despatch Company (NTDC)’s website and network and hackers claim they modified information in the databases to mislead human operators into planning outages.
While speaking to The Pakistan Daily, analyst Zaki Khalid said, “the primary infiltration by hackers was into NTDC’s website and servers. Whether these are linked to, or have the ability to affect, industrial control systems is something which can only be verified by NTDC or forensic audit authorities.”
“From the outset, there is a degree of possibility that information distortion/ manipulation misled human operators into changing frequencies wrongly,” he added.
The type of files shared by the hackers in the Telegram channel configurations about different models of transformers, layouts and single line key diagrams of grids, timetables, some official correspondence and circulars, source codes of NTDC databases/ servers etc.
According to some reports, this group also have sensitive data of different banks and financial institutions.
Addressing a press conference after system restoration, Minister for Power Division Engineer Khurram Dastgir also said that the government suspected foreign intervention such as hacking of systems. “But its chances are very few. There have been incidents previously and we have to rule out this thing,” he added.
Earlier, the National Transmission & Despatch Company (NTDC) admitted that the much-hyped system protection mechanism in place failed to avert the cascading effect of tripping, plunging the whole country into darkness following the January 23 power breakdown.
In a report titled ‘Complete Power System Collapse on January 23’ dated January 24, 2023, the National Power Control Centre (NPCC) of NTDC admits: “Cross trip schemes and Rate of Change of Frequency (Rocof) Schemes operated but the system could not survive and led to complete blackout in NTDC and K-Electric.”
In its report, the NTDC also noted that on Jan 23, 2023, at 07:34:15 hrs, system frequency had gone up to 50.75 Hz and severe hunting was observed on the 500 kV system in the south that caused load and voltage variation on 500 kV transmission lines.
As a result, 500 kV transmission lines tripped, which resulted in the isolation of the North and South system, followed by the blocking of the HVDC system. These include 500 kV Muzaffargarh-DG Khan, 500 kV Guddu-Muzaffargarh circuit, 500 kV Guddu-DG Khan circuit, 500 kV Rahim Yar Khan-Guddu 747 circuit and 500 kV Guddu Old-Guddu 747 circuit.
Though under frequency, cross-trip schemes and ROCOF Schemes operated, the system could not survive and led to a complete blackout in NTDC and K-Electric, it observed.
Before the incident, total system generation was 11,356 MW including Hydropower of 1,280 MW, GENCOs + IPPs input of 10,202 MW. The system frequency was 50.31 Hz, while K-Electric withdrawal from the national grid was 450 MW.
Due to adverse effects of breakdown, the following power plants tripped and as result of tripping: KANUPP-II: 1,040 MW, KANUPP-III: 900 MW, Port Qasim: 621 MW, Lucky Coal: 606 MW, Thar Energy Limited: 150 MW, Engro Thar: 150 MW, SECL 1,230 MW, CHASHNUPP-I 304 MW; CHASHNUPP-II 317 MW; CHASHNUPP-III 318 MW, UCH-I 372 MW, UCH-II 188 MW, Foundation 178 MW, Guddu Old 145 MW, Sahiwal Coal 621 MW; Atlas 40 MW; AGL 100 MW, Nishat Power 40 MW, Liberty Tech 100 MW, HBS 1,190 MW, Balloki 1,183 MW, Total Wind 3 MW, Total bagasse 136 MW. Resultantly, around 11,356 MW generation went out of the system.
As far as the sequence and time of restoration are concerned, the restoration process was started immediately after the blackout as per standard operating procedure from Tarbela, Mangla and Warsak in the North and from UCH-I in the south simultaneously.
The generating units at Tarbela and Mangla could not maintain stability and tripped several times during the restoration process. On the other hand, the system is extended by using the UCH-I power plant equipped with a back start facility of up to 220 kV Grid Stations DM Jamali, Sibbi, Shikarpur, Rohri, Daharki, Quetta Industrial, Guddu, Jamshoro and UCH-II, Engro, Foundation Power Plants.
Finally, at 1700 Hrs, Mangla generation was extended to Tarbela and Tarbela started to synchronise their units in synchronism with Mangla and restoration of the system started by maintaining system parameters by both the power stations, especially Mangla.
On Monday, many parts of the country including Islamabad, Karachi, Lahore and Quetta plunged into darkness as a high-tension electricity supply line between Quetta and Guddu caused a major power breakdown.
A power outage hit 22 districts of Balochistan, including Quetta, Islamabad, Lahore, cities in Multan region, Karachi and others around 7:35 am.
Meanwhile, Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif also apologised on Tuesday for the inconvenience caused by the power outage and vowed to fix responsibility for the major breakdown.
The premier tweeted: “On behalf of my government, I would like to express my sincere regrets for the inconvenience our citizens suffered due to the power outage yesterday.”
“On my orders, an inquiry is underway to determine the reasons of the power failure. Responsibility will be fixed,” he tweeted.
It was the second major outage in Pakistan in four months and the first countrywide blackout since January 2021. The country suffered an unprecedented economic crisis and tried to recover from last year’s catastrophic floods that left one-third of its land underwater. In January 2021, the country witnessed a similar blackout which was attributed to a technical fault in its power generation and distribution system.