Amid climate change effects and power outages, cash-strapped Egypt swelters

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Already mired in its worst economic plight in years, Egypt is reckoning with another challenge it hasn’t seen for a decade: sporadic power cuts in the midst of a sweltering summer.

With temperatures in many parts of the North African country exceeding 100F (37.8C), Egyptians are again getting used to their lights and air-conditioning flicking out.

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Authorities blame unprecedented pressure on the grid and unforeseen shortages of the fuel needed to generate electricity for Egypt’s more than 104 million people.

A new load-shedding schedule taking effect Tuesday promises advance warning of hour-long blackouts in the neighborhoods of major cities. Officials say as much as $300 million in heavy fuel-oil imports are coming. Still, there’s no definitive time-line for when the issue will be resolved.

Egypt is just the latest Mediterranean country suffering after climate change made July the world’s hottest month on record, with fires, flooding and extreme temperatures spanning the Northern Hemisphere from the US to China.

The cuts are also a stark comedown for a country that not long ago boasted a power surplus it suggested could be sent to Europe. An economic crisis partly spurred by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine complicated that, as authorities sought foreign currency by ramping up exports of locally produced natural gas and ordered public lighting dimmed and clocks moved forward to curb electricity consumption.

Egyptians, reeling from galloping inflation and a currency that’s lost half its value since early 2022, have responded with disgruntlement and humor to the kind of power outages that have long bedeviled the continent’s two other economic powerhouses, South Africa and Nigeria. Residents in Cairo and beyond complain of being trapped in darkened elevators or opening refrigerators full of spoiled food.

‘Honoring’ Edison

When Thomas Edison, the inventor of the lightbulb, died in 1931, “all the electricity in the world was turned off for a minute in his honor,” local billionaire Naguib Sawiris said on X, formerly known as Twitter. “Egypt and Lebanon honor the man every day.”

Egypt exports millions of tons of its liquefied natural gas, as well as some of Israel’s, to Europe each year. This summer it repeated its annual practice of suspending those shipments to meet the seasonal increase in domestic demand.

The problem this time, Prime Minister Mostafa Madbouly says, is that the power-plant turbines need significantly more fuel when temperatures exceed a certain level. Egypt is now consuming as much as 146 million cubic meters of gas and heavy fuel-oil a day, up from a maximum of 129 million in previous years, according to the premier.

Heat over 35C necessitates load-shedding for an hour or two per day, he said Thursday in a televised address. The government and Italian energy firm Eni, which helps operate Egypt’s giant Zohr offshore gas field, have both said output is unchanged.

Chronic power outages were one of the issues that stoked anger against the previous government.

Since then, Egypt under President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi has ramped up capacity with projects including three power plants co-built by Siemens AG and wind farms. Russia is helping construct North Africa’s first nuclear plant on the Mediterranean coast.

Electricity Minister Mohamed Shaker says he hasn’t been spared and is forgoing his home air-conditioning to do his part. “My electricity is cut two or three times a day,” he told local newspaper Al-Shorouk.

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