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REPORT 1 | ELECTRICITY: Only 29% of the national electricity capacity is operational

Hum Venezuela | March, 2021 | Photo: Courtesy of PROVEA

According to energy expert Nelson Hernández, Venezuela has an electricity production capacity of approximately 36 GW, of which only about 29% works. This difference between the energy that is needed by the Country and the energy available has produced 11,055 electricity failures in the month of January 2020, according to the Committee of People Affected by Blackouts.

In the last year (2020) no new electrical infrastructure has been built in Venezuela, reason why the production capacity through the National Interconnected System has been deteriorated since 2019. According to the information provided to HumVenezuela by engineer Nelson Hernández, member of the Academy of Engineering and Habitat, between 2013 and February 2021, at least 8,730 MW (8.7 GW) of demand have been lost as a result of the economic crisis that the Country is going through and the decline of the industrial sector. He said that even with the declining of the demand, blackouts and rationing continues.

The point —to understand the Venezuelan situation— is that “there is capacity, but it is not operational, it does not work, it does not produce electricity. It is as if you had equipment (the capacity) to pump water, but if the pump does not activate, the pumping (or production) is zero”.

A different criteria to address the electric power service in Venezuela is that the system has basically two types of installed capacities: the hydroelectric, which includes the Guri and others, and the thermoelectric, which are all other plants installed in the Country, such as Thermozulia. There is also an installed capacity of 43 MW of wind energy, but it is completely inoperative, so will not be taken into account in this analysis.

When operating capacity is low, any interruption in the integrated system turns into a power outage, and this ranges from a power line to a turbine. Then, rationing comes, which are planned restrictions on electrical service, and blackouts, which are unexpected interruptions. To this is added that in Venezuela there are 0 GW of operating reserve and a rationing of up to 2.4 GW is applied because the system cannot satisfy all the demand.

By January 2020, the electricity system only had the capacity to cover a maximum demand of 10.0 GW, with a rationing of 2.4. We are talking about a lost capacity of 8.7 GW.

Almost two thirds of the demand comes from households

What reaches homes is energy measured in kilowatt hours (Kwh), but there is a parameter that measures this need in GW and is expressed as maximum demand. This translates into the greater energy capacity demanded by an interconnected electricity system, with a peak that occurs between 7 and 9 at night. 

Venezuela is a highly electrified country. It has the electricity grid in order to satisfy the requirements of the most remote populations, but according to Nelson Hernández “the economic crisis has significantly impaired the industry and we can say that 70% of the electricity demand corresponds to the domestic sector today, and it is not being entirely satisfied”.

 Since 2013, the installed capacity declined

The operability of transmission systems and electrical distribution are vital for the electrical service to reach the final user, and these systems do not function fully due to lack of maintenance. “Many times you have the capacity, but not the necessary transmission or distribution lines to bring energy to the final user, who is usually left behind without service,” explains Hernández.

Venezuela reached its historical maximum capacity in 2013, with 18,730 MW (18.7 GW). And, despite this installed capacity, there were rationing already. Since then, political instability impacted the economy and the maximum capacity today is 10,000 MW (10 GW). At least 8,730 MW of demand have been lost and there are still blackouts and rationing. Experts indicate that, if the supervening situation of the pandemic continues, demand could even drop to 8,000 MW.

According to Aixa López, president of the Committee for People Affected by Blackouts in Venezuela, “a rationing block can even extend from a scheduled time of four hours to about 12 hours.”

The lack of electricity impacts access to water, banking, supermarkets, fuel, transportation, internet, telecommunications, health, education, security and other services, in addition to that, it also affects production. “You can no longer study, cook, take care of your health; businesses are paralyzed due to they do not have electricity; industrial and commercial users have been hit hard by these failures. The points of sale terminals fall, the banks cannot open to the public, there are no possibilities for recreation … it is a total collapse” López said, and she also reflects on the impossibility of a person being able to aspire to a scheduled surgery, while the emergencies are also being affected by the lack of electricity. 

“Everything is a circle that closes more and more. The industry is seriously affected and a typical case is Guyana, where basic industries have been paralyzed, among other things, due to electrical deficiencies ”. To this situation López adds the consequences of the increase in the bill in the middle of an economic and humanitarian crisis, deepened by the pandemic.

Regions in trouble

If the regions do not have indigenous power generation capacity, they depend on the electricity that may come from other regions, and if the transmission lines are not operational, only the blackout or rationing remains. Every region needs to import energy to satisfy their own electricity demand, and this import basically comes from the Guayana region, where the largest electricity generation center in Venezuela is located, the Guri hydroelectric plant.

This import, then, is limited by the capacity of the transmission lines from Guyana to the rest of the Country, and as the region moves away geographically, the probability of importing electricity decreases because some of transmission disturbance. 

In the following graphic it can be seen that, what the Guri has to export to the regions, is less than what they demand.

According to the information provided by Nelson Hernández, in February 2020 the capital region needed almost twice as much as it produced.

Central West, which is the furthest region from Guyana, had a regional generation capacity of only approximately 6%, which is about 17 times less than what they need.

Guyana, from where most of the energy is exported to the regions to meet their deficits, has an operating capacity of 10,442 MW and a demand of 10,440 MW, which means that it produces only two points above national demand, including the demand of the region of Guyana. This makes us realize about the fragility of a system that can barely satisfy an external demand that is no less than 78% of its total demand. When this demand increases or if its capacity falls, there is no way to meet this need unless service is restricted, because the system has no reserves.

In conclusion, Venezuela has an enormous infrastructure but more than two thirds of it is incapable of functioning. And despite forced migrations, the collapse of industrial production (which includes basic companies) and commerce, the electricity system has to resort to rationing and cannibalization of the energy produced by the Guri to satisfy the regions, whose electrical infrastructure is as fragile as the lives of the people who inhabit a country with a Complex Humanitarian Emergency.