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Venezuela's Sorry Grid

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Venezuela’s made international headlines for all the wrong reasons over the past decade. Years of corruption, mismanagement and political repression have resulted in an acute economic and humanitarian crisis. The South American country’s chronic dysfunction is perhaps best typified by its recent blackout.

Amidst increasing political unrest, massive power outages began on the 7th of March and only started getting reversed yesterday. The consequences have proven to be very serious. In addition to over 20 confirmed deaths, there has been widespread looting, and diminished access to already scarce resource like food and water. One report described a maternity ward’s staff having to start manually pumping ventilators and respirators when their generators stopped working.

It’s recently been revealed that the blackout stemmed from a bushfire that knocked out a substation in the eastern province of Guarico, not a U.S. conspiracy like President Maduro had suggested. The same report that pinpointed the fire suggests two possible explanations for the blackouts, neither one of them giving much hope for a speedy recovery. The first scenario is that the fire took down a section of the transmission network, which would take about two months to repair. The second possibility is a turbine failure at the country’s biggest dams. The latter carries an even grimmer prognosis, requiring an estimated three years of work.

Black starting a compromised grid and making the subsequent repairs are always difficult. In Venezuela’s case, the difficulties will be compounded by the very same problems that set the stage for the crisis. The government doesn’t have money and industry experts have been leaking out of the country ever since Hugo Chavez got into power 20 years ago. Without sound knowledge and the right equipment, the repair projects are sure to be precarious affairs. Hopefully we’ve seen the worst of Venezuela’s grid woes, but don’t hold your breath.

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