By the Potencia correspondent

12 December 2013 – Earlier this month Venezuela suffered a serious blackout that affected many areas of Caracas, the country’s capital city, as well as the states of Miranda, Zulia, Merida, Trujillo, Aragua and Carabobo. Unfortunately, this is not the first time this has happened.

This latest big power failure is just one of many in recent years. In actual fact, only three months ago the country suffered another serious blackout.

For several hours, transport systems –underground and roads – as well as communication networks were seriously affected by the blackout.

The energy shortage in Venezuela is difficult to reconcile because the country has significant oil reserves and is the biggest oil exporter in South America. The government has accused opposition parties of sabotaging the electric power system.

However, Henrique Capriles, who is the leader of the opposition after being defeated by Nicolas Maduro in the 2013 election – the first one held after President Hugo Chavez’s death – rejected the accusation and demanded the government puts in place measures to avoid it happening again.

Venezuelan newspaper El Tiempo interviewed several experts who also deny the official version, claiming sabotaging the system is not possible.

One of those experts was Miguel Lara, who formerly managed the Interconnected Systems Planning Office (Opsis). Lara explained that Venezuela’s “national electric system has a protection device that isolates a broken line within milliseconds to avoid a system collapse”. However, he said that device “did not work” and called for the government to be transparent about the reasons behind the latest power failure.

Jose Manuel Aller, a professor at the Simon Bolivar University, also rejected idea of sabotage.

According to this view, the cause of the blackout could have been a result of low power generation or could have been due to an excess load on the transmission system, which triggered the collapse.

Local daily El Impulso quoted a statement by Aixa Lopez, chairwoman of the committee that represents people affected by the blackouts.

Lopez warned that Venezuela’s electric system has broken down in three essential areas: generation, transmission and distribution.

In recent years, the government has invested billions of dollars – $70 billion according to El Impulso – to improve the country’s electric system, but such investment has not prevented the blackouts.

Reuters news agency claims that many of Venezuela’s electricity supply problems come from failures in its hydropower facilities, which produce about 64 per cent of the country’s supply.

Investments have been made in import power generation. However, the country’s installed capacity is not the problem because it far exceeds demand, according to Reuters.Official figures show that Venezuel’a installed capacity is 28,000 MW, while demand is 18,000 MW.

Where the problem lies is the actual available capacity which is low, resulting in frequent power outages and electricity rationing.

The government also claims that its population is highly wasteful of energy. According to official sources, the average yearly consumption per home was 5878 kWh – double the average in the Latin American region.

El Economista talked about an important project to guarantee Caracas “electric armor”. Local firm Derwick was awarded the contract to construct several thermal plants with the aim of preventing blackouts.

The company’s chairman Alejandro Betancourt insists that the high dependence on hydropower – mainly located in the southwest – was dangerous and warned against being dependent on “one generation source” to supply energy to the whole country. That makes the electric system “vulnerable”, he told Chilean media Estrategia.

Betancourt added that Venezuela’s economic growth is only possible if the country’s electricity generation capacity is improved and its transmission lines are well maintained.

He also believes that the building of thermal plants in other areas of Venezuela will help end the blackouts. Or is that just wishful thinking?

For more Latin America news.