Lethal cold wave in Argentina
An extremely cold air mass drifting north from Antarctica has caused major problems to the Argentine energy grid and health system. Temperatures below 0 degrees Celsius have been recorded in the largest cities in the temperate central region of Argentina (Buenos Aires, Rosario, Córdoba, and Mendoza) for several days in a row. On Monday, it snowed in Córdoba (central Argentina) and Mendoza (western Argentina, near the Andes), and sleet was expected in Rosario (eastern littoral region), where snow has not fallen since 1973.
As of Tuesday, the cold has killed 6 people by exposure, while other 8 perished in a fire when they tried to stay warm employing an unsafe precarious stove. Public hospitals and private health services are struggling and failing to keep up with the increased demand for attention of respiratory diseases and flu due to the low temperatures.
As a result of the extreme cold, the demand of natural gas has increased, threatening to overwhelm already limited supplies. Argentinians employ natural gas for heating, water heating and cooking, and as a relatively inexpensive fuel for cars, while industries also make use of it to generate electricity and for energy-intensive processes. Since home demand is the priority, the use of natural gas in industrial facilities has been restricted and is subject to programmed cuts, while exports to Chile, which relies heavily on Argentine gas, were almost shut down for two days, forcing Chilean industries to employ significantly more expensive coal or fuel oil.
Home users are suffering unscheduled gas supply cuts, as well as occasional blackouts, in large cities such as Buenos Aires and Rosario, while car owners face a shortage of this fuel. The situation is compounded further by problems in the supply of diesel, caused by a lack of investment and diminished production (in turn motivated by price controls). Diesel is in high demand by the agricultural sector at this time of the year.
Power generation is also facing trouble, as several important power stations have come offline for different reasons. Neither of the two Argentine nuclear power plants, Atucha I and Embalse, are working; the former failed on Sunday, and Embalse (which provides 300 MW) on Thursday. This has forced the main power distributor in the country to cut power supply and urging major industrial users to coordinate their consumption peaks with times of diminished home demand.
Argentina is experiencing demand peaks of around 18,000 MW, and the
generators currently online are not equipped to handle over 18,200 MW
without risk. In Santa Fe, the state provincial power company has warned that it may have to resort to scheduled cuts, while several locations of the Greater Buenos Aires metropolitan area have already suffered blackouts and lower voltages for short times.
The cold wave is expected to abate during the weekend.