Power crisis: The road to impending doom

Salman Latif July 05, 2010

The nation faces a severe power crisis yet again, not entirely unanticipated, as summers draw to their summit.

Because of the frequent outages and prolonged load shedding hours, the masses are already on the streets, violently recording their protest. The disruption has also adversely affected commercial activity and industrial production all around the nation and the losses have accumulated to deteriorate national economic indexes. The governmental policy of two-day weekends and the 8pm shutter down have not fared well as the masses continue to express their anger against such short-term measures. It has also pushed ground-level commercial actors, the shopkeepers, in a tight corner with an obvious curtail in their day to day sales.

The government has been announcing its intent to address the issue as soon as possible but the plain fact is that the issue is far from being resolved. While the two-day weekend may be a brief respite to the supply suspensions, the deficits are bound to increase as we move to June and July and the shortfall may grow beyond present 5000MW. The situation is definitely not promising since the government has been declaring its to-be ventures to resolve energy crisis since last summer while no ground work has been done. One of them was the famed rental power plants which attracted a lot of heat and was later dumped due to its economic infeasibility. No progress has been witnessed on the hydel-power projects either and work on the dams that were to be built is still to start.

Here we may note that the nation draws its power production chiefly from three resources: hydel, fossil fuel (oil and gas) and nuclear.

The fossil fuel section is the largest contributor to the national supply, producing an estimated 63 per cent of the total production. The installed capacity of this section’s apparatus is a surprising 12000MW plus. However, it produces a mere fraction of its actual capacity, the blame being placed on low gas pressure and the breaks in oil supply to production plants.
Another important thing to note here is that there are a number of independent power producers, chiming in with their share of 5000MW. These IPPs rely heavily on oil for power production and PSO is the chief supplier. But due to its own internal deficit, PSO has been unable to settle its pending payments to oil refineries, which in turn have reduced their supply to PSO. And that, consequently, reduces the oil flow to the IPPs resulting in a much lower production than is the potential of these private producers.

The flipside of the coin is that Pepco is also deep in debt towards the IPPs and has to pay well over Rs100 billion to these independent producers. Due to financial crunch bearing down on the entire national economy, Pepco has been able to pay a mere 30 per cent of the actual payments to the IPPs. The end result is that at one side, curtailed by finances, and at the other because of contained oil supply by PSO, these IPPs, making the major part of the power producing industry, have to dip their supply only aggravating the crisis.

Of the other two sections of the power production industry, hydel-power plants are the most well-known and talked of. With an installed capacity of about 6,500MW, these plants are contributing an approximate 3500MW. The curtail in production is due to a number of reasons, the chief being the fact that dams have a certain age of feasible production and most of our dams tend to have crossed that age or are almost there. This means that these dams gradually grow to become white elephants for us, accruing the silting and suffering reduced productivity.

While that remains the rather grim situation of power production industry, the even more grave part of the greater problem is the foreign debt from IMF and World Bank having consequences on the power tariff and thus directly affecting the consumers. Pakistan is currently on its way to receive the fifth tranche of $1.2 billion from IMF under the bailout package of $11.3 billion. However, the monetary fund has made it clear to Pakistani authorities that the tranche is strictly conditional to a 6 per cent power tariff bump and implementation of VAT (value added tax). This is enough to put the government into trouble where it may be deprived of the next tranche if it fails to look to these conditions. And on the other hand, the masses are definitely not in the mood of being slammed with a price hike while receiving an excruciatingly insufficient supply of electricity.

However, willing or unwilling, the government of course will implement the price hike. What is particularly annoying for an average citizen is that where at one side, the per unit price takes a steady rise on the graph, the supply dwindles ever so inversely. And there are absolutely no steps the government seems to have taken thus far. The Iranian government has been fervently offering to supply a 1000MW at an agreeable rate but the mute reply from the echelons of power is quite meaningful. It certainly makes sense when one realizes that there is barely a margin for commissions on such a deal.

There have been talks of utilizing our untapped natural resources, including Sindh’s coal reserves. Yet, the chances of such a possibility anytime soon seem thin as the traditional inter-provincial dissent intervenes. What the provincial governments, especially Punjab’s, need to understand, is that sooner or later, we have to, and ought to, utilize the coal reserves of Sindh. They have great potential and they alone are sufficient to drive Pakistan out of its energy crisis if utilized well. It’s about time we abandoned the tradition of disagreeing on provincial basis and looked at the issue from the national perspective.
Right now, the government seriously needs to give up its extremely lax attitude towards the resolution of power crisis. The carelessness on her part is only aggravating the problem to a danger zone, where our economy may suffer greatly. Before that point is reached, we must look to measures to thwart this possibility and tap into available and alternate energy resources.

Following are a few steps which may well aid in establishing a better power supply network across the country, with lower risks and much lesser outages:

1. The power supply units should be more modularized and localized, thus shedding the load of distribution and production evenly across the entire nation.

2. Bio mass should be utilized by establishing trash dump centers where they can be used to create biomass fuel. This would, at one side, dispose of the trash by utilizing it towards something useful, and at the other aide in moving towards power-production localization.

3. The use of wind turbines should be encouraged and the production industry of such turbines be established locally, drawing possible investors to this very avenue. Pakistan has many areas with great wind-energy potential and such projects have already been implemented on small scales in Punjab, yielding very successful results. According to the researches done, Punjab has a 165km long wind corridor from the salt range of Kallar Kahar to the valley of Soon Sakesar with huge potential for wind power production. Similarly, there are coastal belts in Sindh that make the ideal wind-turbine installation sites. The establishment of a home industry for wind turbines’ production would also cut down the installation costs to a very feasible sum, making it perhaps the best choice among alternate energy options.

4. Sugar mills also fare as a good option for producing small surplus amounts for the regions they’re situated in. Nearly all sugar mills have self-sufficient power generation mechanism which are efficient and adequately address the mills’ needs. Government can work in collaboration with these mills to enhance their power mechanism and produce surplus amounts which could be supplied to the local residents of the area.

5. Finally, while all that remain long-term ambitions, the need of the moment is that we alter our practices so that we walk out of this crisis intact and with minimum harm done. For that, we, as a nation, need to stop wasting power which is carelessly used at events like marriages and gatherings. Use of energy savers rather than tube lights and bulbs and a social ban on the usage of electric decorations should be observed. Many other power ‘leaks’ that happen due to lack of the realization of the problems’ grave nature must also be looked to. Public awareness campaigns by volunteers may be run to that end. It’s only in such measures that we can hope to salvage our economy from the current crisis. Or the menace of foreign loans and incurring debts would be on our necks and we may witness many more price hikes in the coming years without making any significant progress towards the resolution of this problem.

Self-sufficiency is the key!

Salman Latif A blogger who blogs at http://salmanlatif.wordpress.com/ and tweets @salmanlateef
The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necassarily reflect the views and policies of the Express Tribune.


Ahsan Shafiq | 13 years ago | Reply Not just sincere leadership, what about sincere citizens. no i am not talking about paying your taxes. equally important is raising a voice over accountability in using the taxes effectively. No one questioned our very own Raja Pervaiz Ashraf who ate away 225 Million in trying to revive an effing 25 yr old china plant. this 225 million was mine, yours and all other taxpayers of the country. Ehtesaab kab hoga? kaun poochay ga yay sawaaal? kaun uthaye ga awaaaz?
Ali Murtaza | 13 years ago | Reply I think the solution to the power crisis lies in a sincere leadership.
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