Good news, bad news

The distribution infrastructure is in many places beyond its designed life


Editorial February 24, 2018

Just when the government was able to consider announcing an end to power cuts two events have conspired against it. Both are very different but intimately linked. There is currently excess power in the system but power sector losses are going to be in the region of Rs360 billion, three times greater than they were in 2013 and this is accounted for by a mere 1.2 per cent reduction in line losses. Bluntly put the level of theft of electricity is crippling the government as it works to improve the power-generating sector generally, and the fault lies squarely with the power companies and administrations both federal and provincial that either fail to pay their dues or have yet to master the ability to collect dues from consumers and prevent theft. The government is now preparing plans to cope with inevitable power outages in the coming summer.

Even though the generating capacity exceeds demand, it is the weather that is going to place unprecedented pressure on the system if the meteorological forecasts prove accurate. Temperatures are set to rise rapidly in coming weeks, spring is truncated and almost disappeared in parts of the country and Pakistan has experienced the driest and coldest winter for many years. Reservoirs are at a lower-than-usual point for the time of year and there is little prospect of significant precipitation. There are going to be water shortages and the Indus River System Authority anticipates a 36 per cent shortfall in supply. These are the long-term effects of global warming and cannot be reversed, only mitigated.

A longer hotter summer can only have the effect of increasing demands for electricity. The distribution infrastructure is in many places beyond its designed life. Frail infrastructure responds poorly to additional demand. What the government failed to do was ensure synchronicity between an expanded power generation and the capacity of the system at every level, human and infrastructure, to get the maximum benefit from what is otherwise a considerable success. Small wonder that the solar panel industry is beginning to view its future in a positive light; and middle-class consumers are opting out of a failed system of supply.

Published in The Express Tribune, February 24th, 2018.

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