The unreliability of electricity supply is a very serious issue in Pakistan, affecting every segment of society, in both urban and rural areas. The gap between projected demand and actual supply has been steadily widening since 2006. In 2013, the shortfall reached 26% of the total demand. During peak hours, it averaged 5,000 to 6,000MW. Utility companies have scheduled power outages for 6 to 14 hours a day. In some areas, summertime load-shedding is regularly extended to 18 to 20 hours a day. Power shortages constrain the use of electricity in households and may discourage investment in electrical appliances and have a negative effect on income, study time, employment, healthcare and almost all other development indicators.
The world has committed to achieving the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) by 2030. The SDG 7 is dedicated to ‘affordable and clean energy’ and has four targets. Pakistan is undertaking a major expansion of electricity generation capacity to meet growing demand, as energy access progresses. However, despite the price advantage and domestic availability of renewable energy resources, current expansion plans favour fossil fuels-based generation, and include a massive growth in coal capacity. Current plans for construction of polluting power plants which will rely on fossil fuel imports, pose a number of problems. Growing emissions and other externalities associated to coal will increase exacerbating Pakistan’s vulnerability to climate change impacts. Moreover, the present energy planning put Pakistan on a path to deepening its overreliance on imported fossil fuels, which brings significant risks to the national economy in the context of its weakening currency, growing current account deficit, declining foreign exchange reserves and escalating circular debt, thus reducing its energy security.
The increased use of coal raises health and environmental concerns. Pakistan already has one of the world’s highest health burdens attributable to poor air quality. The country needs to increase the supply of electricity to meet growing demand, while also tackling its circular debt issue. With wind and solar now the cheapest forms of new electricity generation, renewable energy provides a solution to both of these issues. While Pakistan needs to expand generation quickly, renewable energy is much better placed to meet the growing demand than hydro, coal or nuclear energy, as wind and solar projects can be built within an 18 to 24 months timeframe. Wind and solar power are cheaper and will only get more economical in the future. An increased emphasis on renewables can help reduce the cost of generation and address the cost-tariff deficit, without the need for tariff increases that would impact consumers and businesses. The resulting lower dependence on fossil fuels will not only improve the nation’s current account, but also improve Pakistan’s energy security while avoiding a technological lock-in of outdated coal technology.
Pakistan’s wind power development has been in the Gharo-Keti Bundar corridor in Sindh, which has a potential of approximately 50GW of wind energy. This corridor combines good wind resources with relative proximity to load centres and national grid connectivity. Pakistan also has good solar radiation resources, particularly in the south and southwestern parts of the country. Areas of high solar radiation include the Thar Desert in Sindh. The province has initiated its Sindh Solar Energy Program (SSEP) that will see utility scale, distribution and residential solar installation, including up to 400MW of capacity in solar parks. The World Bank has committed $100 million to the programme. Pakistan is also moving into hybrid wind and solar installations, which smooth out variability in wind and sunshine. Analysing the Paris Agreement’s consistent pathway for Asia shows that 75% share of power generation needs to be decarbonised by 2030, with full decarbonisation by 2050. Scenarios for Pakistan and the region show that a pathway towards 100% renewable energy is achievable, including a decarbonised energy system.
Published in The Express Tribune, July 27th, 2019.
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