The power crisis is getting worse and various short-term solutions being offered are not the answer. Wapda’s chairman’s assessment that the power shortage will last until 2018 is optimistic when the increase in demand over the next seven years is factored in.
The power shortage is harmful to the country’s economy and it is pulling down Pakistan’s GDP growth. The funds spent on import of power generators and their fuel is an enormous drain on the economy. Larger industries can afford power generators, but small/medium enterprise, which are any nation’s primary growth engine, cannot. We need a solution to take care of Pakistan’s power requirements for the next 20 years. Expensive import-based, oil-run power generation is not the answer. These have already increased Pakistan’s fuel import bill. Gas based projects are also not the answer as the country’s gas supply is limited.
A possible home-grown, energy solution, based on wind and solar energy, can be used. Many countries in the world have implemented alternative energy programmes. Spain is already producing 73 per cent of its power needs from wind and solar energy. Though technology is still evolving for solar energy, a more immediate solution is wind energy. The Karachi to Gwadar coastline has enormous potential for generating wind energy. Wind towers can generate between 7,000 to 10,000 MW of electricity. There will be certain challenges to accomplish this, but all the solutions are within Pakistan’s grasp and we need not depend on foreign assistance.
The main challenges are production and availability of wind turbines, safety and security of turbines, transmission lines to feed the national grid, capital cost of the project and long-term maintainability of the project. India has started producing wind turbines domestically. It is not rocket science and Pakistani scientists can master this technology if mandated by the government. If our scientists can produce a nuclear weapon, they can produce wind turbines. The Pakistan Atomic Energy Commission should be entrusted to design and build these turbines. The facilities at Pakistan Aeronautical Complex, Kamra, Heavy Mechanical Complex and Karachi Shipyard can also be used. Once domestic needs are met, Pakistan could become a major exporter of wind turbines.
The solution for safeguarding wind turbines is to offer free electricity to those villages in Balochistan where wind turbines are installed. In return, villagers should be asked to ensure the safety of these turbines. The power consumption of these villages is likely to be minimal and this could also pacify the Baloch populace. Internationally, a five MW wind turbine costs around five million dollars. Pakistan should be able to produce these considerably cheaply, possibly at less than one million dollars. Wind turbines usually have a long life and as long as rotating parts are changed upon reaching their maximum life, wind turbines can last 50 years. Also, as wind turbines require no fuel, there is no running cost other than maintenance cost. With low initial and minimal running costs, electricity can be procured at a considerably lower price, avoiding the need to increase power rates frequently.
If Pakistan is to develop at a faster pace to attain a seven to eight per cent GDP growth, then it is imperative to address its energy needs. Pakistan is currently short by between 3,000 to 5,000 MW and if a major plan of action is not put into place now, the shortage is likely to be around 20,000 MW within 10 years. Wind energy is a fast and cheap solution. This programme should be given the same priority as Pakistan’s nuclear programme was once accorded.
Published in The Express Tribune, July 6th, 2011.