Electricity consumers are in for another tough summer this year, with expected prolonged power outages lasting anywhere between six and eight hours every day in most parts of the country.
Officials familiar with the government’s deliberations on energy policy say that urban areas, including the largest cities in the country, are expected to face up to six hours of power outages and rural areas up to eight hours. These rules, however, often grossly underestimate the extent of load shedding in most parts of the country, particularly in Balochistan and Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, where outages often last as long as 20 hours a day.
The government’s inability to tackle the energy crisis appears to have worsened the problem. Industrial areas, which had hitherto been exempted from power outages, will now face up to eight hours a day without electricity during the summer, as well as severely constrained natural gas supply for those industrial units large enough to have their own gas-fired captive power plants.
In theory, the country has 23,538 megawatts of installed capacity, but at a meeting of the Cabinet Committee on Energy (CCE) on March 3, officials from the Water and Power Ministry all but admitted that the 6,678 MW of installed capacity at the state-owned thermal power plants (collectively referred to as ‘Gencos’) are so badly managed as to have been rendered effectively unavailable for supply.
In order to manage the country’s energy needs with over a quarter of electricity generation capacity offline, the government had introduced a “load management programme”, which involves aggressive conservation technique that often shut down electricity to commercial areas after a certain time, thus slowing down economic activity. Yet despite these draconian measures, the government still expects peak demand in June 2015 to hit 16,742 MW which is higher than the expected available supply of 16,441 MW.
The Water and Power Ministry’s plan for managing the pain this summer rests on a four-point plan and assumes all four pillars are executed without any problems. A failure to meet any of these four assumptions would likely result in even longer power outages during the summer.
Firstly, the ministry assumes that the Nandipur and Guddu power plants will be operational by March 2015. Secondly, they assume that there are no major attacks on any part of the power infrastructure, including power plants and transmission lines.
Thirdly, the ministry assumes that internal distribution system constraints at the state-owned power distribution companies will be resolved by those companies. However, this seems to be a big assumption, since there are currently major problems at Lahore Electric Supply Company, Multan Electric Power Company, Sukkur Electric Power Company, and Quetta Electric Supply Company, all of which are government-owned.
And lastly, the ministry clarified that its plan assumes no major disruptions in either the fuel supply or the finances of the energy system, which seems a somewhat risky assumption, given the acute, finance-triggered crisis in January. In particular, ministry officials are worried about the supply of natural gas to the Jamshoro, Guddu, Kotri, Faisalabad, Quetta, Rouch, and Kabirwala power plants. In addition, the ministry’s plan assumes that the gas-fired power plants at Kot Addu Power Company, Orient Power, Sapphire, Saif and Halmore Power will be successfully converted to imported liquefied natural gas (LNG) by April 2015.
At the CCE meeting on March 3, the Petroleum Ministry already put a wrench into the Water and Power Ministry’s plans by announcing that they could not supply natural gas to the state-owned Faisalabad power plant because it was a highly inefficient plant. Instead, the natural gas would be diverted to the captive power plants owned by large companies in the country’s third-largest city.
An additional concern this year has been the security of the power infrastructure, particularly after over a dozen attacks on power transmission lines in Balochistan earlier this year, including one that caused a nationwide blackout on January 24.
Cabinet Secretary Babar Yaqoob Fateh Muhammad proposed that the villages closest to the power transmission lines in rural Balochistan – often among the poorest areas in the country and ones that have not been supplied with electricity despite playing host to the nation’s energy infrastructure – be provided with electricity as a means of making them feel like stakeholders in the security of the infrastructure.
Published in The Express Tribune, March 17th, 2015.