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The confused hydel energy potential of Pakistan

Pakistan has been blessed with great potential of hydel energy. According to the report by Water and Power Development Authority (WAPDA) in November 2011, Pakistan has the potential of 100,000MW of hydro power with identified sites of 59,000MW. Pakistan has been blessed with ample water resources, but could store only 13% of the annual flow of its rivers. The storage is fast depleting due to sedimentation. Pakistan is a water rich country, but, unfortunately, Pakistan’s energy market investment in hydel power generation has been caught up in confusion and contradiction for many years, and no significance project has been achieved so far. In contrast United States of America has developed 497% storage capacity of the annual flow of River Colorado; Egypt possesses 281% of River Nile and India 35% on the Sutlej-Bias Basin. All these statistics warrant construction of number of reservoirs to enhance availability of water which stands at 1070 cubic meters per capita and anything below 1000 cubic meters tantamount to a crisis situation.

The Water and Power Development Authority (WAPDA) was established in 1958 with the aim to improve the country’s power situation. The WAPDA has fantastic work and installed more than 4,000MW hydel projects between 1960-1975. After doing the excellent work of installation of mega hydel projects, the only power company of that time shifted to the thermal power projects. The present youth of Pakistan is unable to understand why this shift was made.

The WAPDA is operating the existing hydel power plants very professionally; it is really appreciable that hydel power plants are running at capacity factor of more than 50%.

The country current energy mix is mainly dependent on imported liquid and gas fuel. Most of the generation is from imported furnace oil and LNG. In the near future, coal will also be part of the energy mix. These fossil fuels are emitting the Carbon Dioxide and other environmentally hazardous gases.
The major sites for hydel power plants are 4,500MW Bhasha Power, 4,200MW Dasu Power, 7,000MW Bunji Power, 3,600 MW Kalabagh Power Project, 2,800MW Pattan Hydel, 590MW Mahl Power and many more. The Kalabagh Dam and Power Project got controversial due to many political reasons. No one takes serious step in order to generate the national consensus on this project. It is unfortunate that the most feasible hydel project is shelved. The delay in the installation of all big hydel projects is increasing in the installation cost of the projects. Secondly, the country is losing money by importing fuel and generating power on imported fuels.

As the global dynamics are changing, every country is trying to reduce reliance on other countries for their strategic needs. It is also important for Pakistan to reduce reliance on imported fuel for the power generation.


The following is the quick reference formula to calculate the potential of hydro power generation in a river. Power Generation (Watt) = water flow rate (Kg/sec) X head (m) X g (m/sec2)
The normal efficiency of hydel plants is around 65-70%. The results generated by this equation when multiply by efficiency can give the power producing capacity at any place on the river or canal. The minimum head requirement is usually 10m.

The small (less than 50MW) sites are available throughout the country. In addition, canal system with a total of 58,450 km watercourses, farm channels and field ditches running another 160,000 km in length has a huge hydropower potential at numerous locations, ranging from 1 MW to more than 10 MW hydro plants can be installed.

The Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KPK) government has taken an initiative to install around 180 small hydel projects at different sites. The work is in progress on many sites and hopefully approximately 350MW electricity will be added in the next couple of years.

In order to increase share of hydel energy and shift reliance from imported fuel to indigenous resources, the big value projects need to be added on a regular basis.

The installation cost of hydel plants is higher than the thermal power plants due to heavy structural and civil work. It is usually US$2 million per MW. If the government decided to install 1,500MW hydel projects per year; approximately Rs330 billion will be required to invest every year. Out of which 80% can be taken as a loan from the financial institutes. The cost of electricity produced by these plants is approximately Rs8 per unit cheaper as compared to thermal power plants. The annual energy supplied by a 1,500MW hydel plant would be 6,570 million electricity units. This shows an annual saving of Rs52 billion. The total amount of investment can be recovered in less than seven years and life of the project is proximately fifty years. In addition to this, it will also save the foreign exchange required to purchase fuel and also very much environmentally friendly.

We hope the government will focus on the indigenous resources of power generation like hydel, solar, wind and biomass. If serious attention is given to this, the Pakistan’s more than 60% energy generation can be shifted to environment friendly green indigenous fuels by 2030.

The authors can be reached at http://www.twitter.com/farhan6309902

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