ELECTRICITY WOES: 'COOLER SUMMER' STILL A DISTANT DREAM

Let's see if KESC honours the promises it made last year that the next summer will be fine.

AHMAD MA'AZ SHAMAIL
Feb 26 - Mar 04, 2007

If the statements emanating from the policy and the hierarchy of Water and Power Development Authority (WAPDA) and the now privatized Karachi Electric Supply Corporation (KESC) are any indication, we should brace ourselves for unbearably hot summer- yet again. For years KESC has been generating darkness and causing hotness due to rising gap between demand and supply, exceptionally high transmission and distribution losses and shabbily maintained unreliable distribution infrastructure.

Frequent and at times prolonged power outages have become a routine in Karachi, and for that matter elsewhere in the country, even in winter season, which is now drawing to a close at least in Sindh, which is traditionally the off-peak season. In early January the government announced to resort to daily load-shedding across the country, a decision later taken back amidst strong public protest. There seems to be one question on everyone's mind: just how bad the situation will be in summer.

As is, the industry, trade and business organizations are saying that acute power outages - call it what you may load-shedding, shutdowns, maintenance, have cost and will continue to cost colossal losses to the national economy. It is also bound to deprive the government of substantial revenue.

So why shouldn't power-starved people of the country even entertain the hope that summer 2007 might not be as bad as it is feared to be? The answer is simple: the feelers sent by the policy makers themselves have not been convincingly encouraging.

According to official statistics, electricity consumption in the country has grown at an average annual rate of 4.6 per cent in 10 years between 1995-06 - fluctuating between highest 9.2 per cent in fiscal year 2003-04 and lowest in 1996-97 at 3.4 per cent dipping to minus 2.9 per cent in 1998-99. During the first nine months of fiscal 2005-06 ended March 31, 2006, it grew at a much higher rate of 12.5 per cent. The annual growth rate of 6.7 per cent in fiscal 2004-05 was the second highest during the decade under discussion.

Pakistan is facing multi-dimensional electricity power problems at every level - generation, supply, distribution and excessively high T&D losses throughout the country. KESC's T&D losses stood at 40 per cent last year only 15 per cent of which were due to technical reasons.

Till last year KESC was meeting just 40 per cent of the power demand of its constituency from its own generation through old and depleted power stations. It depends heavily on power supply from WAPDA, which itself reels from an acute power shortage, and to a lesser extent on Independent Power Plants that are already used to their fullest capacity.

Last year KESC earmarked a sum of $ 400 million for maintenance, supply and distribution works starting this year. It announced the first 1,000mw turbine in April this year.

To overcome the electricity shortage the KESC made arrangements with industrial units generating their own electricity of 10mw and above. KESC said that the arrangement would let it tap electricity shortfall. KESC claimed to test the system early last year but said it just did not have enough time to benefit from the system last summer, saying that it would be ready by next year, i.e. this year. Let's see if KESC honours its promise as summer is almost here in Karachi.

Calling 'kundas' a psychological loop of "bad supply on the part of power utility and bad faith on the part of consumers, the chief executive officer of KESC Scherschmidt announced to tackle the problem through ensuring quality power supply to its consumers. He also said that hidden electricity-theft devices were costing KESC more than the 'kundas' and promised to induct latest devices to detect such power thefts.

Bad as it is, the power failures are not the only problem that Karachiites have become accustomed to, they also have become used to persistent voltage dips and frequency variation problems which occur mainly due to shortage of power. According to KESC's own confession, all but 15 per cent of Karachi experienced these problems last year but KESC promised to reverse the ratio this year.

Let's see if KESC honours the promises it made last year when it repeatedly assured its consumers that 'though this year will be problematic the next summer will be fine'. Though it also said that it expected to be technically fine within two years, the service will take a much longer period of 5 years to improve."

NATIONAL SCENARIO

PAGE has highlighted the electricity scenario in Karachi because it is the economic powerhouse of the country and is itself suffering from acute power crisis. The situation elsewhere in the country is just as bad if not worse. By the time these lines are written the KESC has announced two-day load-shedding of eight hours a day in many areas of the city that would effect residential as well as industrial areas of SITE and Korangi. According to KESC, the shutdowns that are going on since last month are necessary to carry on the up-gradation of its distribution network. Call it what you may, the end result is that all commercial, trading and industrial activities in a vast area of the city would come to a standstill thereby causing substantial loss to the national economy owing to lost productivity.

According to Executive Summary of Economic Survey 2005-06, total installed capacity of electricity (Wapda, KESC, KANUPP and IPPs) stood at 19,439MW during July-March 2005-06 depicting a negligible increase of less than 0.2 per cent over 19,389mw in July-March 2004-05. Total installed capacity of Wapda stood at 11,363mw, of which hydel accounted for 56.9 per cent or 6,463MW, thermal 43.1 per cent or 4,900MW. During the first 9 months of fiscal year 2005-06 ended March 31, 2006 a total of 63,978 GWh electricity was generated in the country compared to 61,758 GWh produced in the same period last year.

Short as it is, the bulk of electricity produced in the country is used for unproductive purposes with household sector being the largest power consumer between 1995-96 to 2004-05, which on an average accounted for 44.3 percent of the total electricity consumption followed by industrial sector with 29.1 percent; agriculture 12.8 percent; other government sectors 7.3 percent; commercial 5.8 percent; and street lights 0.6 percent. So the productive sectors such as industry and agriculture collectively consumed just 41.9 per cent of electricity which was less than what was unproductively used by the households.