Experts believe that by using only two percent of its huge coal reserves, Pakistan can generate about 20,000 megawatts of electricity for nearly 40 years

SHAMIM AHMED RIZVI, Bureau Chief, Islamabad
Feb 26 - Mar 04, 2007

Presently power shortage is a worldwide phenomenon. According to the International Energy Agency, which acts as energy policy advisor to 26 developed countries, the world can only meet its energy needs till 2030/35 through traditional sources. Realizing the gravity of the situation many countries are taking steps to develop alternate sources of energy to meet their future requirements.

In Pakistan the widening gap between the production and consumption of electricity and its disastrous consequences on the economy are almost written on the wall. According to reliable estimates, total generation capacity in Pakistan currently stands at 20,184 MW while total demand is calculated at 20,511 MW to reach 28,081 MW by 2010. However, when we look at the likely transmission and distribution (T&D) losses, the system will still be left with a shortage of about 800 MW. It seems that the demand of electricity which is rising by 8 percent per year and other factors like persistent T&D losses would not allow the supply and demand gap to be filled anytime soon.

The government appears to be working on a fast track basis in all seriousness to build the required electricity generation capacity in order to meet the rising demand. To cope with the shortage, the government is seeking to develop generation capacity through the recently established Alternate Energy Development Board (AEDB), which is exploring various options, including the wind and solar technologies, to produce power. An incentives policy for the development of renewable energy projects has also been introduced. Reportedly, there is a number of companies now investing or willing to invest in the power generation sector of Pakistan and some new independent power projects (IPPs) are in the planning and designing stage. The Private Power and Infrastructure Board (PPIB) and National Electric Power Regulatory Authority (NEPRA) are playing their roles as promoter and overseer of the electric power sector. The NTDC and DISCOs have also taken some technical and administrative measures to improve operational and managerial efficiency to reduce power losses.

However despite tall claims and rhetoric usually made at the highest level, nothing concrete is visible on the ground to ease the worsening power shortage in the country. Pakistan's energy requirement is increasing by 10 percent for the last 5/6 years but the supply position remained almost static during this period. By now we are almost faced with a crisis on our power front. In November last Pakistan experienced a worst and longest power breakdown in history, which was mainly the result of shortage of electricity. When demand outstrips the capacity it causes a ripple effect resulting in the collapse of entire system. According to experts we will continue to live with this phenomenon unless we take drastic action on war footing to improve the power generation of the country without which realizing the tall claim of 8 percent growth in GDP in future will only be a dream.

The power policy 2002 announced by the present government with a big fanfare and which was supposed to serve as a better replacement of the 1994 power policy has failed to deliver. No doubt generation of hydro power is a long process, but there has been a dead silence on major dams despite all earlier rhetoric. The work has not yet started even on the Diamir Bhasha dam, which was inaugurated by the President about six months back. A blanket hush has also over taken the government about Kalabagh dam in spite of the President's assertion that misunderstandings and misconception about the reservoir have been removed. The government has been talking of importing electricity and gas but practically there has been no progress on any of the several projects. Similarly, despite huge potential alternative energy, we have been extremely slow in exploiting the potential.

Power policy 2002 failed to deliver because of two mega factors i.e. non-availability of gas and upfront tariff determined by NEPRA. As a result, sponsors of six fast track thermal power projects of 1450 MWs backed out. This proved a serious blow as it discouraged and disheartened other intending investors.

President Musharraf in one of the meetings held recently said that the government was pursuing an extensive programme to meet the country's growing energy needs to sustain high economic growth and fast paced industrialization. Chairing a high-level meeting, also attended by Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz to review the power sector plans, he said that the nation has to tap all sources of energy generation to cater to its demand. He once again assured the nation that at least 3 big dams, including Kalabagh, will be built during next 7/8 years.

It's encouraging that President Musharraf and Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz have been focusing on the country's growing energy needs periodically to keep the authorities concerned on their toes for boosting power production. It manifests their cognizance of the significance of long drawn planning in keeping with the imperatives of the growing economies. Interestingly, Pakistan has the options of hydel, thermal, nuclear and coal based modes of energy generation. Hydel and nuclear options, however, are the cheaper sources of energy production for our nation. Nuclear energy is, of course, cheaper, cleaner and safer and that's why Europe has opted for it. That Pakistan is also bending on nuclear energy as is evident from reports about selection of six sites for the installation of more power plants to increase the country's generation capacity to 8,800 MW nuclear power by 2030 with Chinese help is certainly a matter of satisfaction.

What's, however, agitating is that there is no movement on the hydel power production plans as well as the construction of major water reservoirs. Despite the fact that the ground breaking ceremony of Bhasha dam, a hydle power project, was performed by President Musharraf months ago contrary to the brisk activity on the site and in media witnessed during the construction of Tarbela and Mangla dams in the past, the speed of work is rather too slow on Bhasha. A blanket hush has also overtaken the government about Kalabah dam in spite of the President's assertions that misunderstandings and misperceptions about the reservoir have since been removed. It is firmly believed that President Musharraf alone can build the Kalabagh dam in the given political conditions in the country. It is, therefore, incumbent upon the President and Prime Minister not only to put up hard work for the good of the country, but also let it be known to the people. These are the mega projects with which the nation's destiny is linked. The contrived silence is simply enigmatic.

Even the World Bank has warned that Pakistan's slackness in the construction of new water reservoirs could threaten the country's survival. The World Bank team headed by its Senior Advisor on water and other relates issues, David R.C Grey, visited Pakistan on February 7 and held detailed discussions with the officials of the Ministry of Water and Power, Economic Affairs Division, Ministry of Finance and Advisor to Prime Minister Dr. Salman Shah till February 10.

The World Bank delegation presented the strategy paper to the officials during the meetings, which covered Pakistan's key issues relating to water. These in particular included the quickly shrinking water availability to farms, wastage of water and its improper utilization, poor distribution system, and the construction of new big water reservoirs.

According to some experts, the country's acute power crunch could be obviated by utilizing the vast reserves of high quality coal reserves one of the top 10 coal reserves in the world. Experts believe that by using only two percent of its huge coal reserves, Pakistan can generate about 20,000 megawatts of electricity for nearly 40 years. Further, some of the major by-products Pakistan will get out of power generation, would include 5.14 million tons of anhydrous fertilizer, dephenolized creslyic acid pesticides, wire anamel, exposy resin, krypton/xenon gases, liquid nitrogen, etc. But for this to happen, Pakistan needs an investment of four billion dollars for the mining of Thar coal reserves, which has so far proved elusive.

However, after failing to involve any major multinational company in mining and power generation, the government has reportedly decided to establish a $ 500 million Thar Coal Company, to be operated by the private sector. The plan envisages the unbundling of Thar coal project into mining and power generation sectors in order to bring down the size of investment in each of the six identified blocks of the Thar coalfield, from $ 1.5 billion to $ 500 million.

Discovered in 1992 and spread over more than 9,000 square kilometers, Sindh's high quality coal deposits are believed to be sufficient for meeting the country's energy requirements for 100 years. The province's coal deposits of about 218 billion tons, i.e 98 percent of the country's total coal resource, are suitable for electricity generation in addition to many other applications. It is worth mentioning here that at global level, coal is one of the major sources of energy, which contributes a share of 23.80 percent in the world's energy system. As it is not an environment-friendly resource, liquefaction and gasification technologies are being increasingly used to obtain energy from coal.