POWER SHORTAGE MAKES A PAINFUL SUMMER

SHAMIM AHMED RIZVI
Apr 07 - 13, 2008

Power scenario is getting bleak with every passing day and the coming summer is likely to witness the worst ever power shortage faced by the country in its history.

In his first speech in the national assembly after taking vote of confidence on Saturday, the Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani admitted that the country was facing acute power shortage due to the neglect of the government for the past over 10 years. He said that the presently the country was facing a shortfall of 3330 MW between supply and demand and this gap may rise to 450 MWTs with increased demand in electricity in coming summer months. He said the situation demanded immediate relief but it was not possible. However the government has decided to work on emergency to install new power plants and hoped that first thermal unit will start functioning by end 2008 adding to supply by about 2200 MW. Conceding that it will take years to bridge the supply demand gap despite best efforts of the government he appealed to the nation to follow an austerity programme to use minimum possible electricity this summer to meet this national crises.

At present the house hold power consumers are suffering announced and unannounced load shedding for four to six hours in cities and 6 to 8 hours daily in sub-urban areas. Karachi seems to be the worst hit city in the country because WAPDA has cut its supplies to KESC to meet its own shortages. Besides domestic consumer the industrial production is suffering immensely.

Admitting that this is a record shortage of electricity in the country's history, a senior official of the Ministry of Water & Power told this correspondent that there was no choice expects country wide load shedding as the gap between supply and demand is increasing. "We are trying hard to reduce the load shedding as fast as possible but we will not be able to end the load shedding in the near future", he admitted suggesting that a change of attitude and life style is needed at the national level that should be triggered by the ruling elite and followed by all segments of society that have access to electricity

A question is being asked at every social forum these days, as to why the concerned authorities could not anticipate the looming crises and why they did not take timely steps to meet the growing gap between demand and supply of electricity. The answer is simple: poor management, lopsided priorities and lack of accountability on part of those at the helm of affairs. Despite tall claims and rhetoric at the highest level not even one plant was added to increase the power generation capacity during the last decade despite the fact that the demand was increasing by about 7 to 8 per cent during the last 6/7 years because of enhanced economic activity for which Shaukat Aziz government claimed full credit. Musharraf / Shaukat led governments however miserably failed to add to the Supply side of power with the result that now industrial units, in most of the parts of the country, are working on two shifts basis instead of three nullifying all the growth attained during previous years.

The power policy - 2002 announced by the 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 Bahasha Dam, which was inaugurated by the President last year. 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 of alternative energy, we have been extremely slow in exploiting it. Power policy 2002 failed to deliver because of 2 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. "Power vision 2025 prepared in 2005/6 envisaging to increase power supply by 10,000 MW by 2010 and 35,000 Watts by 2025 through various means could not take a real start . Pakistan is blessed with immense natural resources to produce energy at the cheapest possible cost.

Pakistan is rich in hydro resources of energy. According to an estimate the country has enough resources to generate approximately 40000 MW of hydro-electricity. However, presently it only generates 8000 MW of electricity against an installed capacity of 11327 MW. In addition the country can generate electricity with the help of wind and solar energy which has not yet been exploited to meet the energy deficit. Nuclear energy is yet another source of energy and at present PAEC produces 472 MW. It is far less than what PAEC should have been producing to meet the energy deficit.

Three major electricity generation agencies presently operate in the country. They have a total installed capacity of around 19522 MW. Their installed capacities are as follows: WAPADA: 11327MW; KESC: 1756MW and Independent Power Producers (IPPs), 5977 MW. PAEC produces 472MW as stated earlier. Thermal power is mostly produced by burning either natural gas or imported oil. The country is yet to switch over to coal from the indigenous source of energy that is estimated to be the third largest in world with a reserve of 33.0 trillion tons. According to an estimate coal reserves are enough to generate about 40,000MW electricity annually for over 50 years.

The energy market has been changing according to the demands of power consumption. The prices of energy raw materials also kept changing. According to an analysis, in the fiscal year 1990-91 hydropower accounted for 45 per cent of all electricity produced in the country but it was reduced to 26 per cent with a 10-year period. The share of thermally generated electricity increased from 54 per cent to 71 per cent during the same period. Needs of most of the commercially used oil are met by imports whose prices have skyrocketed during past five years and as such the cost of power generation through oil has increased.

Power consumption because of increasing needs of industry, agriculture and households has been on the rise. According to an estimate, between the period of 1990 and 2003 the total consumption increased by 84 per cent from 31twh to 57twh. Presently, an annual average increase of 7 per cent has been postulated. The energy sector, in which the government has a greater role to play, will have to work hard to make up for the existing deficit and to meet the growing demand.

The new government has a real big challenge of addressing the energy crisis at hand. Its first priority should be to implement immediate measures that might bring some relief to the public. It should also immediately embark upon the programme of expansion of generating capacities that has been laid down by the previous government under "Vision 2025" programme. It envisions increasing existing power generating capacity by 10000 MW by 2010 and around 35000 MW by 2025 at an enormous cost of $35 billion to be shared by the government and private sector. The share of different sources of energy is stipulated to be as follows: hydroelectricity: 22563 MW, new gas fired plants: 1800 MW and finally 1500 MW from renewable energy resources. It is certainly an ambitious plan that needs to be implemented on priority basis with changes that the new government might like to make within its national policy framework. It hardly needs to be emphasized that electricity is the lifeline of national economy and the people at large. The Economy and public life practically come to a halt because of the load shedding. The existing crisis can be addressed by the government by taking prompt measures. There is hardly any room for neglect or delay.