AROOJ ASGHAR (arooj.asghar@hotmail.com)
June 09 - 15, 2008

The potential of hydro power in Pakistan is huge nearly 40,000 MW in possible capacity whereas only 16.25% is being utilized so far. The remaining untapped potential, if properly exploited, can effectively meet Pakistan's ever-increasing demand for electricity in a cost-effective way. Hydro plants have no fuel costs, but incur higher construction costs and lower utilization. Hence, project returns are at best in line with thermal plants, albeit with higher margins. Pakistan has lots of room to grow this clean power.

According to the Hydrocarbon Development Institute of Pakistan, Ministry of Petroleum and Natural Resources, Pakistan's installed capacity of electricity generation is 19,450 Megawatts (MW) where WAPDA's Hydel, WAPDA's Thermal, KESC Thermal, IPP Thermal and Nuclear is contributing 6,499 MW, 4,900MW, 1,756MW, 5,833, 462 MW respectively. Further, Hydel, Gas, Oil, Nuclear and Coal have a share of 33%, 44.1%, 20.2%, 2.7% and 0.1% of total installed capacity respectively.


Hydro power plants consume no fuel and incur lower maintenance costs than coal-thermal plants. However, the drawbacks are longer construction lead time, higher construction cost and lower utilization rates. The impact of higher construction cost is more than offset by zero fuel cost. Hence, hydro power plants generally yield higher operating margins. But returns should at best match those of thermal plants due to high capex. At present, economic factors are in favor of hydroelectric power generation world over because of ever-increasing furnace oil prices, environmental impacts of coal and depleting natural gas reserves; Pakistan being no exception.

The shortage of energy in Pakistan and lack of sufficient and reliable power supply is becoming an obstacle in the way of economic growth and development. The country is fortunately endowed with great hydropower potential and since hydropower is a natural renewable source of energy, it is necessary to exploit it to its maximum extent. Therefore, it is useful to look for short gestation projects, proximity to load centers and minimum overall costs. Low head hydropower potential of the existing barrages in Pakistan's irrigation system offers such solution even if the unit cost of electrical energy generated with low head is expensive than with high head.

The Hydel energy is a big source mainly originating from NWFP, due to its geographical location it has a number of major hydroelectric power projects. In order to utilize this resource beneficially, SHYDO carried out considerable work on different hydel schemes and has identified hydel potential of more than 6000 MW. SHYDO identified locations in the mountainous areas of NWFP i.e. Districts of Chitral, Dir, Kohistan, Mansehra and Swat.

Vision 2030 projects to increase hydel power potential from the existing capacity of 6,499 MW to 32,660 MW to 40,000 MW. However, during the past 8 years or so no major hydro power project could be completed other than Ghazi Barotha. Despite all preliminary spade works and feasibility studies a major dam cum hydro power project like Kalabagh Dam could not be brought out of the hook, due to lack of consensus and disagreement. Now the Federal Minister of Water and Power, Raja Pervez Ashraf, has openly discarded the project and Sindh and NWFP governments has celebrated this decision without realizing the fact that this project is more beneficial to them than Punjab. Similar issues are more or less associated with other major dams in the northern areas. WAPDA has undertaken feasibility studies/ construction work for a number of hydro/thermal power projects under the Vision 2025 Program. Work on Allai Khawr (21 MW), Khan Khawar (72 MW) and Dubair Khawar (130 MW) hydropower projects is in full swing. Implementation of Neelum-Jhelum (969 MW) hydropower project has just started and is in early stage of project development. Feasibility studies of a number of the hydropower projects are also underway including Bunji (5,400 MW) and Kohala (600 MW). After the completion of the planned projects the installed capacity is expected to increase to 42,000 MW.

PPIB has issued number of LOI to Independent Power Producer (IPP) for the development and operation of hydro power plant. Once the first project reaches financial closure, many more will pave the way for influx of further investment, domestic as well as foreign, in power projects based on renewable resources. PPIB has also declared seven raw sites for private sector on which private investors are either preparing feasibility studies or have approached NEPRA for tariff determination.

Pakistan is an agrarian country and most of the hydro power projects are generating electricity as secondary means since they are primarily built as water reservoirs for irrigation. Pakistan will have a shortfall of 11 million tons of major food grains by 2010 and 16 million tons by 2020. This food grain deficit will increase to 28 million tons by 2025. This reflects the grave situation that the country will face unless a policy decision on the construction of new dams is taken, purely on technical and economical rather than on political grounds. It is a tragedy that none of the previous governments took any decision to build new major dam/reservoir after the construction of Tarbela reservoir in 1976. On the other hand, the original storage capacity of 15.24 maf of Mangala Dam(5.34), Chashma Barrage (0.5 maf) and Tarbela Reservoir(9.40MAF) has declined by 4.68 maf by 2003 due to sedimentation and may further decrease by six maf by 2010.

The flow of River Indus and its tributaries constitute the main source of surface water for the country. According to the Indus Water Treaty, the flow of three eastern rivers namely Beas, Sutlej and Ravi was conceded to India, while Pakistan is mostly dependent on three western rivers... Indus (including Kabul), Jhelum and Chenab. The decision though more favorable to India was agreed by General Ayub Khan. The completion by India of Wuller, Bagliar and Krishanganga, Uri-11Pakal Dul and Burser projects on western rivers of Indus, Jhelum and Chenab to which Pakistan has the exclusive right according to the 1960 Indus Basin Treaty, will create serious water shortage. It will also enable India to divert water of western rivers as it already did once and created problems for Pakistan. Moreover, India can release water from eastern rivers during high floods, thus damaging crops in adjoining the areas along the eastern rivers in Pakistan's Punjab.

Besides having potential of construction of huge dams, Pakistan can also utilize its resources for the construction of 'Run-of-river' hydropower plants in NWFP and AJK. Hydropower has traditionally been considered environmentally friendly because it represents a clean and renewable energy source. At hydroelectric projects, this water is used as fuel to generate electricity. In contrast, fossil fuels like coal, natural gas, or oil must be extracted from the earth and burned to produce electricity. The term clean is also used because production of electricity with hydropower does not pollute the air, contribute to acid rain or ozone depletion because of carbon dioxide emissions, or (like nuclear power) leave highly toxic waste that is difficult to dispose of. In order to explore further, the policy makers should follow the following;

1. The project is to be located wisely, where adding roads, power lines, human activity and a river diversion will not significantly compromise existing wilderness refuge areas, species of concern, or established recreational opportunities.

2. Cumulative effects are to be seriously considered, and the project does not create an unacceptable incremental impact, including effects cumulative to other power projects, water diversions, forestry, mining, and agriculture.

3. Affected first nations, communities and stakeholders be contacted early enough in the planning process to become well informed, have been given ample opportunity to provide meaningful input to the project, and their input has been taken seriously, and incorporated where appropriate.

4. Potential risks to species and ecosystems must be identified, and impacts are to be avoided or mitigated.

5. Sufficient monitoring data on stream flows and biota to be collected for a reasonable period of time prior to construction (i.e., three or more years), and these baseline data are used in the planning and mitigation processes, as appropriate.

6. A qualified professionals must be hired to participate in the setting of conditions and criteria to mitigate impacts associated with ongoing operations, including: low flow thresholds in the diversion reach (to support local fish populations and other aquatic life), ramping rate, and maintenance operations.


Hydro power stations cost more to build than coal, oil, or natural gas burning plants but once they are built, the energy to run them is free, while thermal generation plants have to buy their fuel. This makes hydro plants inflation- proof while the cost of fuel for the other plants increases. Hydro plants also last longer. Moreover, project like small hydro plants can be built quickly, and will provide electricity long before large hydro plant or most kinds of fuel-burning generators. It is important to note that small hydro projects are labor-intensive and well suited to operate by local people. While the initial cost of the plant can be quite high but a good part may compensate from on-site construction, which can provide jobs and training to local residents. The high cost of small hydro development is often accompanied by other beneficial developments such as irrigation, water supply sanitation, and fish farming. The associated social benefits of jobs, training, community co-operation, opportunities for small manufacturing development etc., can be highly beneficial. Hence establishment of small hydel power stations in current political and economic environment is highly recommended.