Nov 03 - 09, 2008

The power crisis is getting worsened with each passing day. The escalating cost of electricity production and provision is adding fuel further to its intensity. By using alternative sources of energy, however, government can not only minimize power shortfall that is widening due to lacking in power generation and flaws in supply but it can reduce inflated oil import bill.

Wind and solar are two of such renewable sources of energy that could provide low cost electricity nationwide. Although solar energy has electrified many off grid localities across the country, wind power modes have yet to contribute its shares in total electricity generation.

Despite the compatibility of wind power plants with national coastal belts and its underlying potential of producing 50,000 MW, broad-based wind power projects have not so far been surfaced.

Private investors showing willingness to set up wind turbines are groping around at different government departments to find go-aheads, said a government official.

Taking permission from Nepra to start alternative energy project fuels lethargy in actual start-up, he confided.

"There are few hurdles in the way of fast establishing wind power plants at the windy shorelines extending from Sindh to Balochistan," Zhara Syed, communication officer AEDB told this scribe on telephone. "Otherwise we have 97 investors who are very much ready to commence wind power generation projects," she added. These foreign and domestic investors have shown us their eagerness to erect wind turbines at various feasible locations nationwide.

'A Turkish company has already started erecting wind turbines at north-east of Karachi. It would complete first phase of the project by mid November and supply 6 MW to HESCO forthwith. By April, 2009 production capacity would increase to 50 MW and later on to 300 MW'.

This wind project is first in its kind in the country, says Zhara. According to her wind mode is a low cost source of energy and reduces dependency over thermal power plants. She says producing per kilowatt hour electricity from wind source is relatively cheaper than that from thermal power. It would consequently save substantial foreign reserves paid against oil import bill and decrease gas consumption. Besides, alternative energy modes reduce instances of carbon emissions caused by oil combustion.

While gas is considered to be the prime fuel for running power producing plant, furnace oil combustion is the second mode utilized for generating electricity in Pakistan. According to an estimate gas running power plants produce 50 percent of total electricity generated in the country while oil accounts for 30 percent and hydro 12 percent.

Unlike gas which is a national resource, furnace oil is imported in Pakistan, making power tariffs highly contagion to international oil price fluctuation as well as causing exit of foreign exchange as import payments. Startling rise was depicted in the first quarter oil import bill of this fiscal. $1.8 billion worth oil import in staring three months of last fiscal year turned out to be $3.8 billion in the same period of this fiscal.

Thermal power generation has never been a cost effective source of electricity as it incurs substantial oil import expenditures to the government. Lying in abundance there are number of pragmatic substitutes of oil-run power plants to fend the economy against the effects of power crisis in front, but seemingly lethargic approach and ineptitudes of authorities are not making them in use.

Even though there is a downward trend in price of crude oil in international market persistency in move may never be guaranteed amid volatile and uncertain market conditions. Over and above that, consistent devalue of Pak rupee against dollar invalidates any benefit of freefall in crude prices. Therefore, reduction in consumption of oil is a prudent measure that can help inhibit foreign exchange outflows.

Besides, growing population in the country and increasing electricity consumption in electric gadgets exact immediate implementation of all alternative and renewable energy plans. Diversification in production mix is also essential as it expands power sources and can bring down consumer electricity tariff rates that are unabatedly hiking. Perhaps, link of petroleum products prices with international market mechanism causes determination of gas tariffs accordingly. Depending too much on two traditional ways of making electricity would result in resource depletion and ballooning oil import bill. The earlier 65 terawatt hours thermal generation in 2006 has peaked to over 90 twh at present. And this was projected to be raised to 129 twh by 2011.

Hydro electricity, coal fired plant, and nuclear power are also recognized for their cost effectiveness and environment friendliness. Among them, coal based electricity production can cut off furnace oil requirements entirely. By harnessing its estimated 185 billion tons of coal reserves Pakistan can fulfil its whole electricity needs. However, country's coal combustion for power production is abysmally narrow.

Despite its publicized ecological harms, coal has become a major fuel for power plants in several nations. According to a report, China produces 77 percent of its electricity from coal, India produces 55 percent, US 22 percent, and Pakistan only half percent.

As coal power projects demand a significant timeline before they add electricity to national grids, renewable energy means can present resolution to power crisis in short run. What least they require is investment that can in small time period taps on anew power source.

These can be harnessed at household level. Since wind turbines and solar panel are imported in the country, their costs are beyond common person's reach therefore, households overlook benefits of home-grown electricity. If these costs decline, public can readily learn about the technology and be adaptable to it.

While confusion ensues about legality of generating electricity on individual basis and whether or not regulator permits home power production, few government officials contend that there is no restriction over electricity production through wind or solar means.

According to a government official, a law bounding all government departments to consume solar electricity is in vetting process. Renewable energy costs only at the time of installation following expenses on account of overhauling are like peanuts when compared to regular cost of furnace-fired power plant. It is obvious that price of natural energy takes little of an economy, said Zhara.