DEFEATING ENERGY CRISIS

AROOJ ASGHAR
May 11 - 17, 2009

Pakistan is facing an unprecedented energy crisis since last few years. The load shedding driven sleepless nights and disrupted daily routines haunt people as the weather turns further hot. The situation has not improved since last year, because of pleasant weather these days there is an uninterrupted supply of electricity otherwise all the signs are that it is getting worse. Pakistanis are passing through one of the toughest time of their lives; in these circumstances where people are living under continuous threat from terrorists, Minister for Water & Power advised people to show bravery against energy crises and face it with honor and dignity. He has put one more challenge in our plate while sitting in bulletproof car, surrounded by security personnel and having smooth supply of electricity. There is a likelihood that with the continuous increase in temperature, generation of electricity would be further squeezed. Recently, PEPCO advertised in newspapers that every month one power plant would be coming online until December 2009 whereas ground realities showed something different. There are a number of power plants under construction but most of them are facing problems and might be delayed due to technical reasons. Number of medium and small scale industries have been shut down because of energy shortfall thus not only affecting people but also caused loss to the national exchequer. Another side of this story is that people are complaining against the ever increasing cost of living and inflation but sale of generators and UPS have increased many folds. Only lower middle class or poor are suffering whereas rich are complaining yet have everything.

Per capita electricity consumption and generation has increased substantially since independence. Even then, it is not sufficient for the present day requirement. The current state of affairs can be regarded as a 'national crisis'. Usually oil or gas fired power plants take minimum construction time whereas coal and hydro power plants require much higher construction time. Majority of power plants came under 1994 power policy and were on imported furnace oil. Current government takes pride in establishing those power plants whereas if that policy would have been drafted and implemented prudently Pakistan would not be facing present shortage. Most of IPPs are not utilized for power production because of high prices of furnace oil which means that these are of no use at the time of utmost need. Presently over 1500MW power plants are under-construction which are either on furnace oil or on dual fuel i.e. /diesel/oil & gas. As of now, Pakistan has more than enough power plants on imported oil therefore the only option left is to develop power plants on coal and hydel energy. Though it will take time to develop but will definitely bring down the cost of doing business due to cheap fuel price. Government must take necessary steps on a war footing in materializing opportunities available for coal and hydro. At this point in time the real issue is how to handle current short fall along with devising medium and long term strategy. There can be two possible solution i.e. categorical change in the pattern of energy consumption and change in lifestyles.

The current energy consumption trends in Pakistan are extremely inefficient. Generally most of us like to illuminate our offices, houses, or shops extravagantly instead of using reasonable light or taking advantage of sun light during the day. It is also rampant in a vast majority of people to not to switch off their TV sets, irons and microwaves rather they put these appliances on stand by mode consuming considerable amount of electricity. With minimal effort and change in attitude, well over ten percent of total electricity consumption can be saved by applying energy conservation.

Similarly, many businesses such as shops dealing in cloth and garments, jewelry cosmetics, home appliances and electronics are usually lavishly lit. It is commonly observed that shops that could do with two or three 40-watt tube lights to meet the desired level of luminance use as many as 15 to 20 tubes. Not only does this increase power consumption, it also generates heat and makes the environment uncomfortable. "We are paying electricity bill for what ever we use", this is what most of us respond when our attention is drawn to this wastage of energy. This selfish attitude needs to be amended. Hence, energy conservation can only be achieved through public education and awareness. With the help of effective electronic and print media campaigns the government can quickly educate the masses.

It is vital that we as a nation bring change in our lifestyle. Acknowledging it as a national problem can be the first step towards its resolution where every citizen needs to pitch in to overcome it. It is equally important that nation draws a clear line between necessities (lighting, fans, TVs, computers, etc) and luxuries (air conditioners, microwaves, etc). No nation can defeat crises unless they collectively act and sacrifice. For example, if one can live with one tube light and fan and stop using air conditioners for some time, this small sacrifice will help a student or patient to get light in his place. There is a limited supply of electricity and load shedding can only be eliminated by sharing of power and consuming it for necessities only. Air-conditioning, usually a sign of a luxurious lifestyle, needs to be dropped. Bearing in mind that a typical domestic AC consumes far more electricity in one hour than a fan does over 24 hours, air conditioning should not be allowed except for sensitive applications such as hospitals and research centers. It is simple mathematics; either we want full day electricity to meet our fundamental needs or half day but keep using luxury items. The decision is ours but thereafter there should not be any hue and cry. Government should also first set an example thereafter nation will follow, I presume, but it can only be possible when the government has credibility. Unfortunately, presently no institution in Pakistan has credibility and we have limited options therefore the best option would be to stay in present system and keep struggling until we change it completely.

We will have to compromise on luxurious lifestyles in order to meet the necessities. Markets and commercial places can substantially reduce their power consumption by changing their working hours. An early start and early end to capitalize on daylight as much as possible should be recommended rather than having opening hours from afternoon until late at night.

WAPDA and KESC should also formulate a mechanism for load shedding. One hour off after every two hours makes no sense, its better to switch off an area for continuously 4 to 5 hours instead of shutting it down time and again. Continuous shut down or supply will enable shopkeepers and industries to complete their at least one shift instead of no work entire day. Load shedding schedules should be properly planned and announced.

Like other public sectors there is no accountability in power sector as well. No one is willing to ask former chairperson WAPDA and other key officials what they have done at their time in office. Country is suffering because of their negligence. Political reconciliation doesn't mean to ignore negligence and corruption of policy makers. One time honest, transparent and across the board accountability will resolve these issues once and for all.

Lastly, in essence these minor steps are not impractical. If implemented with belief these will not only support the country but would also ensure progress. Even those who have access to easy money and can afford different gadgets such as generators to offset reduced power supply will still feel the heat one way or the other. The bottom line is, in order to safely get through the current energy crisis the nation has to differentiate between its necessities and its luxuries.