FOZIA AROOJ (fozia.arooj@hotmail.com)
July 13 - 19, 2009

Long hours of load shedding have become the destiny of electricity consumers in Pakistan 10 to 12 hours on a daily basis. The power deficit in the national grid was hovering around 3,700 MW in April 2008, which surged up to 4,000 MW in recent days. Currently there is a demand of 17,200 MW whereas the supply is 13,270 MW resulting in a shortfall of 3,930 MW. Inadequate power generation capacity is the primary cause of this drastic shortage of electricity. Besides, there is lack of capacity for transmission and distribution, mismanagement and inefficiency of the systems and a host of institutional problems. Poor state of affairs of the system is obvious from frequent power breakdowns, besides the scheduled load shedding. There has been no improvement in the power sector with regard to up gradation and its transmission and distribution capacity throughout the country. In fact, there has been no substantial revamping and expansion of the system after 1980s.

Power shortage problem has became particularly acute during the last decade because of the silt build-up in the two major hydel reservoirs, Mangla and Tarbela and the slow growth of IPPs among other reasons. Tarbela has lost its storage capacity from 11.62 million acre feet (maf) in 1974 to 8.24 maf and will further lose up to 5.40 maf by 2025. The IPPs are not gaining momentum and growing at a very sluggish pace. Only 27 MW have been added by IPPs during last six years. These IPPs are also of poor and substandard quality in terms of infrastructure leading to line losses and power theft.


Incessant power outage has become the main issue in the country. It has affected civic life as well as industrial and commercial activities. In this hot and humid weather, the citizens are experiencing power failures for up to 18 hours, sparking widespread resentment against the government.

The worst implication of this menace is the death of economic activities. This energy crisis has crippled the national economy very badly. Industrial units are closing down or lying idle. Now people are arranging demonstrations, protests, agitation and riots in protest against the government. The whole socio economic system is virtually destabilized. Enraged citizens have started attacking power installations and utility personnel when electricity is denied to a locality for long hours. Major fallout of the energy crisis is the absolute dependence on oil imports which, if disrupted at some point of time and can be a grave threat to national economy and security.

During the last two decades when the energy demand grew by more than 200%, the country has seen an addition of less than 25% to its hydropower base. In Pakistan, we have only five hydropower projects currently in operation. These are Tarbela, Mangla, Warsak, Chashma and Ghazi Barotha. The capacity of three of them, Tarbela, Mangla and Chashma, is declining due to sedimentation in their reservoirs, because of which their storage capacity has reduced by 20%.


During recent years, the only meaningful activity has been the construction of the 145 megawatt Ghazi Barotha project. Construction of Kala Bagh dam has been shelved because of conflict amongst provinces over its commissioning. Bhasha dam is in process but it will take a few years to become operational. Government is in need of an investment of over $30 billion for a mix small and large hydro projects but financing resources are missing.

Hydropower projects have an average life span of 50 to 100 years and they can be the best option for a country like Pakistan. These are long-term projects and can be easily upgraded. This electricity if produced can be much cheaper than thermal power generation and one unit would cost as low as Rs. 0.25. A 1,000-megawatt (MW) Neelam-Jhelum project is in development phase, which would, after five years, cost only Rs 0.37 per unit of electricity, while work on the Bhasha dam would start in February-March 2010, for which the bidding process would soon start. This project is already delayed by 12 years and is vital to the water reservoir of Pakistan. This is because "Indus Water Treaty" says that river Jehlum is flowing from India and if they Construct Baglihar dam is completed before our dam than they will take a lion's share of the water.

The government should facilitate the private sector in setting up additional power plants on a fast-track basis to cater to the power deficit. In this regard, the 136 MW Bhikki power plant would be commissioned soon. The IPPs have always been under utilized mainly because of financial constraints and lack of required fuel storage reserves. There is a dire need of restoration of available capacity of power generation fully by the Independent Power Producers (IPPs).

Coal is the universal primary source of energy. However, due to vested interests of certain lobbies this resource has been wasted and put on back burner for good. It is labeled as low quality to be used for power generation. The oil marketing companies have always been a part of this propaganda.


It seems improbable to surmount energy crisis by December 2009 against government's tall claims to declare 2010 as a load shedding free year. Ministry of Water and Power is announcing that as many as 10,293 MW of electricity from all sources would be added to the system by the end of December 2012 out of which 3,692 MW would be added by the end of 2009. Nevertheless, no concrete steps are supporting these propositions. Due to addition of rental power projects one thing is sure; electricity will no more be affordable to the consumers.

In fact, it is not possible to create an additional power generation capacity up to over 40% of present installed capacity of WAPDA/PEPCO system within 1-1/2 years' time, given the limitations of financial, physical and human resources. Even if it is assumed that all events happen as planned and all the projects become implemented on the stipulated time, the commissioning dates may change due to certain factors. This may happen because this additional power generation capacity would be in the hands of private sector and not the government where many bottlenecks will be impeding the process adversely.