FOZIA AROOJ (Fozia.arooj@hotmail.com)
Nov 02 - 08, 2009

Pakistan's hydro potential is estimated at more than 40,000 MW out of which only 6,827 megawatts are tapped. The total mix of installed generation capacity consists of only 34% portion of inexpensive hydropower.

According to the latest figure of Wapda (2009), Pakistan has faced severe power shortages of 4500MW during hot summer. This alarming energy crisis is likely to prevail until 2010. As a matter of fact, there has been a complete stoppage of any sizeable surface water resources development after full commissioning of Tarbala Dam during 1976.

Due to injection of high cost oil fired power plants the power cost is increasing substantially. Now the ministry of power is adding fuel to the fire by installing even costlier rental power plants, which will leave people unable to pay their electricity bills. Therefore, a large-scale injection of cheap hydropower through multi-purpose storages is the only answer if the cost of electric supply is to be kept within the affordability of the consumers.

A recent report by the US Agency for International Development (USAID), which makes a cost comparison of different technologies to harness green energy in south Asia, proves that hydro-energy is five to ten times cheaper than wind and solar energy respectively.

River Indus and its tributaries, unquestionably, are the largest national resources. Besides sizeable surplus water still going out to sea, Indus System has over 30,000 MW of hydropower potential. Multi purpose storage is to be constructed in order to effectively utilize this renewable resource, most of which is run-of-river type. These would generate sizeable blocks of cheap electricity and thus check the excessive tariff increases due to anticipated large-scale induction of costly thermal power. In particular, these would provide means for substituting the continuous capacity loss of on line storages to sustain the existing irrigation; development of new irrigation projects; and effective flood control.

The first and foremost advantage of hydropower plants is the inexpensive electricity. All major hydro projects except Ghazi Barotha and Chashma are generating electricity at less than a rupee per unit.


The definition of small hydropower is not decided, agreed, and accepted on any international forum. In China, it can refer to capacities of up to 25 MW, in India up to 15 MW, and in Sweden small means up to 1.5 MW. However, a capacity of up to 10 MW is accepted norm by the European Commission.

Small hydropower is considered the best solution to the problems Pakistan is currently facing. These are small and efficient powerhouses and do not need a main grid to transmit electricity. The electricity is transmitted to a substation where transformers increase its voltage to allow transmission to houses.

The primary purpose of SHP is to illuminate small communities, which are located far away from the grid. The local water resources even without a small dam or water storage are utilized to operate the micro and pico hydropower. The amount of electricity generated by pico-hydro unit is very small in magnitude. This allows only a small number of basic appliances to operate.

Keeping in view these factors, we need a great number of medium and small sized dams to meet the ever-increasing demands of power in the country.

Government sources claim that Pakistan would receive $448 million from China under the Pak-China cooperation for the hydropower generation agreement recently signed between the two countries. China and Pakistan have recently agreed to extend cooperation in the energy and power sector. They have signed a hydropower project with the Three Gorges Project Corporation (TGPC).

Under the agreement, China would assist Pakistan technically in hydropower generation. China has one of the most developed hydropower generation system, with an installed capacity of 171.52 GW. Small hydropower stations are very common in China, which has over 50% of the world's small hydro units.

The expertise of the Chinese in hydropower generation will help us in reducing the power crisis looming in the country.


1-Government of Pakistan is mainly relying on private sector for induction of new power generating capacity. However owing to the longer gestation period for hydropower project private sector investor is reluctant to undertake these ventures. Thermal power plant requires five years and a coal-based plant six years whereas a hydro power plant needs ten years for completion. The government has been working on hydropower plants and projects like Bhasha Dam and Neelum-Jehlum power plants. Bunji dam project is also in pipeline. However, the fate of the projects is grim due to exceptionally slow speed and lack of commitment of authorities.

2-A typical hydro IPP embodies a project full of uncertainties which neither an investor likes nor the lenders feel comfortable in approving loans for it. No application from hydro IPPs has been filed with Nepra for tariff determination. But, as a matter of fact, it is imperative to note that interest of investors and lenders is not the prerequisite. The government has to take up the matters of national interest and undertake them in public sector enterprises.

3-Hydro projects are a bit complex from beginning to end. They are quite different from thermal projects, which can be started with only superficial due diligence. Whereas, hydro projects cannot be conceptualized without first completing a pre-feasibility study and subsequently a proper feasibility study acceptable to lending institutions.

4-Owing to Pakistan's topography, hydro projects can be developed mainly in mountainous region which not only made them costly but also physically difficult to be completed.

5-The engineering designs, work scope, and estimates of hydro projects may be subject to major changes during construction phase. It is customary that the stakeholders will develop legal instruments and financial models for development of hydro IPPs, and within two three years these projects may move ahead from paper to ground.

The irony of fate is that the future of large water sources of Pakistan is at stake as India is constructing large dams on River Indus, which include Nimoo Bazgo with height 57-metre, Dumkhar of 42 meters height and "Chutak" dam 59 meters height to basically generate hydropower.

Three dams can store water up to 120,000,000 cubic meters. The construction of these dams is a sheer violation of Indus Water Treaty and the construction process is to be stopped right away. Otherwise, a sizeable portion of farmlands would turn barren and large territory of NWFP as well as Punjab would be submerged.