NEED TO ADD HYDROPOWER PLANTS

SHABBIR H. KAZMI
Feb 02 - 08, 2009

Pakistan's biggest province has been given the name 'Punjab' which means land of five rivers. However, the successive governments have failed in taking advantage of huge availability of water. Part of Pakistan's share of water is being retained by India, in violation of the treaties and part of it goes to sea because of inadequate storage capacity. The fringe benefit of construction of dams is generation of electricity at a very nominal cost.

However, it has to be kept in mind that power generation at hydel plants drops to a fraction, when water touches 'dead level'. This winter Pakistan could produce as low as 350MW from an installed capacity of 6,500MW. This drop in supply forced the utility companies to resort to extensive and intensive load shedding, which was spread over as many as 16 hours a day in certain areas.

Load shedding of such a magnitude paralyzed life and virtually halted industrial and commercial activities throughout the country. In some of the areas the situation was even worse because of load shedding of gas. Despite, tall claims of the government people have to endure long hours of load shedding. One fails to understand the prevailing situation because present electricity demand (during winter) is below 10,000MW as against an installed generation capacity of nearly 20,000MW.

At present the country has an installed hydel generation capacity of 6,500MW. Bulk of this pertains to six units namely Tarbela (3,478MW), Ghazi Brotha (1,450MW), Mangla (1,000MW), Warsak (243MW) and Chashma (184MW). In other words, bulk of Pakistan's hydel generation capacity is based on mighty Indus. Experts say that the country can produce up to 40,000MW from Indus alone by installing small to medium hydel generation plants. One of the biggest displays of the fact is Ghazi Brotha facilities. However, this needs commitment of people and their representatives.

According to some experts as a result of politicization of Kalabagh dam, debates spread over five decades, preparation of feasibility after another has cost the government more than the cost of the project. The successive governments have also failed in constructing water reservoirs, most desperately needed by the country for ensuring round the year water availability for irrigation. On top of this ongoing silting is also affecting water storage and power generation capacities of the various projects.

Ideally, the government should have resorted to construction of smaller hydel power plants after the failure in developing consensus on mega projects like Kalabagh dam. Over the years the monster called WAPDA has failed in meeting its assigned mandate due to various reasons i.e. gross mismanagement, rampant corruption and failure in managing its finances prudently.

The GoP has also failed in involving private sector in construction of smaller dams and hydel power generation plants. As stated above Pakistan has the potential to generate 40,000MW electricity from the available water. However, to achieve this 'out of box' thinking is required. According to experts there are hundred and thousands of sites where smaller turbines can be installed. Many of these are known and more are yet to be gauged for the generation potential.

Often experts indulge in debate whether mega projects are good or smaller projects can serve the purpose better. According to experts both the options have their own advantages and disadvantages. However, if arranging finances for mega projects is not possible for the time being the second option of smaller projects can be explored.

In this endeavor power wing of WAPDA can play a vital role in identifying the sites and preparing feasibility reports and then aggressive marketing of these projects. Public-private partnership can help in overcoming shortage of power and generation at very low cost. The added advantage will be generation closer to the point of consumption and minimum transmission and distribution losses.

Some of the critics say that since generation of hydel power plants is reduced to very low levels at times, there is no need to spend billions of rupees on such projects. However, this is their myopic vision. Construction of dams serves two purposes 1) storage and regulated discharge of water for irrigation round the year and the added advantage is 2) generation of electricity at a very low cost.

Since water level in reservoirs varies during the season, thermal power plants meet the shortfall. To achieve optimum capacity utilization of hydel and thermal power plants a mix has to be created i.e. during low water season bulk of the demand should be met by thermal power plants and as the water level improves load should be shifted to hydel power plants.

Some how the other local managers have not been able to understand this relationship and take necessary steps. This is the reason that some of the wiz kids talk about surplus generation capacity in the country. Most often they take installed capacity into account, whereas they should prepare plans based on 'dependable' capacity and should also have 'spin over' capacity. There should be elaborate plan for annual shutdown for maintenance.

The recent hike in crude oil price demands revisit of Pakistan's Power Policy for coming up with right solutions. Pakistan has to add new hydropower facilities closer to the point of consumption. The country will also have to have 'spin over' thermal power generation capacity to meet the demand, when hydel generation goes minimal.