ELECTRICITY LOAD SHEDDING - UNSETTLED ISSUE

TARIQ AHMED SAEEDI
(feedback@pgeconomist.com)

Apr
19 - 25, 2010

Revising deadline many a time that would see the end of electricity load shedding in the country, the authorities of ministry of water and power do not know actually the cause of load shedding and even if it knows, it has no prowess to do away with the underlying reasons. Minister of Water and Power, Raja Pervez Ashraf always remained in the frontline to make tall claims. First time, he came in to the limelight when he made a popular claim of overcoming power crisis by December 2009. The year has gone with it the hopes of people enduring hardships due to power crisis. This time round the minister on God knows tipoff made another claim of reducing power crisis within next two months. Though soon he had to retract his earlier statement by making a relevant statement of 1000 megawatt addition in the national grid, yet the volume was not enough even to reduce power demand and supply gap of minuscule in a city of for example Karachi.

Now perhaps after realizing the gravity of the situation, he conceded before the traders of Rawalpindi during a meeting that power load shedding in the country would take seven to eight years to end. Now, he is more realistic in his tone. The power supply and demand gap hovers around 5,000 megawatt in Pakistan. Thermal power supply constitutes a major portion of energy mix of Pakistan, dependent on furnace oil and gas. Federal Minister has said that furnace oil import is increasing the current account deficit. Hydel sources are seasonal and highly dependent on flows in rivers. Even then, the share of hydropower in total energy supply is decreasing day by day.

Attaching high hopes to rental power plants, federal minister of water and power considers the option timely and viable despite the inclination of rental power plants towards scaling up oil import bill or draining out gas reserves. He recently made this statement contradicting his worries on surge in current account deficit by oil import bill. Why he favoured rental power plant is not clear. However, given the a significant power deficit and crumbling power generation capacity of exiting local plants, perhaps acquiring new ones would provide a solution though temporary to power crisis. Energy experts describe the rental power plants a short-term measure to contain power deficit. Belonging to primary energy sector, even some of them recommend alternative power resources as long-term solutions. Renewable energy sector of Pakistan is virgin and thus attractive for local and foreign investors. Foreign companies have expressed several times their desires to invest in alternative energy resources (AER) sector. German and some other foreign companies have planned to invest for generation of aggregate 1600 megawatt wind-generated electricity in Karachi that has an ideal wind corridor. During an interview with a local daily, chairman Alternative Energy Development Board said that 48,000 megawatt wind energy could be generated from Karachi and Hyderabad alone. There is a need of bylaws to make the dream of wind electricity generation at a large scale come true. Chief Minister Sindh Qaim Ali Shah has also reiterated the need of bylaws for renewable energy sector.

The miseries of inflation-hit people are mounting on the electricity outages of half a day in some places in the country. As the summer is getting further inclement, the miseries are mounting more. Power shortages are creating forceful impacts on the lives of public. While industries are losing production, households are losing patience. The electricity supplier in Karachi is said to have exempted industrial areas from halt in power. Even though, industrial setups in scattered places or semi-residential areas in the city are still enduring long-hours sporadic load shedding that cast a pall on the moods and productivity of workforce.

The cost production halt caused by stoppage in power supply leaves on financials is another episode of myriad irritating sequels. Riots like situations in major cities of Punjab erupted after people lost their patience due to power load shedding.

Though the gap in demand and supply of electricity is yawning, no less than 5,000 megawatt across the country, according to conservative estimates... that is also evident from the hours-long power load shedding that in some places in the country reaches to 9 to 10 hours a day..., the real reason of power outage and shortage lies in the line losses, which minister of water and power said, are equivalent to 30 percent of total electricity production by the government-run power generation units, independent power producers, etc.

While power pilferage forms a considerable portion of line losses, yet rundown transmission and distribution systems account much of the line losses. Therefore, T&D not only in the whole country but also particularly in industrial cities like Karachi, Faisalabad, etc. needs a heavy investments.

Singing a mantra of energy crisis on every platforms, local and abroad government narrowly focuses on wooing investments in power generation side of the energy sector. The government stayed on the one side while demanding civil nuclear technology agreement with US. Perhaps it is overlooking the decaying conditions of energy supply infrastructure that even after availability of power in conformation with the local demand, would remain a nemesis of energy efficient Pakistan, and that is equally in need of sizeable capital. Government allocates funds for rehabilitation and revamping of transmission and distribution system in every annual budget. Besides, power generation and distribution company in Karachi has also claimed of spending amounts on retrofitting distribution lines and networks. Neither at national level nor citywide, outlays are enough to permanently remove the perennial faults in electricity distribution system. The retrofitting is proverbial window dressing whereas the T&D system requires a transformation, a complete transformation. New T&D system can reduce the weighty line losses of 30 per cent as against 5 per cent in Japan and 15 per cent in Sri Lanka.

Recently, Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) agreed to provide 23 billion yen to Pakistan for the "National Transmission Lines and Grid Stations Strengthening Project".

Even if rental power plants are supposed to be a solution of power crisis, what the government is doing for it is unclear. It is worthwhile to mention that UAE government had pledged a gigantic power plant to Pakistan during President Asif Ali Zardari visit to UAE in November last. President UAE had announced a gift of a 280 megawatt power plant to Pakistan in his meeting with president Pakistan. The plant is yet to arrive.

Time is passing rapidly. The woes of people are increasing and so are the demands for electricity. Power demand is growing seven per cent per annum and population at least three per cent. Former is unnatural and later is scorn to nature.