TACKLING ENERGY CRISIS

TARIQ AHMED SAEEDI
(feedback@pgeconomist.com)

June 7 - 13, 2010

Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani has recently reiterated his resolve to push to end the energy crisis in the country and directed the concerned authorities to expedite the working on short- and long-term gas projects. Prime Minister acknowledged depleting reserves of gas in the country and implications of gas shortage on overall energy sector.

Gas is the prime fuel for power generation in the country. Due to its being economical domestic resource as compared to furnace oil, power sector prefers to run plants on gas.

Federal government is encouraging the ministry of petroleum and natural resources to execute licences of oil and gas explorations with local as well as international companies. Recently, the ministry executed four exploration licences and concession agreements with Pakistan Petroleum Limited for the fields in Sindh. According to an estimate, Sindh has the highest numbers of gas fields in the country. A large number of oil and gas fields are yet to be explored. Foreign investors are attracted towards E&P sectors of the country because of the very reasons.

A little over 4 per cent oil reserves in the country are explored while 45 per cent of the gas reserves have been explored, an estimate says. With rapid growth in the energy demand of the country, further supplies are needed.

A long-term gas project is therefore important to meet the future energy needs of the country. Iran-Pakistan gas pipeline is in this regard a viable project that will supply 20 per cent of total gas supplies in the country initially and that will be mainly for power generation.

Power crisis cannot be unresolved until the government should ensure solutions of the problems facing by the sector. Government's complacency on the issue will only exacerbate the troubles of the sector. The electricity shortfall has increased to significant level and the government reduces the level only by stopgap solutions, which are both costly and thus transitory. For example, rental power plants that add electricity to the national grids but the fruits are to borne by the electricity consumers for years to come in the form of high tariffs.

Perhaps the people have been accustomed to have two-hour spell of electricity load shedding three or four times a day since their silence is manifestation of their making compromise with the load shedding. In other words, they are tired of making hue and cry which fall on dumb ear of the electricity suppliers. Electricity load shedding continues to torturing the people with variable degrees in different locations in Karachi. The situation is more troublesome in peri-urban and rural vicinities of Sindh province. The span of load shedding in these areas is longer than that in urban areas. People living in rural settlements in upper Sindh are enduring double whammy because of long-hour load shedding and deadly summer-mercury hovers around more than 50 centigrade in some parts of rural Sindh. A sudden air billow across the province, an omen of monsoon, has inserted clemency in the hot summer, buying fortunately the electricity supplier time in Karachi to plan load management. This change in weather let the people to bear up electricity load shedding. The change is not this much improvising in rural parts since people there are fighting rage of season without electricity. Nevertheless, a seasonal variation is an opportunity for improving the electricity generation side. Karachi Electricity Supply Company should make available enough electricity to fill the demand and supply gap in the city. According to sources, the supplier cum producer depends on mainly gas power plants and mostly on Wapda's power supply as it is on credit. The company sanctimoniously attributed power pilferage to shortage of power, but it is not serious to control electricity theft. The company is running advertisement campaign seeking public supports to report power thefts. Some people complained reporting theft did not witness a counteraction by the management. They paid no heed to our indicating locations, some residents said in unanimity. Electricity thefts through popular 'hook on the live wires', vernacularly known as Kunda, are still common. It seems that government has found a more easy way to improve balance sheets of the electricity producers and suppliers, and that way is 'push electricity tariffs'.

Energy crisis is not a negligible issue nor it is seasonal-at least in upcoming days the issue will need the planners to join their heads to reach to an immediate solution. The power sector in the country is bristled with not one or two but a chain of problems. One solution works well when the next one is resolved. However, two major problems of the sector are insufficient production and unpaid payments. Increasing electricity generation is possible when oil and gas supplies to power plants are continued unhindered.

Alternatively, the government should prop up the renewable energy sector, which is also an attraction for both local and foreign investors in the country. They are ready to invest in the sector with forward looking approach but at the same time, they are looking for a broad based energy policy. Such policy should be consistent and define incentives for the stakeholders. For renewable and other alternative sources of energy, there is need of legislation.

Both wind and solar energy sectors have immense potential to overcome the power crisis in the country. An enormous volume of electricity can be produced from the wind technology. Only in Sindh coastal belt, the wind technology can produce electricity to meet the energy needs of the entire country.

Tracing the footprints of Turkish company, now more than ten companies are working or interested to start wind projects in the rural Sindh. The companies are installing wind turbines at Jhimpir to collectively produce 600 megawatts of electricity. One hopes the successful implementation of the projects, though delayed start of previous wind energy projects gives way to scepticism. Both short- and long-terms measures are essential to tackle energy crisis.