Modernising energy system | By Frank F Islam, US


Modernising energy system

PAKISTAN has begun the slow and painful process of addressing the crisis wrought by its catastrophic flooding. Unfortunately, that climate-related crisis does not stand alone.

In its aftermath, various writers and publications in Pakistan and the United States have pointed out that the flooding is just one of the many crises confronting Pakistan currently due to planning, policy and political failures.

The energy crisis must rank near the top of that list of crises. Pakistan had an energy crisis before the flood waters came. They surged and took that crisis to a much higher level.

The deluge caused interruptions in power transmission across the country. The torrential rains damaged 22 power stations in Gilgit-Baltistan disrupting electricity supply to almost 90 percent of the area.

Similarly, power outages, even complete shutdowns, were experienced in the Sindh province.

Gas pipelines in Balochistan province were damaged severing gas supply to the UHC power plant, which provides 932 MW power to the national grid.

This caused masses to remain without electricity for days in many parts of the country while in other parts there were regular daily outages of 12-13 hours.

In addition, indigenous energy resources such as gas production is falling while demand is projected to go up by 8% in upcoming years.

Natural oil production is also not sufficient for the demand.This necessitates relying on expensive imported fuel for power plants.

Pakistan is currently spending $ 21.43 billion annually on fuel imports, which is about 66 percent of its total foreign exchange.

The debt of Pakistan’s power sector has soared to Rs 2.5 trillion. This debt has triggered a chain of deferred payments for the imported oil and gas required for power generation.

The energy needs of the country will continue to grow in the future years.

According to energy sector expert, Dr Shahid Munir, energy demand of Pakistan will rise to 49078 MW by 2030.

This increase in demand and costs for the supply of energy will make electricity much more expensive for the Pakistani consumer.

It is essential for Pakistan to modernize its energy system to respond to this crisis. The modernized system must be a diversified one with both old and new components to be useful in both the short and long term.

It should include coal-powered, hydro-powered, and renewable-powered projects in order to reduce and eventually eliminate the energy crisis.

Pakistan already has several coal-fired power projects in the pipeline. Recently, a 330MW power plant was launched in Coal Block-II of Thar, which has 175 billion tons of coal reserves.

Officials state that by the end of 2022, the plant capacity will be enhanced up to 2,640 MW. The cheapest and most nature-friendly power projects are hydropower ones.

Many dams and subsequent power projects are under construction in the country including, to name just a few, Diamer-Bhasha Dam, Naulong Dam, Kurram Tangi Dam, Nai Gaj Dam and Dawarat Dam, with storage capacity of around 7.747 million acre-feet.

At present only 4% of Pakistan’s energy comes from renewable sources (solar, wind and bagasse).

The Alternate Renewable Energy (ARE) policy set forth in 2019 provides a comprehensive framework for alternate energy and renewable technologies which if followed could produce 20 to 30 percent of Pakistan’stotal energy from alternate sources by 2030.

In conclusion, I believe Pakistan needs a three-phased approach to create and implement a solution that will enable making an orderly transition to a modern energy system.

First, is to improve and replace the old transmission infrastructure to reduce electricity line losses and to make distribution governance efficient in order to avoid ‘nationwide blackouts’ which usually occur in the winter.

Second, is to introduce policies to facilitate renewable energy and technologies such as solar system installation domestically and industrially.

At this time, solar systems — panels, frames and allied equipment — are imported and expensive.

Consequently, there is a need for a subsidy or tax reduction to encourage their use. As importantly, the production of these goods should be supported locally. This would lead to significant reduction in their prices.

Third, is to encourage gradual switching from heavy fuel consuming items such as gas-burning vehicles to eco-friendly vehicles and products.

Electric cars are both environment-friendly and cost-efficient. Pakistan’s energy crisis will not go away by itself.

But, Pakistani leaders and people with the right policies, practices and pragmatism, can put a modernized energy system in place that will make the crisis go away.

—The writer is an Entrepreneur, Civic Leader, and Thought Leader based in Washington DC.


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