Prof. Atta-ur-Rahman, N.I., H.I., S.I., T.I., FRS
The world energy scenario is in a flux. The oil prices have seen major changes during the last two decades, forcing economies around the world to adopt to these up and down movements. However there are significant developments taking place in solar cell technologies, and the prices of solar based installations have dropped to about half of what they were about 3 years ago. Moreoverthere have been exciting developments in alternative sources of energy which promise to change the way our world will be generating energy 30 years from now. These include the development of more efficient wind turbines, use of biofuels, the generation of hydrogen as a fuel from water by catalytic cleavage of the hydrogen-oxygen bonds and the possibility of nuclear fusion finally becoming possible after decades of frustrating research.
Pakistan is blessed withthe 5th largest river system in the world, and the hydropower potential of Pakistan is estimated to be 46,000 MW, although we have been able to exploit only about 14% of this potential. About 4500 MW of power can be generated by the installation of low cost hydel plants on the riverheads in Punjab. These can produce electricity at very low rates of US $ 0.02 / kWh. The energy sector presents a sad state of massive and rampant corruption by those in power for the last 30 years. In 1984 about 59.3% of Pakistan’s electricity was produced by hydroelectric power plants. This should have been expanded as it is the cheapest source of electricity. However corrupt leaders with vested interests came in the way and decided to import expensive oil-based plants. By 1990, the share of electricity generated from hydroelectric power dropped to 45%, and the continued corruption subsequently has further reduced it so that it now stands at only about 29.3% of the total energy mix. In contrast oil has grown to 37.8% and gas stands at about 30%.
The massive construction of dams and reservoirs was deferred repeatedly and expensive oil based power plants, often obsolete, were imported, thereby bringing the industrial sector to its knees because of the high cost of power generation. Inspite of having one of the largest coal reserves in the world, we ignored the use of coal for electricity production, although in India, 55% of the energy requirements are met by coal, while in China this stands at 67%.We were nudged in this wrong direction by certain world financial agencies including the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank, that made loans readily available for oil based power plants but discouraged governments from investing in coal as a source of energy.
Under a highly biased power policy that was steeped in corruption, a major crime against the nation was committed in 1994 when independent power producers (IPPs) were allowed to set up operations in Pakistan. The policy was promoted by the World Bank,. Low efficiency and obsolete single cycle generation plants were established by IPPs as they were guaranteed costs plus 15% profit. It was shocking that the IPPs were guaranteed a return on costs, however high they may be. The Rental Power Plants present an even more shameful story of corruption.
The World Bank played a very negative role in leading Pakistan in a wrong direction in the energy generation sector and many have accused this organization of being a criminal partner with corrupt governments, eventually bringing Pakistan to its knees economically. In an article by Fahd Ali and Fatima Beg it is stated, and I quote: “Declaring itself one of the Government’s main advisors in power policy matters ((World Bank. May 11, 2001. Implementation Completion Report – On a Loan in the Amount of US $150 million to the Islamic Republic of Pakistan for a Private Sector Energy Development Project (staff assessment report)), the World Bank is also partly responsible for the IPP debacle. For example, it should have strongly advised the Government to lower the offered tariff as soon as it became clear that too many IPPs were being accepted. The World Bank also admits to some of these errors (World bank 2011, above full reference). It criticizes its own preparation of PSEDP 1 and 2and states that the long-term credit fund (LTFC) and its future were not given adequate thought. It goes on to say that the Bank should have ensured the NDFC was able to manage this fund (Dawn. July 9, 2001. NDFC insolvent, says WB report). The Bank’s Implementation Completion Report (2001) states: “Insufficient attention was devoted during appraisal of PSEDP 2 to the affordability of private power in Pakistan”. (https://www.sdpi.org/publications/files/A106-A.pdf). Unquote. A judicial investigation into this national disaster is warranted, and if the World Bank is found to be guilty in this debacle, then the organization should be banned from ever operating in Pakistan again.
It is notable that hydel power has a relatively lowproduction cost which varies between Rs. 1.18 to Rs. 4.00 per unit. The cost of electricity production from coal is also quite low, about Rs.6 to Rs. 7 per unit. However with thermal power plants, the cost can vary and it can be as high as Rs. 25 per unit and since these have been running well below their capacity, the cost can often exceeds Rs. 50 per unit. The agreements with the IPPs forces the government to pay a certain amount irrespective of production! WAPDA was officially forbidden from building thermal power plants so that our leaders could get huge kick-backs by opening the doors to foreign imports of obsolete and inefficient power plants — a criminal act that has doomed the nation for decades to come.
Pakistan has coal reserves that are estimated to be about 186 billion tons. The proven reserves are about 579 million tons, which should last for 180 years. The Thar coal fields can produce about 50,000 MW of electricity and 100 million barrels of oil each year for the next 500 years! However instead of properly using this huge wealth, our corrupt leaders, obtained huge kick-backs and piled up billions of dollars abroad by opting for expensive imported power plants based on oil. Today coal contributes only 0.1% for electricity production in Pakistan. There are also large unused gas reserves in Pakistan. The Tal Block near Kohathas estimated gas reserves that are comparable to those in Sui which need to be exploited immediately. There is also huge scope for renewable sources of energy — wind, solar, biomass, algae — that need to be exploited. When I was the Federal Minister of Science and Technology in 2001, I had funded a project for the wind mapping of Pakistan. The data collected at different heights across the country over a two year period by the Pakistan Meteorological Department revealed an extraordinary fact: there was a potential of up to 50,000 Megawatts of electricity generation from wind power alone in the area in the coastal areas of Sind and Baluchistan, particularly in the region between KatiBandar, Gharo and Hyderabad. We should establish plants to make wind turbines within the country, as is being done in India and China, and manufacture our own wind mills ain order to utilize this huge potential. Nuclear power plants, are also an excellent option, though their installation has been opposed by certain foreign agents and vested interests in Pakistan.
The writer is the former Federal Minister of Science & Technology & Information Technology, Chairman of Higher Education Commission. Currently he is President of the Network of Academies of Science of OIC Countries (NASIC) and Co-Chairman of UN Committee on Science, Technology and Innovation for UNESCAP.