THE year 2017 may not have been so auspicious politically but it surely was a year of fulfilment of the pledge by the PML (N) government to end darkness from the country. The current power generation capacity stands at 16477 MW against the existing demand of 14017 MW which enabled the government to officially announce end of load-shedding in the country. It is an irrefutable reality that the PML (N) government gave top priority to tiding over the energy crisis and has verifiably accomplished the task within a record period of four years.
The process of surmounting the energy crisis started with the most prudent decision to import LNG and consequently the signing of an agreement with government of Qatar in February 2016 for the import of 3.75 million tons of LNG per year for a period of 15 years. To handle the import of LNG the government built two terminals at Port Qasim with the help of a consortium of private sector. The Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbassi inaugurated the second terminal during November. Pakistan was importing 600 million cubic feet of LNG through its first terminal and with the second terminal becoming operational the total volume of LNG import per day has doubled.
The importance of the agreement for import of LNG can be better understood by having a look at the ground realities in regards to power generation in Pakistan. Presently more than 50% of the total energy mix of Pakistan including hydel power, fossil fuel, nuclear and renewable, is based on natural gas. Pakistan ‘s constrained demand for natural gas is 6000 MMFCD against a supply of 4000 MMFCD and the unconstrained demand for natural gas is estimated to be 8000 MMFCD. Over the last ten years production of gas in Pakistan has remained stagnant at 4000 MMFCD and the new gas discoveries have barely kept pace with natural depletion of existing gas fields. In view of the difficulties in completing the trans-regional gas pipeline projects like TAPI and IP, import of LNG was the only solution to the energy needs till such time there is a substantial change in the energy production mix and shift towards renewable energy resources. LNG imports from Qatar reportedly are meeting 20% gas requirements of the country. In terms of impact, it is estimated that it would help in the generation of 2000 MW of electricity at a much cheaper rate; it has already revitalized the fertilizer and other industries, almost eliminated gas load shedding for the domestic consumers besides reviving the fortunes of the CNG industry which almost faced extinction before the PML (N) government took over.
Presently the re-gasified LNG is being distributed through the existing distribution networks of SSGPL and SNGPL but in the long-run a separate network will be constructed for the purpose as the existing network is not capable of coping with the increased demand for gas. An agreement with Russia has been signed for the construction of a gas pipeline between Lahore and Karachi costing $ 2 billion. The government has also completed 90% work on the construction of another pipeline from Karachi to Lahore which hopefully would become operational in the near future. LNG, as is evident from the foregoing facts and the likely increase in its demand as envisaged, is poised to play a role of game changer as far as production of power and running the industries is concerned. The decision to import LNG was not only timely but a visionary step notwithstanding the cynical attitude of the detractors of the government and the political elements essentially hostile to it.
Energy is regarded as the life-line of a nation and an engine of development besides ensuring the enjoyment of comforts of the modern life for the masses, made possible by the emergence of new technologies. Sustained economic development of an energy starved country is inconceivable. Attaining energy security, therefore, is vital for propelling development and change in any country. The PML (N) government inherited an economy which was in complete shambles and the county was in the grip of a very severe energy crisis. However, it is satisfying to note that it has exhibited unruffled and unflinching commitment to tackle the energy crisis and has made discernible and productive efforts to winch the country out of this debilitating situation, which marred the socio-economic development of the country during the last decade.
Apart from import of LNG for energizing the closed power units the government also strived to surmount the energy crisis through other sources by setting up new power generation units. Under the CPEC power producing projects with an accumulated power generation capacity of 10,640 MW were initiated and all of them would become operational during 2017-18. Another 6645 MWs of early harvest projects in the energy sector are also on the actively promoted list. The commitment and dedication with which the P L (N) government has focused on ending energy shortages in the country is beyond reproach. The hallmark of the government strategy in regards to power generation is and has been more emphasis on renewable energy resources and increasing their contribution in the energy production mix. Setting up of projects based on indigenous coal to produce electricity, conversion of the existing plants to coal based entities and reliance on solar and wind energy are the steps in this regard. This would surely reduce the production costs and the provision of electricity to the domestic and industrial consumer on cheaper rates than at present. The country surely is moving towards energy security which is an essential and indispensable ingredient of socio-economic progress.
— The writer is freelance columnist based in Islamabad.