STAFF REPORT IBD: Though the government of Pakistan is claiming to have shown its high level of seriousness in overcoming the persistent energy crisis in the country, yet the resolution of this endemic energy crisis seems a distant dream keeping in view the hollow initiatives taken by the authorities so far.
While almost about two months have gone since new Prime Minister Raja Pervez Ashraf has taken the charge, who promised the power shortage would be his top priority, power blackouts have reached a peak spanning over 20 hours a day especially in rural and remote areas.
According to economic experts, the continued electricity crisis amply highlights chronic under-investment in infrastructure and long-term planning has been sacrificed to short-term expediency, lack of leadership, cronyism and corruption, thus badly shattering the overall investment environment across the country.
Official figures reveal that the peak demand for electricity in the summer is around 18,000 megawatts, with a third of that coming from air-conditioning, but power companies manage only to supply 13,000 to 14,000 MW showing a power shortfall reaching to the level of over 600 MW.
The dual effect of the government setting low electricity prices and customers failing to pay for it means state utilities lose money, and cannot pay private power generating companies, which in turn cannot pay the oil and gas suppliers, who cut off the supply.
“Its a crisis of management on the part of the authorities concerned, a crisis which has been born out of indecisiveness, born out of procrastination, not taking the decisions required at the right time,” Shahid Sattar, the Planning Commissions Member Energy, said this while commenting on this critical situation.
He dates the problem back to the rule of Pervez Musharraf, when a massive boom in demand was not matched by investments in new power stations.
Experts say that the country desperately needs more major projects such as the $12 billion Diamer Bhasha Dam, which is expected to generate 4,500MW. However, this project will not come online for another six years, they caution.
The rivers and valleys of the north offer more than 50,000MW of untapped hydroelectric potential, but Shahid Sattar says the power generated from it could be unreliable and cannot guarantee year-round supply.
The Thar Coal reserves have been found, however, energy experts are still doubtful about its quality while international donors are unwilling to pump money into such an environmentally damaging form of energy in Pakistan.
At the same time, the government is also keen to develop nuclear power as it tries to wean itself off expensive imported hydrocarbons – the country spends 7.5 per cent of GDP on buying fuel, according to the Planning Commission. There are currently three nuclear plants generating a total of 740MW of power and there are plans to expand this to 8,800MW by 2030.
“The basic problem has always been the non-exploitation of indigenous resources. We have a vast potential for energy sources,” reveals a fresh report compiled on Pakistans alternative energy potentials. It says that Pakistan can produce over 50,000 megawatts through wind which is still the cheapest alternative energy option.
In addition to that solar energy can steer the country out of this persistent energy crisis quite comfortably. However, short-term but shallow planning by the authorities has always been the dilemma and ultimately the general masses fall prey to this.
Energy experts suggest that on one hand all available option need to be tapped to increase power generation while on the other hand the government should come up with an effective mechanism to save energy for productive economic activities.