Power mix of funds & brains

By Majid Sheikh

Dawn, Mar 2 , 2014

PRIME Minister Nawaz Sharif on Friday claimed he would end electricity loadshedding within three years. It is an unbelievable promise, but one that Pakistan needs most urgently.

If undertaken on a constant ‘war footing’, with reasonable funding and a lot of creative technical expertise, all this can be achieved. So let us follow the best scenario case assumption.

The four major immediate remedies to close in on this objective, naturally, are to increase generation, add better transmission, ensure rapid ‘ruthless’ bill collection, and educate everyone on how to conserve electricity use.

There are other important steps, too, among them the replacement of expensive power producers with relatively cheaper environmentally-friendly power production options and an infrastructure geared to meet the projected needs of the future.

To understand the current situation, let us look at the existing configuration of power production, explore production options and measure them against expected future demand levels.

Our optimum installed production capacity today is 65 per cent (13,637MW) fossil fuel generation. Another 31 per cent (6,654MW) is hydel, and just 4 per cent (812MW) is nuclear.

These figures have a further very complex configuration in that fossil fuel generation is undertaken by 40 different projects of which 23 are IPPs in the private sector, all of whom generate very expensive and unsustainable electricity.

Hydel power is produced by 16 projects, the largest being Tarbela capable of generating 3,478MW at the best of times and the smallest being two 1MW projects each at Chitral and Renala.

Their outputs vary depending on water flows. And then there are four nuclear projects, the largest being a 340MW station at Chashma.

How does one increase power production at an economical affordable price? That is the real challenge.

The economic mantra of private investment has shown that it ends up with nothing but expensive unreliable generation, which becomes untenable as the government pays much more than what is earned.

Thus we have the ‘unsolvable’ problem of ‘circular debt’. Given the present government’s virtual blind commitment to private sector involvement in all public utility undertakings, this is a problem that will surely increase in size.

What then? Surely a miracle cure will not be conjured up to tickle the popular imagination.

On the hydel front we all know of the great Kalabagh debate. This is one political red-herring no one is willing to solve.

But then why not move on to tapping the water of the existing rivers all the way down to the Indus Delta? One study claims that over 30,000MW of additional hydel power can be planned along the Indus alone if a power-generating dam was located every 30 kilometres (not at Kalabagh).

In simpler words 30 medium-sized power stations of 1,000MW each. Such a plan exists in the archives of Wapda.

Thermal gas imported from Iran can be used to power ten gas-fired power stations of 2,000MW each. Why not locate them all in Balochistan? Let that province gain from this investment.

Maybe even Iran with its gas and the US with its machinery both can gain massively out of such a huge and dependable ‘friendship’ project.

Then we have the new pet power projects of the prime minister and chief minister of Punjab, the new solar-power undertakings. Though very small in size yet, they are a good green initiative.

Here again we have large tracks of sunny deserts in Sindh and Balochistan which can be used. We also have the Chinese and their promise of nuclear power projects.

The fear among concerned Pakistanis is that all these project possibilities might end up filling the pockets of the corrupt.

The current demand for power is nearly 24,000MW, which is 8,000MW more than the power being generated, hence loadshedding.

This demand level is expected to more than double in the next ten years, that is if the economy grows at 5 per cent a year, and, therefore, power demand rises by seven per cent a year (UNDP study 2013). To meet this target Pakistan will have to launch today a mega energy rebuilding and restructuring programme.

“Electricity is life,” said Lenin exactly 100 years ago. It is time we learnt that lesson, even if we are a century late.




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