The government recently held an Energy Conference to find a solution to the country’s debilitating energy crisis. The recommendations are simple: government offices to work five days a week; conserve street-lighting; close commercial centres at 8 pm; enforce different office hours during winter and summer; cut power supply to billboards; use energy savers instead of regular bulbs; allocate additional gas to power companies; control power theft and install prepaid meters in all government buildings.
Would this be enough? Hardly, since the energy crisis is huge and requires more in-depth solutions than a mere cosmetic and shortterm approach to save a few hundred megawatts. As pointed out in a report recently released by the Asian Development Bank, the country’s economy continues to be affected by structural problems which include a domestic energy crisis, a precipitous decline in investment, persistently high inflation plus security issues. The report sees power as the main constraint for economic growth and has stressed better load-management to minimize commercial losses. It says losses arising from power and gas shortages held down Pakistan’s GDP growth by 3 to 4 percentage points in FY2011 and FY2012 . The report states that “improved management of power resources could ameliorate predictability of load-shedding to allow the private sector to better schedule work and minimize costs.”
In this backdrop, it is heartening to note that certain quarters have come forward with valuable suggestions on how the country could possibly tackle the energy crisis in a more pragmatic manner. Pakistan spends some 9.4 billion dollars every year to produce about 81 percent of its electricity through oil and gas. This has expanded the thermal power generation infrastructure in a big way and transition to hydro power appears impracticable in the short term. It is suggested that the fuel used to produce thermal power should be changed from oil and gas to coal. In this context, it is also suggested that for such a transition, the country should not depend on Thar coal and should import clean coal which would cost much less than oil and gas and would be based on more stable prices than the prices of oil and gas in the international market. Future dependence on Thar coal needs to be drastically reduced as it is described as highly unstable, difficult to transport and its gasification is not free of risks.
It is also recommended that the country should start moving towards a more balanced energy mix, comprising wider use of hydel power, and renewable energy and also nuclear power. It is suggested that standalone power projects should be installed that are not dependent on the national power grid and can function in their respective areas with the help of solar and wind farms. There is also a suggestion that the national grid be dismantled and electricity supply be placed in an open market from where provincial grids can buy energy directly. This would serve to improve power supply and would be more financially beneficial both for producers and users.
In the worsening scenario, it is high time that instead of treading the beaten path, more out-of-the-box strategies are explored to tackle the fast deteriorating national energy crisis.