Energy for Growth
Industrialization being the key for development, the hunger for power in South Asia is burgeoning.
The South Asian subcontinent has a population of about 1.6 billion. This huge mass of humanity needs an enormous amount of energy not only to light their homes and use comfort gadgets but, more importantly, for agricultural and industrial growth. Industrialization being the key for development, the hunger for power is burgeoning.
The problem of energy shortage is more acute in India and Pakistan because they are comparatively more industrialized. The main source of power generation in Bangladesh is its natural gas reserves. Currently, around 88 percent of the energy used for producing electricity in the country is obtained from natural gas, 4 percent from coal, 6 percent from oil and 2 percent from hydroelectric power. In 2011, Bangladesh reached an agreement with Russia to build a 2,000 MW nuclear power plant with two reactors, each of which would generate 1,200 MW.
India currently has an installed power generation capacity of 248,510 MW. Of this, 171,376 MW are generated by thermal sources and 72,354 MW by renewable means, out of which coal-fired plants account for 59 percent, renewable hydropower 17 percent, other renewable energy 12 percent and natural gas about 9 percent.
The average per capita consumption of electricity in India is estimated at 883.6 kwh. In 2009, it was 96 kwh in rural areas and 288 kwh in urban areas. This shows a significant increase in demand. Yet, more than one-third of India's rural population and 6 percent of its urban population lack electricity.
The figures available for 2010-11 show that the demand for electricity in India far outstripped supply. The base load requirement was 861,591 million units against the availability of 788,355 mu – an 8.5 percent deficit. During peak hours, the demand was 122 gigawatt against the availability of 110 gw, a 9.8 percent shortfall. India’s electricity demand is estimated to be at least 1392 tera watt hours by 2016-17, with a peak electricity demand of 218 gw.
Yet, India surpassed Japan and Russia to become the world's third largest producer of electricity in 2013 with a 4.8 percent global share in electricity generation. It is also among the world's most active players in renewable energy utilization.
Presently, 70 percent of its energy is generated from coal based power plants. Coal reserves in India are estimated at around 293.5 billion tonnes, natural gas resources 1330.26 billion cubic meters (as of March 2012) while renewable energy generation has a potential of 89,774 MW.
According to India’s Planning Commission, by 2016-17, the country will manage an approximate 6.7 million tonnes of oil. But this will meet only 70 percent of the expected demand.
Pakistan’s daily energy demand is around 15,000 to 20,000 MW against the supply of 12,000 MW. On a daily basis, there is a shortfall of approximately 8000 MW. This shortfall is responsible for economic destabilization in the country. Industrial production suffers because of long power outages. Some industrial units have installed private generators, but this increases their cost of production and they end up losing their competitive edge. Besides, long spells of darkness often bring people on the streets in violent protests.
The total installed capacity of electricity in Pakistan is 30,000 MW, of which 65 percent is obtained from fossil fuel, 31 percent from hydropower and 4 percent from nuclear power. Wind energy is a recent development with high promises.
Pakistan's energy policy suffers from a lack of urgency, leading to slipshod planning and, above all, corruption. For example, there is an estimated 185 billion tonnes reserves of coal in the country, which is equivalent to 400 billion barrels of oil. But decades have passed since its discovery and yet no significant attempt has been made to tap this resource. Wind and solar energy are some other viable sources.
Pakistan has an ability to generate electricity up to 50,000 MW from wind power, especially in the coastal areas of Karachi, Thatta, Jiwani, Gharo and Keti Bandar, etc. where wind power has the production capacity of about 35000 MW. A beginning has been made with the installation of wind turbines at Jhimpir in Thatta but it will take a long time before the country fully exploits this resource.
Solar energy is one of the cheapest and important sources of power generation. Pakistan has a potential of generating "more than 100,000 MW" of electricity from this source. Many projects of developing solar energy plants are underway in Kashmir, Punjab, Sindh and Balochistan. The Alternative Electricity Development Panel has installed 20, 000 photovoltaic mineral water heaters in Gilgit-Baltistan.
Earlier, the PPP government, in a show of alacrity, went for rental power projects (RPPs) almost in a crazy fashion, signing contracts and
dishing out massive advances. The plan was to generate 2,700MW of electricity to reduce the shortfall. However, of the 19 RPPs that the government committed to, only one became operational as scheduled, adding only 62 MW of electricity to the national grid. The government paid Rs.16.6 billion to the RPPs in advance and created a liability of $1.7 billion for itself through these contracts.
Ultimately, in May 2012, the Supreme Court declared the RPPs illegal and ordered them to be shut down. It also ordered those involved in the scam, including former Water and Power minister, Raja Pervaiz Ashraf, to be prosecuted for massive corruption and causing huge losses to the public exchequer, by making 7 percent to 14 percent down payments amounting to about Rs22 billion to RPPs and purchasing electricity on higher rates,. Accordingly, Raja Pervez Ashraf and six others were indicted by an accountability court last January.
There was some hope that the Iran-Pakistan gas pipeline would solve the problem of energy shortage. But it remains in the doldrums because the U.S. has threatened Pakistan with sanctions.
An alternative to the Pak-Iran Gas Pipeline Project is offered by the Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India (TAPI) gas supply project. This has assumed renewed importance because of the energy crisis in Pakistan.
The project was started in 1995 but remained dormant due to internal instability in Afghanistan. This 1735 km pipeline with a maximum discharge of 33 billion cubic meters per year is still feasible and has been committed to by both Pakistan and Turkmenistan through a memorandum of understanding signed by the four countries in 2010. However, any progress on the project would depend on the political situation in Afghanistan.
South Asian countries, especially Pakistan, must improve electricity generation capacity on an immediate basis for their industrial development. The writer is a senior political analyst and former editor of Southasia Magazine.