Power crisis and regional angle

This Article was published in
The Frontier Post (April 21, 2010)

By Sahibzada Hussain Mohi-ud-Din Qadri

The unabated spate of load shedding throughout Pakistan has made life difficult to live in this sizzling summer. The unending energy crisis with power outages for more than 15 hours on daily basis has also dealt a severe blow to the national economy. Resultantly, business units and factories are getting shut down and layoffs of the workers are reported to be running in hundreds of thousands with grave implications for already burgeoning unemployment and poverty. According to a careful estimate, the difference between demand and supply is above five thousand megawatts, which is likely to increase as the weather gets even hotter in the months of June and July. The monster of load shedding first raised its head in 2007 and the national power scene has been becoming uglier with every passing year.

There have been minor fluctuations and readjustments between demand and supply due to weather and water factors but the crisis on the whole has remained consistent in its lethality and ugliness. The criticality of situation warranted urgent policy response at the highest level but the same was not forthcoming, thanks to red-tapism and perennial malaise afflicting our decision-making processes. The questions arise in the background of severity of the crisis: has Pakistan in reality been deprived of treasure of energy? Do we have no alternative system to produce electricity in the country? Can we establish energy market, the biggest in the region through collaboration with neighbouring India and other countries? These are the questions whose answers should be in the affirmative, which should not be less than a glad tiding for the people hit hard by crises of different nature. Resort to empty promises, a favourite pastime of the government, would not help.

It is about time that the government made practical strategies to resolve the energy crisis on the war footing basis without any further delay. Geographically Pakistan is located in a region where neighbouring country, India, is emerging as an economic giant. Despite massive use of energy to meet the growing demands of economic development, there is no load shedding in India. Among other countries of the region, Bangladesh is the only country whose local reservoirs of power are more than that of Pakistan. Economically speaking, India is ahead of Pakistan and Bangladesh but in terms of being self-sufficient in power, even Bangladesh is far ahead of Pakistan. Islamabad stands at number three in the field of power generation. Despite this power generation potential, the country suffers from the worst bouts of power crisis courtesy internal and external factors. If Pakistan, India, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and other countries of the region launch power generation initiatives jointly, they cannot only strengthen their diplomatic and economic ties but also earn precious foreign exchange by exporting the surplus electricity.

These countries are home to vast natural sources of energy. All countries of South Asia can launch a joint project of power grid. Nepal and Bhutan are two countries blessed with maximum of natural gas, which is used more than electricity. On the other hand, there are issues in regard to planning of natural resources and installation of power lines to ensure flow of electricity in these countries of the region. Despite this, when we look at the natural resources in these countries, it becomes certain that only these countries forming the energy bloc would stand to benefit in the future energy scenario. However, they would have to take steps to attract the attention of international investors. If these countries succeed to formulate a joint strategy, it would not only help them overcome their energy crunch, but also establish a trade bloc in South Asia.

A brief detail of some of the models is given here below to become self-sufficient in the power sector: According to an analysis undertaken in the countries of South Asia, it has become known that if they formulate long-term policy of natural resources, they can save electricity from 6% to 13%. South African countries had undertaken this experiment first of all by which the countries of the region were able to save up to 100 billion dollars. If the South Asian countries take a leaf from the book of their African counterparts, there is no reason why they do not become self-sufficient in energy resources. Implementation of this model would also promote the intra-regional trade besides offering solution to the power crisis. Pakistan should be a strong proponent of this model given its huge energy deficit and demand. A long-term policy will need to be worked out spanning over 10 to 12 years. The broad contours of policy would include power agreements, long-term policy, and cooperation in the field of engineering, etc.

The government of Pakistan has already formulated a ten-year plan but it is not in sync with the ground realities. There is a difference between resources and planning. By acting upon this model named as South Asian Power Pool, Pakistan, India and other regional countries can become success stories in the conservation and self-sufficiency of natural resources. The major benefits accruing from this model are the way out of present power crisis and enhancement of regional trade through striking of preferential trade agreements. Import of hydropower from India, Bhutan and Nepal can provide us with a big push to go ahead with this plan. Last but not the least, the South Asian countries can ink a regional agreement known as South Asian Regional Energy Trade (SARET) based on revolutionary steps to enhance energy trade in the region. However, in order to ease out the situation, urgent measures need to be taken. This includes the equal distribution of load shedding throughout Pakistan without any exception.

The issues of non-payment to IPPs and circular debt need to be sorted out as a matter of priority to generate electricity according to full installed capacity. The matter of import of electricity from Iran should be dealt with on priority basis besides working out workable strategy to cut down line losses, which are the major source of wastage of electricity in the country. To conclude, it can be said that energy crunch is both regional and global issue and regional efforts need to be made to overcome this deficit. Time is long past when issues of urgent nature were kept pending due to political expediency. Pakistan, a country hit hard by power crisis, needs to reach out to Iran, Turkey and other central Asian countries for import of electricity on urgent basis to ease things out. Time to act is now. hmqadri365@gmail.com