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Outages: an unscheduled test

LAHORE, Oct 9: A host of factors leading to the vicious demand-supply imbalance has put people to the test of hours-long outages.

With the power generation restricted to 13,000MW and demand soaring to 19,000MW mainly due to persistent hot and humid weather, the country is facing 10 to 15 hours of daily loadshedding.

According to the power planners the factors reducing generation include reduction in water releases, exceptional decrease in billing collection, depriving the sector of the much-needed cash and mismanagement at the plant level.

Hot and sultry weather conditions (with highest mercury still ranging in the forties and humidity in the eighties) took recorded demand to 18,700MW on Wednesday evening. Add another 2,500MW of Karachi, and the national demand is still ranging above 21,000MW.

In the last one week, according to officials of the Pakistan Electric Power Company (Pepco), the water releases have come down as relatively lean crop cycle cuts water demand and the hydel contribution has come down by around 600MW. On Wednesday, its peak contribution was still over 5,900MW but average generation had fallen to only 4,500MW.

Apart from the hydel deficit, the sector is still in the grip of severe liquidity crisis. The collection has fallen down to 71.8 per cent of the total billing and this 28 per cent deficit directly translates into just under Rs1 billion a day loss. It is then reflected into fuel supply shortages which, in turn, reduces generation. For this reason, Wednesday’s thermal generation was only 7,000MW even at the peak time against installed capacity of over 12,000MW – both the Independent Power Producers (IPPs) and official Gencos put together.

On top of that, plants like Kot Adu Power station, which had been enjoying credit facility from oil suppliers backed by the government, have now been de-listed and have to pay cash for oil. If there is no collection, there is no oil even for such plants, compromising the generation.

“All these factors have now come to haunt the sector and, by extension, people of Pakistan,” says an official of Genco Holding Company. On Wednesday, the sector was suffering over 5,500MW shortage, which meant 11 hours of loadshedding in the country. That also meant eight to 10 hours of loadshedding on urban feeders and up to 15 hours in the rural areas.

“The unscheduled outages trigger frustration just as was the case in the last days of the PPP government,” he said. “In fact, there is no central working authority in the sector that coordinates among all players, balances generation and demand and contains damage through load management. If unchecked, the situation will worsen as cash crunch and water squeeze only get worse in the days to come. And if weather does not improve immediately, everyone is in for trouble,” he warned.