MILLIONS of Pakistanis living in rural areas are unable to afford electricity. In some villages people face up to 10 to 12 hours of loadshedding per day.

According to the International Renewable Energy Agency’s report ‘Renewable Readiness Assessment’, more than 32,500 villages in Pakistan — around 40 per cent of the rural population — live a long way from the national grid; leaving them without access to electricity.

Apart from disrupting lives, loadshedding also stifles economic growth in these areas by preventing many businesses from operating during key daytime hours. One of the reasons for scheduled power outages is the lack of solutions for the power crises owing to low investment in the power sector.

Investment has fallen to 0.7pc of the gross domestic product from 1.5pc in the 1990s. As many businesses in the country are forced to shut down as a result of chronic power outages, unemployment has affected over 500,000 households.

The International Monetary Fund suggests that if Pakistan’s energy deficit is reduced, it could lead to a 2.5pc increase in the GDP growth rate.

32,500 villages in Pakistan — around 40pc per cent of the rural population — are not connected with the national grid

The Ministry of Water and Power has been quoted as saying, “Responsible consumers should have less number of loadshedding hours as compared to the non-payers or those involved in power theft.”

Although this in theory could help reduce energy demands, it also discourages people from engaging in activities which increase productivity in their businesses. Energy conservation efforts are the only alternative for reducing energy consumption.

According to research, up to 17pc of Pakistan’s total energy used can be saved using conservation methods. Currently, projects in the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor are among the only few utilising energy-efficient technology; however, other government organisations are also beginning to jump on to the bandwagon.

Although loadshedding and energy conservation have promising short-term implications, they are not seen as viable long-term solutions to the energy crisis. A few organisations have proposed other long-term solutions such as using coal as a significantly cheaper alternative to oil and gas. This would require a significant investment of nearly $10 billion to meet the energy demands over the next 20 to 30 years.

Another way to tackle the energy crisis would be to dismantle the inefficient national power grid. The national grid is considered one of the most inefficient methods of power distribution. People are left paying up to 40pc to make up for the power lost during transmission.

Any proposed improvements are often subject to much criticism by the bureaucracy, usually resulting in them not being implemented. The best solution to this problem would be to dismantle the current system and install a more privatised and decentralised system in its place.

Another option would be to invest more in renewable energy. Although, up to 29pc of Pakistan’s power already comes from hydroelectric dams, the IMF suggests that this can be increased to 50pc over the next 10 to 15 years.

Significant improvements have been made to the energy distribution systems in Pakistan; however, there is still a long way to go before equal and sustainable electricity can be provided to the entire rural population. Through the relentless efforts of government agencies, non-governmental organisations and private corporations, the prospects of sustainable rural electrification are high.

Published in Dawn, The Business and Finance Weekly, August 20th, 2018

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