Pakistan has been suffering from a decade-long energy crisis, mainly because of the electricity shortfall that started in 2006-07. Given the severity of the problem and its profound impact on the country’s socio-economic, strategic and political fronts, the subject deserves meaningful debate and scholarship. Syed Akhtar Ali has authored a new book on the subject titled Pakistan’s Energy Issues: Success and Challenges. Being a former member (Energy) of the Planning Commission, he is well positioned to write this book.
The book is divided into five main areas: general, renewable energy, oil and gas, coal and electricity. In terms of content, it has several merits, addressing as it does a wide spectrum of energy issues facing the country. The scope of the book is topical and it seems to be free of technology biases when discussing different types of energy resources, ie oil and gas, coal, renewables and nuclear power.
The first section addresses important strategic dimensions of the energy sector, including energy imports, prices and China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) projects. It incorporates a detailed and candid coverage of the relatively sensitive subject of CPEC energy projects, over whose viability there have been concerns raised by some corners. In the section ‘The Conundrum of Single Bid’, Ali makes an interesting reflection on the pros and cons of the single bidding phenomenon in the CPEC projects.
Recommendations are made in the section ‘Reforming CPEC’, which is a balanced critical appraisal of the CPEC energy projects. Prospects of hydropower and modern renewables such as solar energy, wind power and biofuels are discussed at length and there is useful discussion on the Diamer-Bhasha and Kalabagh dams. The third section deals mainly with gas and liquid natural gas (LNG) and also reflects upon the transparency and pricing controversy that is still hanging around. Section four is dedicated to coal power generation; there is a detailed account of Thar coal as well as a cost comparison of power generation from local and imported coal. Lastly, the book focuses on electricity, the performance of distribution companies and reforms in the power sector.
To its credit the book describes things in perspective. The viability of different types of projects, for example, is discussed often by drawing comparisons with similar projects elsewhere in the world. Another strength of the book is that it discusses issues and projects not only from engineering and technical perspectives, but also considers relevant economics and even political dimensions are touched upon at times. Ali makes his points with the help of a significant amount of data and stats and, appreciably, the quoted figures are quite thorough, relevant and up to date.
The viability of different types of projects is discussed by drawing comparisons with similar projects elsewhere in the world. Not only engineering and technical perspectives, but relevant economics and even political dimensions are touched upon.
Besides highlighting problems and issues, the book also proposes solutions based upon informed opinion and the analysis is generally sound and excellent. Reading through the book one can feel that the author has duly capitalised on his rich experience in the energy sector.
However, while addressing a wide range of important topics, there are some that Ali misses. A description of Pakistan’s energy scenario — especially in terms of issues and challenges — cannot be complete without an account of energy conservation and management. The book does not address this important topic, even though the ‘Introduction’ describes the second part of the book as ‘Renewable Energy and Conservation’. It is not clear what is meant by the word ‘Conservation’ in association with ‘Renewable Energy’. If it was meant to be ‘Energy Conservation’ then the book has missed out on it. The absence of ‘Energy Conservation’ may be coincident with the fact that this important area has been virtually ignored by policy and decision makers. Institutional decline in energy departments and organisations has massively contributed to Pakistan’s energy woes. Ali does not tackle this issue, although he talks, on a few occasions, about the subpar role of the national electric power regulatory authority (Nepra).
For almost a decade now, the power sector has been hostage to circular debt, one more topic that has not been adequately attended to. Another critical issue missing is the fragile transmission and distribution (T&D) system that has actually become a bottleneck in the power sector. Although the book briefly touches upon the leaks and losses in the gas and power sectors, the problem deserves a thorough examination. Additionally, the energy sector is second to none when it comes to corruption. Mismanagement is a prevalent and costly issue in the sector at all levels. In recent decades, it has been hit by numerous scandals of financial and administrative wrongdoings, even involving the highest office-bearers in the country. The book appears to shy away from this difficult subject that has heavily dented the energy sector.
Some shortcomings when it comes to presentation, on part of both author and publisher, mean there are proofreading mistakes, formatting inconsistencies and issues with expression and writing approach. Understandably, some topics have been discussed on multiple occasions and in many instances Ali writes that such-and-such “will be discussed later” or “has been discussed earlier”, without referring to particular sections. This makes the reader a bit lost, especially if he/she is keen to connect the dots. Referencing, especially when it comes to critical data and stats, is not up to the mark. The structure could also have been improved; the book has 37 topics divided in five areas, but it is not clear if these topics should be treated as chapters or sections. It would have been helpful to have numbering for subsections in these chapters/sections. There are also instances of repetition — in some cases entire paragraphs have been repeated. On the publishing front, the quality of print is poor and a large number of graphs and tables are not readable.
However, these shortcomings should not take much shine off the book for, overall, it is a very valuable addition to the existing scholarship on Pakistan’s energy scenario, and the author’s hard work and efforts in this respect are commendable.
The reviewer is a professor of energy engineering based in the United Kingdom
Pakistan’s Energy Issues: Success & Challenges
By Syed Akhtar Ali
Published in Dawn, Books & Authors, November 11th, 2018