PESHAWAR: A study of electrification in the merged tribal districts of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa has suggested that a concerted government focus on solar power promises a renewable energy transition in the region besides supplementing grid electricity.

The Merged Areas Electrification Study, 2021, conducted by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) has analysed the rural electrification in merged districts to pave the way for an objective electricity policy assessment.

The study offers an overview of the existing electricity distribution system of the Tribal Areas Electricity Supply Company (Tesco) which it refers as hard energy path that focuses on lying lines after lines, incurring capital expenditures, building grid stations, setting up buildings, installing transformers and incurring expenditures which are costly, dirty slow and inefficient.

According to it, under the Tesco, the merged areas continue to endure a severe electricity crisis over the last decade with long blackouts, marred by adverse security conditions and law and order issue.

UNDP study gives overview of power distribution system in tribal districts

“Almost all sectors, including commercial and industrial operate at below optimal level because of inadequate power supply,” it said.

The study said the Tesco electricity distribution covers 57.3 per cent of the 5.3 million populations, while it gets Rs18 billion per year in power subsidies from the federal government since the areas have an exemption from electricity charges, which will remain valid until 2023.

The report said that this provision from the government hardly benefits local residents, as electricity demand is approximately 800 megawatts while Tesco fulfils only 200-250MWs of it resulting into a shortfall of 600 MWs leading to load shedding of 18-22 hours a day, which has compelled locals to look for alternatives.

Besides this the report also pointed out that uninterrupted supply from a grid was not possible for merged areas where 42 percent of population has no access to grid and even the portion connected to grid received only 4-6 hours of electricity. “In such a scenario, it becomes imperative to start combing through alternative solutions in which the renewable energy models stand at the forefront,” it said.

The study revealed people from region have welcomed distributive energy resources, especially the solar power, which the report refers as soft energy path. It said that the soft path was modular as well as built keeping customer requirements in mind. The path also matches customer requirements in scale and evolves as per the needs and requirements of the communities.

The report points out that presently merged area represented a community that was connected with solar energy with the exception of industrial consumers.

“Whether they are commercial markets, domestic consumers, hospitals, or schools, nearly everyone is connected with solar power.”

It said currently, merged areas have adapted solar photo voltaic cell technology at the heart of their daily lives with almost every household having either solar home system or Pico solar devices and field visits to Khyber and Mohmand tribal districts showed solar plates on almost every rooftop.

The study proposed to rethink electrification strategy for merged areas as government has been providing free electricity to domestic consumers for which it pays annual subsidy to the CPPA against units supplied.

However, even eight years after Tesco incorporation, the results showed a dismal picture.

It said on one hand, the communities were not satisfied with low-quality electricity, while on the other hand Tesco struggles financially, and government was burdened with an annual subsidy burden without a way forward.

It said a simple analysis showed that Tesco has dispatched 6,695 GWh of electricity to domestic consumers in the last 5 years, using a total subsidy amount of Rs. 80 billion. “Diverting this subsidy to high quality certified solar system installed for the same subsidy amount would have produced 12,923 GWh Units – almost twice of what Tesco delivered through the grid,” it added.

Published in Dawn, March 18th, 2021

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