The mountainous Northern Areas have also been struck by the regular load-shedding, adversely affecting normal life and trade in its main towns.

According to recent reports, trade activities at Sust, the busiest town and trade hub near Pak-China border, as well as various offices in the Gojal valley are facing power shortages and outages. Similar is the situation in Gilgit city, the headquarters of the Northern Areas.

One of the major issues facing the government is that of raising the quality of life of the people of the Northern Areas who are currently deprived of even the basic amenities like electricity. Shockingly, Pakistan is ranked one of the lowest, 152 among 208 countries of the world, in terms of per capita consumption of electricity. The latest global data of 2007 shows 453 kWh per capita annual consumption in Pakistan that is even lower than Bolivia and Mozambique. Compared to this figure, per capita yearly consumption of electricity in the Northern Areas is just 44 kWh, the lowest in any part of the country.

The federally administered Northern Areas, populated by about one million, are spread over 72,496-sq. km. There are about 650 towns and villages, widely scattered, with population density of 10 persons per sq. km.

Primarily, the electricity is used for lighting households, schools and dispensaries etc. Still, only 45 per cent of the population has access to electricity, which is not even available to some of the valleys at all. Nonetheless, the demand is increasing at a faster rate, as tourism, trade and the SMEs develop in major towns.

The national grid is at a distance of 350 km from Gilgit and its extension to the Northern Areas is neither practical nor justifiable. The electricity network here is therefore being operated in isolation, and in many remote areas even the transmission lines and grid stations do not exist.

Today, the total installed capacity for power generation in the Northern Areas is around 102 MW. Major source of power generation is hydroelectric, of cumulative capacity of 95 MW, whereas thermal power generation is to the level of over seven MW only.

These diesel generators were installed, mostly in Gilgit city, to meet the peak demand of power, and are of great help to reduce the present load-shedding in the surrounding areas. Due to logistic and financial factors involved in transportation of diesel however, further increase in thermal power generation capacity is not feasible.

The Northern Areas present enormous hydropower potential from River Indus and its various tributaries with steep gradients. A network of small, mini and micro hydropower stations, generally in the wide range of 50 kW to 4 MW, has been constructed. There are more than 400 mini and micro hydropower stations operating in remote localities. In addition, there are many small hydropower stations, up to a maximum capacity of about 11 MW installed in Gilgit.

Indeed, it is a tremendous job to provide electricity to the Northern Areas as it is a region of high mountains and narrow valleys where infrastructure is practically non-existent. Furthermore, the widely varying topography, geology and hydrology, coupled with extreme weather conditions, make the construction of power stations difficult. The reliability of power supply is also impacted in the wake of frequent floods and landslides. Thus the available power supply is optimal during summer, but the season covers three months only. During the remaining nine months of the year the net electric supply is reduced to almost half of the installed capacity due to non-availability of water for power generation.

Administratively, the Northern Areas consist of six districts namely Gilgit (including Hunza and Nagar valleys), Skardu (including Shigar and Khaplu valleys), Diamer (Chilas valley), Ghanche (Baltistan), Ghizer and Astore.

There are 35 hydroelectric power stations of cumulative installed capacity of 34.76 MW in Gilgit district. Thermal power generation is limited to 4.3 MW installed capacity. Power demand at is estimated to be net 30 MW, which would further increase to 54 MW by the year 2010. To narrow the gap in supply and demand, three hydro power stations, Naltar IV of 18 MW, Pari of 1 MW and Cane of 3 MW installed capacity, are under construction at present.

The projects under construction include a 1-MW hydropower station at Sermik (Skardu), a 2-MW station at Talu-Rondu (Baltistan) and a 1-MW station at Tolti (Shigar). Other approved projects, in various stages of implementation, are 1-MW power station at Shumayal (Skardu), 1-MW at Kindas (Ghanche), 2-MW at Thalley (Ghanche), 1-MW at Hassanabad (Ghanche), 2-MW at Gultari (Skardu), 1-MW at Kindrik (Skardu) and 2-MW capacity at Bordas (Balgher).

To cater for increasing demand of electricity, a broad-based plan for the development of small hydropower generation is being implemented. Many potential hydro sites, up to 50 MW capacity projects, have been identified and techno-economic feasibility studies prepared.

These include 18-MW project at Hanzel (Gilgit), 3-MW at Juglot-Sai (Gilgit), 2-MW at Misgar (Hunza), 2-MW at Pissan-Minapin (Nagar) and 1.3-MW project at Cane-Kargah. Other approved projects are 2-MW at Nolti, Bathrez (Ghizer), 4-MW at Pakora Gudai (Astore), 2-MW at Darmadar (Ghizer), whereas three projects are to be constructed in Diamer district, namely Darel-Chilas III of 1.5 MW, Khanbary of 2 MW and Botogah-Chilas of 1 MW capacity. The government has recently approved Naltar III and Naltar V hydropower projects of 16 MW and 14 MW capacity, respectively, to be installed near Gilgit city, for which financial resources to the tune of Rs3 billion have been committed.

Wapda is also actively involved in contributing towards addition of power generation capacity in the Northern Areas. It is constructing Satpara dam and hydropower station of 13 MW in Skardu, in three phases, whereas design and engineering is in hand for Basho project of 28 MW capacity, which will be connected to Skardu and other upstream valleys through 66 kV transmission line. Likewise, Harpo hydropower projects of phase I of 15 MW and phase II of 33 MW capacity are to be developed in Skardu district. Also, planning work is being done by the Wapda for developing a power station on Phunder Lake, Ghizer.

Development of hydropower projects in the Northern Areas will be accelerated if Pakistan can build the capacity to manufacture and install small power stations of above five MW. The same is lacking at present though various items of electrical and mechanical equipment and related materials are being produced locally, and the infrastructure for implementing small hydro schemes is available.

The requisite advanced technology is essentially required for achieving the purpose of creating indigenous capability for design, engineering and manufacturing of equipment for power plants. The government needs to take initiative in this direction, pursuant to its policies of developing far-flung areas and promotion of renewable energy.

The writer is on the board of directors of National Engineering Services Pakistan Pvt Ltd — NESPAK, a company of the ministry of water and power.

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