AT a time when nations across the world are putting every effort to safeguard their long-term energy interests, Pakistan is facing the worst energy crisis in its history.
The gravity of the situation is all but evident. Demonstrations against loadshedding are almost a daily phenomenon. Hardly any part of the country has escaped such protests that often turn violent, usually in the form of attacks on Wapda and KESC offices and vehicles. For the relevant authorities, it is a clear signal that just muddling along is not an option any more as the situation could spin out of control and irrevocably damage the entire system. Acknowledgement of the issue is there, as highlighted in the president`s address to the joint session of parliament. But it has to be complemented by the right strategy and due resolve.
The gigantic nature of the roaring energy challenge requires a coherent and vigorous policy followed by stringent implementation. Such a policy should meticulously reflect the true nature and intensity of current and coming challenges. Besides the severe shortfall in electricity, the matrix of problems also includes soaring prices of energy (in all forms i.e. electricity, gas and transportation fuels), dwindling share of local oil and gas reserves, insecurity of supplies and intensifying global competition for petroleum resources.
While encompassing short-and medium-term goals, the crux of the policy should lie in a long-term approach covering at least 25 years. All stakeholders, including mainstream political forces, must be taken on board before and during the formulation process. Once such a policy has been made and approved in truly democratic fashion, it should be rendered legal indemnity so that future governments cannot jeopardise it for politics` sake. In the past, many projects of vital national interest have been bulldozed for that very reason.
Such an unprecedented move appears to be logical given the nature of investment required to secure the energy future of the country. As of 2008, to overcome the existing electricity deficit of over 5,000MW, $6-
8bn need to be invested in new power generation projects. With consistently growing demand, some estimates suggest investment in the range of $30-40bn over the next 25 years.
The energy policy should lay stress on two essential requirements energy conservation and reliance on indigenous resources.The energy shortage in the country has grown beyond any quick-fix solution. The only relief that can be offered immediately is through an effective energy conservation programme. A substantial proportion of our gross national energy stock is being wasted through inefficient consumption. Similarly a considerable chunk of energy goes into non-productive usage. All sectors — industrial, domestic, commercial, transport — rate poorly in terms of energy efficiency.
Leaving lights, TVs and computers on even when there is no one in the room is a common practice. Similarly, industrial furnaces and boilers and domestic geysers can be cited as critical examples of operational inefficiency. In recent years, air-conditioners and other energy-intensive appliances such as microwave ovens have burdened the national grid more than anything else. Here it is worth noting the example of Denmark that is among the most highly rated welfare states in the world and which also enjoys energy prosperity. Amazingly, over the last 35 years Denmark has seen its gross national energy consumption come down despite the economy growing by over 100 per cent.
The secret to this remarkable success is the right attitude adopted by the entire nation. For example, although they are financially sound enough, there are very few households in the country that use a microwave oven, an unnecessary luxury gadget in the eyes of most Danes. In Pakistan on the other hand, despite much poorer economic conditions across the board, electricity-guzzling luxury items are common and hamper energy supplies to more productive purposes. Another common phenomenon is the abuse of official transport. The trend is widespread, ranging from the lowest to the highest possible levels. A collective national effort is thus required to see the energy conservation programme yield tangible results. In doing so, the greatest responsibility rests with the country`s policy-makers and decision-makers. It is they who will have to lead by example.
Another dimension of the energy conservation and management programme is the pragmatic use of available resources. The hallmark issue here is that of natural gas that has been extensively used in power generation since the 1990s and of late in CNG vehicles. The supply end (composed of gas resources and infrastructure) is simply unable to cope with such high demand. Consequently, over the last few years gas has become a scarce commodity. Planned as well as unplanned supply disruptions have jeopardised the sustainability of the industrial sector. Regular breakdowns are driving households crazy. With other fuel sources at our disposal, opting for gas is a policy hard to justify.
Reliance on indigenous energy resources must be at the heart of the national energy policy. Depleting fossil fuel reserves (which cater to roughly 81 per cent of total energy requirements) and their steadily rising demand is bound to usher in a new energy era across the world. Given the colossal increment in oil prices and fierce competition for access to deposits, global geopolitics is set to be ever more driven by the energy factor. Even the likelihood of all-out wars over energy resources can not be ruled out.
In such a scenario, it is critical for countries like Pakistan to be only marginally dependant on energy imports. Also, bearing in mind the steep rise in annual average crude oil prices in the international market, it is crucial to cut down petroleum imports in order to ensure the economic viability of energy.
The ideal matrix of indigenous resources would constitute coal, hydropower and renewable energy. Immediate exploitation of virtually untapped coal reserves can substantially help the country overcome its electricity deficit in a cost-effective and secure manner. Hydropower has traditionally been a significant contributor to the national electricity supply mix and is still by far the most cost-effective option. Only a small fraction of the total available potential has been capitalised as yet. Taking into account the water scarcity issue, which is a global phenomenon now — emphasis should be placed on making the most of available resources. Apart from run-of-river and small-scale projects that offer least disruption to downstream water supplies, all viable large-scale projects should also be initiated.
It is also crucial to meaningfully harness indigenous renewable energy resources such as solar, wind and biomass power. Renewable energy is rapidly coming of age and energy markets are not far from seeing it overcome its techno-economical barriers.
The writer is a lecturer in renewable energy at Glasgow Caledonian University, UK.