WITH its immense socio-economic ramifications, the prevalent energy crisis has become a critical issue for Pakistan. In December once again it has turned acute.
It is not only preventing people from carrying on with their daily routine, it is also depriving many of their livelihoods. Having paid all bills, conscientious citizens find the poor quality of such essential services as the steady supply of power a violation of their fundamental civic rights.
If appropriate measures are not taken by the relevant authorities on an immediate basis, the situation may turn nasty as it did some months ago when there were regular demonstrations against power utilities and attacks on their offices. In some cases clashes ensued between the demonstrators and law-enforcement personnel while many refused to pay their electricity bills. Such `civil disobedience` does not bode well for the state of law and order in the country.
Although the wider energy crisis, particularly the shortfall of electricity, has been gifted by the last regime, the current office-bearers have to face the consequences. Instead of blaming the current troubles on past rulers, rational solutions should be found and pursued on a war footing so that matters do not get out of control.
Ideally, there should be a three-pronged approach. Firstly, power generation capacity enhancement should be sought through value-engineered options; secondly, the generation capacity in place must run at optimum level; and, thirdly, there should be an effective energy conservation programme. In terms of an increase in the installed capacity there is not much the government can do on an immediate basis. Nevertheless, work should proceed to put in place secure, cost-effective and sustainable power-generation projects.
As part of the immediate remedial measures, the greatest opportunity lies in the optimum use of the available energy through effective conservation practices and tactical load management. For this purpose it is imperative to win wider public support. Policy gurus and decision-makers must win the trust of the people for this one — easier said than done. They have to come out of their lavish offices and talk to all stakeholders of society and show solidarity with those at the receiving end of the crisis.
The industrial sector is crucial to the load-management programme. It must be supplied with the required amounts of electricity/gas without any disruption so that the national economy does not suffer as it has been from long periods of inactivity. Meaningful energy conservation programmes need to be designed and implemented to ensure that every unit of the available energy be it electricity or gas goes into productive use. Again, this requires a national effort in which every citizen must revise his or her energy usage pattern, and the only way to bring this about is to win public confidence through more action and less words on the part of the government.
Media reports suggest that the sudden jump in the electricity shortfall during October was due to the fact that quite a few of the thermal power plants were not running at their optimum level for various reasons. These included fuel supply issues, the poor maintenance and consequent breakdown of operating infrastructure and, of course, few funds owing to outstanding charges. It should be obvious that such a situation can be easily avoided as long as there is commitment and resolution to make the optimal use of power and at the same time not allowing it to be wasted. Moves like increasing electricity and gas rates, despite the fact that the people`s patience is already being tested to the limits by the relentless crisis as well as soaring inflation, are not going to be of any help, particularly when the average citizen is aware that oil prices in the international market are following a downward trajectory.
Public order is not altogether peripheral to the subject. It is important to spread awareness among the people that they will be achieving nothing by attacking the offices and infrastructure of the Water and Power Development Authority (Wapda) and the Karachi Electric Supply Company Ltd since these departments are not primarily responsible for the crisis, and are, after all, national assets. In fact, senior Wapda officials insist that their department had issued timely warnings of the looming crisis to the previous regime. However, no attention was paid. It is noteworthy that when it comes to decision-making on the enhancement of electricity generation through the installation of new power plants the authority does not lie in Wapda`s but in the government`s domain.
However, the power utilities cannot be exonerated altogether. Both Wapda and the KESC must accept responsibility for their failures. One of their major weaknesses is the huge transmission and distribution (T&D) losses which actually are theft losses. For Wapda, these losses are reported to be 20 per cent at the country level with many areas experiencing 30 per cent in losses.
The situation in areas where KESC is providing services is even worse. Losses go up to 40 per cent as indicated by the department itself. In order to truly address the T&D losses, system loopholes, such as corruption, nepotism, political influence and the kunda culture, need to be removed. Ironically, when corrupt elements obtain electricity through questionable means, probably taking advantage of the T&D losses, they exploit it to the full. For instance, if they were to run air conditioners for four to five hours a day while paying the standard rate, they would now run it almost round the clock. The two departments, particularly the KESC, cannot progress unless such losses are sorted out. It is simply a matter of implementing the writ of government.
Other mismanagement issues such as over-billing and untimely load-shedding are like rubbing salt into the people`s wounds. They need to be instantly addressed. Wapda and the KESC should stop torturing the people by orchestrating load-shedding irregularly and abruptly. These departments should come up with a sensibly designed schedule so that people can make the appropriate arrangements at home and at the workplace so that there is minimal disruption in their routine during the hours without electricity.
In order to address the liquidity crunch, the power utilities should try curtailing the T&D losses rather than shifting the burden on to the customers through frequent jumps in tariff. The concerned authorities can also help in recovering the huge sums in outstanding charges that are owed to the power utilities by various organisations and individuals.
The writer is a lecturer in renewable energy at the Glasgow Caledonian University, UK.