Pakistan’s Electricity Dilemma
It recently came to light that Pakistan now produces more power than it uses. A report titled “Inquiry Report Regarding Total Power System Collapse on 09 January 2021,” which has been submitted by an Inquiry Commission of the National Electric Power Regulatory Authority (NEPRA), has revealed that the installed power generation capacity of Pakistan as on 30th June 2020 stood at 38,719 megawatts (MW) out of which the public sector had a capacity of 19,621 MW while that of the private sector, including KE, was 19,098 MW. Large-scale construction of new power plants — largely coal-fired ones funded by China — has dramatically boosted the country’s energy capacity. But, even today, the collective demand in Pakistan still stands at around 23,000 MW. In spite of that power outages also remain common, with a huge transmission problem occurred on January 09 that left the country’s major cities in the dark. Moreover, a document shared by the Power Division says that certain areas were still facing power outages and load-shedding for as much as 11 hours a day.
According to official documents, areas that account for 10 percent loss are to be subjected to three and a half hours of load-shedding to disincentivise it. This duration is to be increased accordingly if the loss ratio increases. The area covered by the Quetta Electric Supply Company (Qesco) tops the list of line losses, and is followed by the Sukkur, Hyderabad and Peshawar Electric Supply Companies. This means that large swathes of Balochistan, Sindh and Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa continue to suffer the worst load-shedding, further marginalising communities already eking out a living on the fringe.
Several localities within Qesco’s jurisdiction alone are left without power for more than half the day as line losses stand as high as 80 percent. Residents of several areas in Sindh and Balochistan complained that the outages often exceed 14 hours a day, with similar stories being narrated by those living in the erstwhile tribal areas.
According to an estimate calculated by the non-profit Research and Advocacy for the Advancement of Allied Reforms (Raftaar), Pakistan’s energy crisis affects at least 500,000 households in terms of unemployment. If broken down to the level of the individual, this figure could easily range in seven figures, and that too at a stage where the Pakistan Institute of Development Economics predicts the loss of another 18.5 million jobs due to the novel coronavirus pandemic.
Experts say the whole strategy and policy framework for the power sector is in dire need for overhaul now that the power generation issue has been resolved. Pakistanis, they stress, expect and deserve a public-friendly solution and that alone will serve larger national interests.
For long, the matter of balancing supply against the demand for electricity was a headache for the government and policy makers in Pakistan. At one point electricity shrunk to 50 percent of the total need. In 2007, Pakistan witnessed a massive fall in energy production and blackouts of the worst kind of power continued till 2016.
However, 2019-20 witnessed sharp improvement in power generation with 64 percent growth rate. Where total generation hovered slightly above 22,000 MW in June 2013, by June 2020, it increased by as much 15,000 MW.
Until the lack of planning, expertise and responsibilities is addressed, experts warn, we are accumulating electricity not for use but to raise debts and increase the burden on both consumers and the government.