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Opinion

January 14, 2012

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The energy crisis

The energy crisis
Pakistan is undergoing a severe energy shortage. There is no gas or electricity. While there electricity load-shedding is shared between industry and domestic users, gas load-shedding is shared between industry, fertiliser plants, domestic users and CNG stations. It has led to a severe economic and social impact on our country, leading to daily strikes, baton charging and tear gassing. Millions of manpower hours of wages have been lost, pushing our impoverished population further below the poverty line, while the economic loss to our country is runs into billions of rupees. There seems to be no end in sight due to the short-sightedness of our planners and policymakers.
While the capacity to generate electricity is over 19,000 MW, supply has fallen to half as much due to a multitude of reasons. The demand for electric power in a developing country like Pakistan, with a fast growing population, is very high, and there is need to double it to at least 40,000 MW in the next 10 years if we wish to light our villages and provide power to the industrial sector. Even that is not enough, for to move forward and become a developing country in the real sense, Pakistan should have at least 80,000 MW, which is what the UK had 40 years over ago with a population less than half as much! Similarly for gas, while the production today is around 4 billion cubic feet per day (bcfd), the current demand is 6.5 bcfd. By 2020, natural gas production will fall to 2 bcfd due to depleting reserves, and demand will increase to 8 bcfd. While all this demand for energy was projected a decade ago, not much has been done to find alternative solutions or develop indigenous resources by the interim governments.
Pakistan is bestowed with abundant natural resources. It is well known that Pakistan has proven reserves of 30 trillion cubic feet (tcf) of natural gas, and another 40 tcf are trapped as tight and shale gas. These could easily have been harnessed had the governments embarked on an ambitious plan to exploit these gases. The proposed Iran gas pipeline would provide only about 1 bcfd at a cost of $1.25 billion, while the proposed TAPI gas pipeline would provide 3.2 bcfd to three countries at a cost of $7.6 billion. At half these costs, our own gas reserves can easily be harnessed by available and indigenously developed technologies.
We have 175 billion tons of coal at Thar, the largest lignite deposits in the world, which is worth about $25 trillion. Thar has more energy reserves than the oil of Saudi Arabia and can provide 100,000 MW for 300 years. The coal can also produce clean methane gas through coal gasification, which can fulfil the needs of Pakistan for the next 100 years. Gasification of coal as a policy was also highlighted by me in the PPP Election Manifesto five years ago.
Pakistan has the 21st largest river in the world in terms of annual flow, many small rivers, and one of the largest irrigation systems in the world with abundant canals. There is proven potential to generate more than 40,000 MW by hydroelectric power alone. A large number of small dams can be easily constructed by entrepreneurs under a liberal public-private partnership policy. Hydroelectric power should be given top priority as it is the cleanest and cheapest form of energy.
Wind energy has been the fastest growing sector in the last decade. China is generating over 44,000 MW, the US 40,000 MW, Germany 27,000 MW, Spain 20,000 MW and India over 13,000 MW, with plans to double it within five years. Pakistan’s wind corridor in the south has the potential to generate over 50,000 MW but has hardly taken off with the same momentum as in other countries around the world.
Solar PV prices have dropped drastically to half as much in the last four years, from $3.7/w to $1.0/w, which has now made it very feasible for widespread use. As a result, solar power has been the fastest-growing sector worldwide in recent years, almost doubling from 22 GW in 2009 to over 40 GW in 2010. Even Germany, which is not in the tropical zone, is now producing over 23,000 MW by solar, while India is fast increasing its solar capacity, which is expected to reach 20,000 MW by 2020.
Pakistan has an abundant solar belt, with almost 365 days of sunshine in most parts of the country, and has the potential to generate large amounts of electricity, or energy, whether thermal or photovoltaic.
Last but not least, nuclear electric power has huge potential. Pakistan hardly generates 750 MW by nuclear means, while India generates 6,000 MW, and has ambitious plans to increase its capacity to 64,000 MW by 2032. Worldwide, 378,000 MW are generated by nuclear means, and expected to increase to 800,000 MW by 2050. Technologically Pakistan is considerably advanced in nuclear-power-generation and has plans to increase its nuclear power-generation capacity to 8,800 MW by 2030. However, this could easily be increased to at least twice within the same time period. There is also the possibility of exporting this technology and sending manpower to countries in the region by teaming up with them. Recently oil-rich UAE signed a $20 billion agreement with South Korea to build 4X1,400 MW of nuclear power by 2020.
Pakistan has huge energy resources which can be developed indigenously to fulfil domestic needs, as well as provide a surplus for export. We have qualified knowledge workers available at our universities, research organisations and firms who can accomplish this task. And a greater human resource can be developed through a strategic plan at our institutions. Development of indigenous energy options will also generate tremendous employment opportunities for our people. All that is needed is leadership and political will.

The writer, a former senator, is chairperson of the Higher Education Commission. Email: [email protected]
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