Pakistan’s energy sector is in shambles. Resultantly, there is a massive shortage of gas supplies across the country and large-scale electricity load shedding is being done on a daily basis that is unprecedented in the winter season. On the other hand, gas and electricity tariffs are increasing frequently. The government has recently announced some policy measures but these are too little and too late, as major structural reforms are required for energy sector improvement. There is a need to realize that a robust electricity infrastructure is critical for economic progress and political stability.
The Energy Plan, known as the Indicative Generation Capacity Expansion Plan (IGCEP) 2021-2030, has not been implemented truly and effectively, which emphasizes the need for promotion of renewable and green energy for power generation on a fast-track. Given the slow progress of under-construction major hydropower projects, it is not likely to achieve the overall target of capacity expansion by 2030. In this scenario, a work plan recommended by the Asian Development Bank (ADB) for transformation of the power sector could be adopted by Pakistan to achieve “a reliable, sustainable, resilient and reformed energy market for 2030”. CAREC Energy Outlook 2030, originally published by the ADB in November 2019, assesses the present situation and future outlook of the energy sector in the region presenting an action plan under the Central Asia Regional Economic Cooperation (CAREC) program.
In Pakistan’s context, the outlook is focused on achieving a higher share of renewable and greener energy in the power generation mix, so that electricity in future is reliable and affordable. The document defines a set of key strategic priorities for Pakistan’s power generation and energy efficiency subsectors, which will stimulate economic growth and accrue multiple benefits in terms of overall socioeconomic development. The goals could be realised with investments ranging from $62 billion to $155 billion by 2030 under various concepts. These patterns are developed on projected supply and demand of electricity based on (i) current energy systems & policies, (ii) as per government commitments i.e. the IGCEP, and (iii) enhanced energy transition & environmental policies.
Pakistan’s Energy Plan (IGCEP) covers an ambitious scheme for exploiting large renewable and clean energy potential. Though mandated to focus on adding nuclear power generation projects to the planned energy mix, surprisingly, the future nuclear power projects have not been included in the document. According to the Energy Security Plan formulated in 2005, Pakistan will have a cumulative nuclear power generation capacity of 8,800-MW by 2030, targeting 25 percent share in overall power generation mix. Currently there are six nuclear power plants in operation, four in Chashma, C-1, C-2, C-3 and C-4, known as Chashma Nuclear Power Generating Stations (CNPGS) and two in Karachi, known as Karachi Nuclear Power Plants (KNPP), K-2 and K-3. These power plants have a combined installed capacity of 3,620-MW, with about 8.3 percent share in the total energy mix of 43,775-MW on the national network. During the year ending June 30, 2022, however, nuclear energy generated 18,248-GWh i.e. 18 percent contribution to total energy generated 101,367-GWh from all sources.
Nuclear power generation is the best performing energy subsector, according to the National Electric Power Regulatory Authority (NEPRA), and grew significantly from 0.6 percent of the country’s total grid electricity in 2000 to 10.6 percent in 2022. But there is no capacity addition of nuclear power generation foreseen in near future due to slow implementation of the Plan. The Energy Security Plan has envisaged construction of a total of additional seven nuclear power plants, each of about 1,000-MW capacity, by 2030 at sites that have been identified.
The first project of the series is the 1,100-MW capacity Chashma Nuclear Power Project known as C-5, which will replicate the design characteristics of K-2 and K-3. In principle, China had agreed in March 2013 to support the project, and subsequently, a contract for its construction was signed with China in November 2017.
As required, the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) Report of the project was finalized in September 2020. The project was planned to be completed and in operation by 2024 having cumulative nuclear power generation capacity of 4,630-MW by then. Second project of the series, of the same capacity, is proposed to be constructed near Muzaffargarh (Taunsa-Panjnad Canal) and was scheduled for achieving commercial operations by 2025.
But, sadly, there has been no physical progress on these projects as yet though China has committed, reportedly, to provide financial and technical assistance for construction of these projects. Likewise, remaining two projects of the series, each of 1,100-MW capacity, were scheduled for commercial operations by 2026 and 2030, respectively, thus achieving the overall target of 8,800-MW nuclear power generation capacity by 2030. The four sites for construction of these projects have been identified in consultation with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). Besides the Chashma and Muzaffargarh sites, other proposed locations for future nuclear power plants include Qadirabad-Balloki Link Canal (near Qadirabad Headworks), and Dera Ghazi Khan (near Taunsa Barrage) in Punjab, Sukkur (Nara Canal) and Guddu (Pat Feeder Canal) in Sindh, and Nowshera (Kabul River) in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.
In recent years, the nuclear power generation has assumed greater significance for Pakistan’s energy sector. Thus, there is a need to commence, on priority, the construction of the two nuclear power projects in the pipeline, as a first step. Though nuclear power generation is cost-intensive, the cost of generation is much less than power generation using other energy resources, other than wind and solar. Nuclear energy is reliable base-load electricity, operating at a capacity factor higher than 90 percent, with all-year-round availability, and no emissions of greenhouse gases. Pakistan has an impeccable record of safety and security in operating nuclear power plants for the last fifty years as it follows best practices and standards set by the IAEA.
The writer is a retired Chairman of the State Engineering Corporation