Money Matters

Widening gap

By Hussain Ahmad Siddiqui
Mon, 06, 17

There seems to be no respite for electricity consumers across the country from long hours of scheduled and unscheduled load-shedding, as the electricity demand and supply shortfall has widened to about 6,000 megawatt.


There seems to be no respite for electricity consumers across the country from long hours of scheduled and unscheduled load-shedding, as the electricity demand and supply shortfall has widened to about 6,000 megawatt.

Civic life has become miserable in the month of Ramazan, despite the government announcements of minimal load-shedding and that of no outages during Sehr and Iftar. The government directives remained ineffective, and massive load-shedding has become a primary reason for large-scale protests in various provinces supported by major political parties. A large number of people took to the streets against unannounced power cuts in different cities, including Peshawar, Charsadda, Malakand, Karachi, Sukkur, Hyderabad, Jamshoro, Larkana, Tando Allah Yar, Tando Muhammad Khan, Lahore, Faisalabad, Taxila-Khanpur and others. In some areas the protests and dharna have turned violent, thus creating law and order situation, which killed at least two and wounded another 14 persons.

The masses—already over-burdened with highly inflated electricity bills—have to brace with 10-hour load-shedding on a daily basis in major cities, while small towns and rural areas face up to 18-hour-long outages. The relentless load-shedding has also resulted in acute shortage of drinking water in these areas. The large-scale load-shedding has crippled civic life as well as industrial, trade and commercial activities. The situation in Karachi is not any better either, as K-Electric power projects have not come on stream as per schedule. On the first day of Ramazan, Karachi was hit with a major power breakdown that plunged almost 70 percent of the metropolitan city in darkness for two days or so. On the other hand, Karachi is facing a shortfall of 650MW, causing massive and continuous power load-shedding.

Sadly, the government has been unable to bridge the gap between the demand and supply of electricity, in spite of tall claims of adding significant power generation capacity during recent years. Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has, once again, directed the authorities that efforts be made for minimising electricity load-shedding during the month of Ramazan, while chairing a meeting of the Cabinet Committee on Energy on May 30. This was a record sixth consecutive meeting of the Committee in last two months, and third consecutive meeting during May, reflecting on the gravity and severity of the prevalent energy crisis.

Expressing displeasure over implementing the load-management plan, PM Nawaz Sharif has ordered resolving power distribution and transmission issues without delay, providing the much-needed relief to the masses amid the on-going persistent heat waves. The measures adopted, if any, did not yield any positive results however and, meanwhile, the masses across the country continue to brace the long-hour scheduled and unscheduled electricity load-shedding. According to the reports, the power deficit in the national network is likely to widen in the coming months due to fast-growing demand for electricity, if the extreme hot weather persists.

All the promises made by the prime minister and his ministers, from time to time, have proved to be false and deceptive, and, in reality, there has been no improvement in the situation of electricity demand and supply. The National Power Policy 2013 envisaged addition of over 21,000MW grid-connected power by 2017, resulting in a complete elimination of the energy shortfall by then, but just a few months later, the government had admitted that the target was unrealistic.

The nation however was assured, time and again, that the electricity shortfall would be minimal during 2017 summer, resulting in load-shedding in the range of four to six hours a day in all areas. For long, the government has repeatedly made tall claims of taking steps to overcome power shortages and outages. Obviously, the government has failed to address energy crisis effectively. It has paid no serious attention to the mismanagement, inefficiencies and a host of other institutional issues of the power sector.

The crisis has so far been addressed largely through ad-hoc measures, and an integrated energy plan through institutional framework has been lacking. There are policy- and management-related issues that need to be addressed. Besides outdated and weak distribution and transmission systems, the power situation has worsened primarily due to inadequate generation capacity, flawed strategy, imprudent use of available resources, and transmission and distribution losses.

The circular debt has swelled again to Rs401 billion and independent power producers (IPPs) are facing difficulties in servicing their dues and have cut down generation. Most importantly, laxity on the part of the government has resulted in increased technical and collection losses, or electricity theft.

According to the Pakistan Economic Survey 2016-17, power generation during the 9-month period of July 2016-March 2017 declined by over 16 percent, registering 85,206GWh, compared to 101,907GWh achieved during the corresponding period last year, though power generation capacity increased during the period and there was no significant change in the  consumption pattern of electricity.

Ironically, the prime minister had emphasised, only weeks ago, that it was his highest priority to completely eliminate load-shedding in the shortest possible time, and the government had steadfastly worked in the last three years to achieve the goal. On the contrary, the system currently faces a shortfall of over 6,000MW during peak hours, which is comparable to the shortfall of 2013 summer.

The government had claimed that 866MW power generation was restored to national grid system in April and another 400MW in May last year. Yet, the current total power generation is around 16,255MW in the system (excluding K-Electric), which is at the same level as last summer. This is in spite of significant addition to the power generation capacity, in the wake of inauguration of a number of new power plants in recent months that are said to be connected to national grid, including 660MW (first unit) Sahiwal coal-fired and 717MW (out of total 1,180MW installed capacity) Bhikki LNG-based power plants, inaugurated by PM Nawaz Sharif on May 25 and April 19, respectively.

Interestingly, federal minister for water and power Khawaja Asif admits that prevalent load-shedding was not due to generation capacity constraints. Still, the Cabinet Committee on Energy was told, initially, that a total of 5,710MW would be added to the system by the end of 2017 and, in the last meeting, 9,107MW by March 2018 as a measure to eliminate load-shedding. On May 17, the minister had reiterated the government’s resolve of enhancing power generation capacity, adding that “addition of more power will further help in bridging the gap between demand and supply”.

Khawaja Asif’s statement of May 26 given to a foreign news agency is laughable. He has lamented that no attention was paid either by public or the government on saving electricity; rather focus was on inauguration of new power plants on routine basis. The minister needs to be reminded that the National Energy Efficiency and Conservation Act 2016 was announced on July 1, 2016, and there exists a National Energy Efficiency and Conservation Authority under his own ministry that is responsible for implementing the act. Indeed, the government has not been successful so far in providing an enabling legal environment for energy conservation, but then who is responsible?

For example, energy conservation measures, such as restricted timing for commercial activities in the evening, were not implemented. One of the short term strategies for immediate reduction of electricity load-shedding could be its conservation. Optimal conservation of electric supply in all sectors of economy, resulting in saving estimated 3,000MW, could play a significant role to minimise prevalent massive load-shedding countrywide.

The writer is retired chairman of the State Engineering Corporation