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‘Decentralised electricity distribution must to avoid blackouts’

By Our Correspondent
January 28, 2023

KARACHI: Renewable Energy Coalition, a network of think-tanks, civil society organisations and independent energy experts, has blamed the dismal state of national grid for the 15-hour long country-wide electricity breakdown on January 23, 2023.

In a statement issued on Friday, the coalition said “the national grid is too old, too large and too centralised” to be managed effectively and efficiently and that explains why the recent breakdown “is not an isolated incident”. Several similar breakdowns, indeed, have occurred over the last few years with the “most notable of them happening in January 2021 and May 2018”, it said.

Explaining the primary factor responsible for such breakdowns, it stated that most of Pakistan’s hydroelectric power plants were situated in the far north of the country, hundreds of kilometres away from the major population and economic hubs. Similarly, it said that “most of the power plants running on fossil fuels such as coal, oil and gas are located in the southern parts of the country, far from its most populous central regions”. The locations of both types of plants necessitates that an elaborate network of transmission lines and grid stations is set up and managed through a centralised system, it added.

“This, in turn, means that any defect in any part of this system will have an immediate cascading effect everywhere, leading to country-wide power breakdowns.”

The statement also pointed out that “false narratives of setting up committees to investigate reasons for the breakdowns have led to no improvement” in this situation. Instead, “these outmoded measures have only prevented Pakistan from finding a long-term solution to its electricity woes,” it added.

In order to resolve this problem effectively, the coalition suggested that Pakistan should adopt “a decentralised electricity distribution system while, simultaneously, replacing the dirty and costly fossil fuels with affordable and renewable sources for electricity generation”.

A decentralised distribution system, it proposed, should “include multiple power backups and multiple control mechanisms located in different parts of the country instead of a single national control room” and it should include “smaller power plants located close to the large centres of population and economic activity”.

These changes, according to the coalition, “will ultimately lead to the development of a reliable, resilient and smart grid” that can stop local defects from spreading nationally.

The coalition also emphasised the urgency of shifting Pakistan’s mainly fossil fuel-based electricity generation to renewable sources of energy such as wind and solar.

“Relying on imported fossil fuels puts the country at the risk of more blackouts in the future because the global prices of oil, gas and coal are increasing constantly and any failure to pay for their import can easily lead to the shutting down of power plants running on them, thereby causing long electricity outages and breakdowns,” it said in its statement.