close
Advertisement
Can't connect right now! retry

add The News to homescreen

tap to bring up your browser menu and select 'Add to homescreen' to pin the The News web app

Got it!

add The News to homescreen

tap to bring up your browser menu and select 'Add to homescreen' to pin the The News web app

Got it!
February 23, 2021

Long-term sustainability being compromised for short-term popularity gains

Islamabad

February 23, 2021

Islamabad:Contrary to the perception that only Pakistan’s power operators are caught off-guard each time by the vagaries of weather – whether torrential rain or heat-waves or snow right now millions of Texans are experiencing possibly the worst blackout in over two decades during a statewide snowstorm which has frozen oil fields, power plants and other infrastructure while forcing the state’s power grid to the brink of collapse. Bitterly cold residents, plunged into darkness for over 48 hours are forced towards wood-fires and car heaters. Both have already resulted in casualties due to home fires and carbon monoxide poisoning.

According to available facts, the record-breaking cold weather spurred residents to crank up electric heaters and pushed the need for electricity beyond the worst-case scenarios planned for by grid operators amidst power plants being knocked offline. Electricity officials dueled with multiple challenges: the physical damage to infrastructure as trees snapped and power lines fell, resource constraints to undertake repairs, unaccounted for surge in demand and fuel shortages as natural gas demand spiked.

According to energy experts, single-minded focus on cheap energy to the exclusion of system reliability is the key issue and The adage ‘cheaper is not always better’ could not be more applicable to the power sector.

Experts believe that while climate change threatens to intensify heat waves, droughts, monsoons, floods, water shortages and other calamities which stress electricity systems, Pakistani power policies our continuing to emphasise cost reduction over system upgradation and electricity networks are being designed based on historic data to handle predictable weather patterns.

Anything out of the ordinary invites a systematic failure, like the outages during Karachi’s monsoon rains in 2020, the half-country blackout in 2018 when windstorms knocked out national grid towers and power lines, the recent nationwide blackout on account of missing protection equipment at the Guddu power plant.

As per the industry experts, the current government’s constant refrain for cheaper power, amplified by NEPRA Chairman Tauseef Farooqi and Special Assistant to the Prime Minister of Pakistan (SAPM) Tabish Gauhar is leading the power sector towards systematic unpreparedness as a planned outcome. Because long-term network resilience and sustainability is being compromised for short-term popularity gains.

Experts further added that these won’t be the last massive power outages unless there are extensive regulatory changes and expensive fixes. At the end of the day, it is the private sector generators that feed power into the national grid and in K-Electric’s case also transmit and distribute it. If the private sector does not stand to make some money on the capital that they employ and the risk they acquire, then they will forego investments in technological upgrades, system redundancies, protection mechanisms, regular maintenance and standby fuel supplies as these are added cost. Without acceptance of these system reliability costs by NEPRA and policy-makers, the private sector will refuse to undertake the necessary reinvestment and the electrical grid is being set up to fail from systemic decay.

Experts in energy industry urged that power sector decision-makers should stop promoting the pipe dream of cheaper power without clearly stating how this is shifting the cost and vulnerability of being caught unprepared in a disaster to the Pakistani consumers. At the same time, there should be oversight of how the energy sector is designed to limit vulnerabilities and whether envisioned policies like the Competitive Trading Bilateral Contracts Market (CTBCM) benefit vested interests while compromising power sector resilience, access and affordability of power for the most vulnerable.