With Pakistan facing an energy shortage, decision-makers will have to decide what the future cooking fuel will be
carcity is what makes this planet the world we are familiar with and efficient management of limited resources is what makes us the people we are. Otherwise, there would be greater chaos, more crises and unresolved shortages.
Economics combines scarcity and efficient management of limited resources. According to one definition, “Economics is the science that studies human behaviour as a relationship between unlimited desires and efficient management of scarce means which have alternative uses.” There are tradeoffs and opportunity costs associated with what we do and what we do not do.
The world in general and Pakistan in particular are facing an energy shortage. According to the International Energy Agency, the total demand for Pakistan is 88.4 million tonnes of oil equivalent (TOE).
Forty one percent of this energy comes from bio-fuels (firewood and animal/ agriculture-residuals) and 21 percent comes from natural gas. The share of oil is 19 percent, electricity (hydel, nuclear, wind, solar) 11 percent and coal 8 percent. In this mix of energy, 33 percent of total primary energy is imported.
The importance of the energy mix for sustainability is evident. Sustainable development goal 7 (SDG 7) requires ensuring access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all. The future projections indicate that our total energy demand will cross 100 million TOE in the backdrop of the growing population, industry and commercial activities.
In this context, Pakistan is facing a two-pronged problem: first, the access problem. We need to arrange for additional energy supplies. Second, the energy we arrange for should be affordable, reliable, sustainable, modern and inclusive. Thus, our energy problem goes beyond access and includes distributional issues.
In rural areas, 60 percent of the households consume traditional solid fuels for cooking. The consumption of solid traditional fuels in Balochistan’s urban localities is higher than in rural areas of the Punjab. The share of traditional fuels in the fuel mix in the urban centres is also rising.
On top of that, the natural gas reserves are fast depleting. Our domestic gas reserves currently contribute 20 percent of our total energy demand. The Asian Development Bank estimates show that 70 percent of the reserves will be depleted by 2030.
In rural areas, 60 percent of the households consume traditional solid fuels for cooking. The consumption of solid traditional fuels in Balochistan’s urban localities is higher than in the rural areas of the Punjab. The share of traditional fuels in the fuel mix at the urban centres too is rising.
Pakistan is therefore going to have a critical and defining moment; the decision-makers will have to decide what the future cooking fuel will be.
We have to choose from three options/ alternatives in the post-natural-gas-reserves-era. The first alternative is the import of LNG or LPG. This will not be a reliable and sustainable source as the global gas supply chain is highly volatile. As of now, we are finding it hard to secure cargo consignments of gas due to the Ukraine-Russia conflict.
The second alternative is the use of firewood and animal/ agri-residuals. In Pakistan, a majority of the population is already consuming solid fuels (60 percent of rural households, 12 percent of urban households). This will adversely impact our SDG progress. Moreover, it will increase the incidence of respiratory diseases induced by indoor pollution.
In urban settings, most of the building structures are not suitable for use of firewood as cooking fuel. This could also trigger/ accelerate dangerous deforestation.
The third alternative is the use of electric stoves. This is by far the cleanest way of energy transition in terms of clean cooking at the household level. This will require targeted subsidies to cover the cost of stoves. This alternative will also cause a 100 percent rise in the electricity demand. This will not only require the addition of renewable electricity generation but also an upgrade of existing electricity transmission and distribution systems. This alternative will be clean, reliable, sustainable and modern. However, affordability will be a critical concern.
One possible solution to this problem is to convert the required cooking-induced electricity demand to off-grid solar electricity. The government is considering incentives to promote off-grid-solar electricity. On the one hand, this will be cheaper than the high-priced electricity now available to most end users and on the other, help reduce system load/ losses. It will also result in a decrease in import of fuels. This, however, could also result in a rise in capacity payments to independent power producers.
Thus, a conversion of household cooking to solar-powered-electric cook stoves can potentially solve the problem.
The government can effectively add subsidies to solar-electric-cooking systems for the consumers willing to forgo natural gas connections. The resulting saving in gas use may be shifted to the foreign exchange earning industries.
The writer is associated with the Sustainable Development Policy Institute as a consultant on energy. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org