Overcoming the energy crisis

Inaugurating a three-day energy conference in Islamabad, Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani has underscored the need to develop new energy sources and announced the formation of a government-industry energy council. Pakistan is going through the worst energy crisis of its history. The increasing gap between energy demand and supply has mandated the search and development of new energy sources.

A semblance of concerted efforts to contain the energy crisis started last year through an energy summit presided over by the prime minister and participated in by the chief ministers of all the four provinces. The conference laid out short-term, medium-term and long-term goals as part of a comprehensive strategy to meet the energy crisis. However, these goals have been met only partially. Short-term goals concentrated on the conservation and equitable distribution of the energy shortfall among all sectors of the economy. Medium-term goals envisaged addition to the power generation capacity through the installation of rental power projects (RPPs) and independent power producers. RPPs have become victims of allegations of corruption. Although the prime minister claimed the government has added 1,700 MW to the national electricity grid, this covers only a small gap in supply and demand.

The situation has been aggravated by the Middle East crisis skyrocketing international oil prices. The government has been forced to forgo part of the revenues it earns from taxing various stages of the petroleum import and refining process to avoid burdening the masses. Pakistan’s energy sector’s heavy dependence on oil and gas based projects has compounded our energy problems. Talking of long-term goals, although we have vast coal reserves, the requisite focus and expertise for the development of these reserves is lacking. Pakistan has had a successful experience with hydel power. However, the construction of new mega-dams has become a subject of controversy. Only one big dam, Bhasha-Diamer, is in line, but it will be a long time in coming. In this situation, run-of-the-river projects and small dams are another option for hydro-electricity before the government. There is another very big sector of renewable energy whose full potential has not been explored by the government. Research is needed to tap solar, wind and tidal energy, which have become cheaper with the advent of new technology.Despite all these available options, there does not seem to be an overall direction and policy to cover all the areas in a nuanced and timely manner under a national umbrella. The government-industry council announced by the prime minister might shake up the ossified bureaucracy and provide just the impetus required for fresh thinking on how to resolve these problems in the shortest possible way if industry lends its expertise and takes the initiative. Without this, let alone development, even the existing economy cannot survive. – Dailytimes