Pakistan searches for solution to power shortages

(dpa) - Pakistan's electricity production was nearly 3,000 megawatts short of demand in March. The country made up the difference by turning off lights, and everything else, for several hours a day.

Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gillani after being sworn in March 25 put the "energy crisis" up with terrorism as a top issue to address during his first 100 days in office.

But things will get worse before they get better, Gillani warned, with power outages increasing through June when air conditioners are turned on to beat the heat.

Pakistan is experiencing these shortages despite its miserly electricity use with per-capita consumption of 546 kilowatt hours per year, a fifth of the global average of 2,586 kilowatt hours, according to statistics from the seven-nation South Asia Association for Regional Cooperation.

The problem stems from the fact that Pakistan has failed to build new power plants to keep up with the demand for electricity.

As a result, the poor who are connected to the grid are going without during the nearly four hours of outages that are occurring per day this month. In wealthier neighbourhoods, however, the streets come alive with the sounds of generators.

The power outages have increased generator sales - and their price tags - but have also cooled sales of fans, air conditioners and other appliances with consumers asking why have such devices without the electricity to run them.

A graver concern for the economy is the outages' effects on the industrial sector, which is Pakistan's biggest consumer of electricity, and factories having to shut down during the outages. Police have also reported increased crime during the blackouts in bigger cities.

The blackouts have shed light on many problems, but just as many solutions are on offer.

Of Pakistan's 19,500 megawatts of production capacity, a little more than 60 per cent is from imported oil and domestic natural gas power plants. Hydropower generated from the country's two major dams accounts for about 30 per cent, and its one nuclear power plant produces less than 5 per cent.

Coal plant production is even less, but that could change if Pakistan exploits what has been estimated as the world's third-largest known coal reserves in the south-eastern part of the country.

"The answer lies in using local coal," Tahir Basharat Cheema with DG Energy Management said in a recent televised debate about the energy crisis.

Cheema suggested the government's Water and Power Development Authority develop coal generation, adding Pakistan cannot "solely depend on the private sector, [which] wants everything developed" for them.

More nuclear plants and dams are other options often put forward while others tout solar and wind power.

Ejaz Ahmad, deputy director of the Pakistani branch of the World Wide Fund For Nature, or WWF, said a big part of the answer is blowing in the wind. "It is practical for cost reasons as well as environmental," he told Deutsche Presse-Agentur dpa.

With power needed immediately, wind farms look good because they are relatively fast to install whereas dams and nuclear power plants take five to six years to complete and thermal power plants a couple of years at least, he said.

The WWF erected three 500-watt windmills in a rural area of the south-western province of Sindh. Each windmill cost about 1,000 dollars, including installation, and provides electricity to homes that never had it before.

"It's a small project to show wind works," Amad said.

Real small - the country would need at least 6 million more of those windmills to meet the electricity shortfalls it is experiencing in early April.

The windmills are in the region of Pakistan's coal reserves, which Amad warned would be a political as well as environmental disaster if they are mined.

"The winds blow to India, so the pollution would blow into India, and that would cause political problems," he said. Harvest that wind instead, he suggested.

Professor Irfan Younas with the Institute of Information Technology in Rawalpindi agreed wind should play a big part of solving Pakistan's energy shortages, adding that comprehensive wind maps have already been researched in the country.

"Karachi's energy problem could be answered with wind energy," he said of Pakistan's biggest city of about 15 million people on the southern coast, where there are consistent breezes all year.

Cost-effectiveness attracted Younas to both wind and solar energy, he said, but added that in the long-term, Pakistan should also build more nuclear plants and dams.

"There is money to be made, no doubt about it," he said. "We need people to come and invest in independent power producers here."

"We are at the point that people really need to act," he said.

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