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Hydropower: way out of energy crisis


By Arshad H Abbasi

The single renewable energy resource that Pakistan possesses in abundance is hydropower, the most environmental friendly, cheapest source of energy. It has a potential of more than 41,722MW. Despite this, Pakistan now is faced with a most serious energy shortfall. The acute shortage of electricity has resulted in loadshedding during the current summer season, costing the economy millions of rupees. The installed power generation capacity at the end of 2005 was19,560MW, of which 65 per cent was thermal, 33 per cent was hydroelectric and 2.4 per cent was nuclear. The 33 per cent share of hydroelectric power amounts to only 6,595MW. We should not forget the fact that the projected lifetime of the existing natural gas and oil is just over 15 and nine years respectively. Domestic coal reserves may be exploited only at great financial and environmental costs. Seventy per cent of Pakistan's oil needs are met through imports. The average cost of hydel energy generation in Pakistan was Rs0.50 per kilowatt hour in 2000-01. The annual per capita electricity consumption in Pakistan is around 320kwh, and this only caters for 60 per cent of the population. Forty per cent of Pakistanis still have no access to electricity. In view of these facts, the best solution to Pakistan's energy/electricity crisis is hydropower. An abundant, cheap, environmental friendly and renewable source of energy has remained untapped.

To meet Pakistan's power requirement, WAPDA and the Ministry of Water and Power developed a strategy called the Hydropower Development Vision-2025 in the year 2001. The strategy was based on an average annual demand increase of 3.7 per cent. Recently though the demand for electricity rose sharply, in excess of eight per cent per annum during the last two years. In Vision-2025 a short-term plan was developed and the commissioning date of eight hydel projects with a total generation capacity of 716MW was fixed on June 2006. These projects were proposed and designed as 'run-of-river' plants, meaning one with little or no storage capacity, such as Ghazi Barotha hydropower project, in which no big reservoir is to be constructed. But unfortunately none of these projects could be completed. The root-cause of the failure to provide the needed energy is lack of strategy for implementation. The strategy prepared by the ministry fails to take into account the ground realties and the project management capabilities of executing agencies.

The World Bank rightly proposed institutional reform in WAPDA for decentralisation in order to increase efficiency in management. While preparing the future strategy the Ministry of Water and Power should keep in view the completed hydropower projects, such as Ghazi Barotha, and the lessons learnt from them. The Ghazi Barotha project's feasibility survey was carried out in 1987 and the project finally commissioned on 19 August 2003. This means that 16 years are required for WAPDA to complete a run-of-the-river project.

Another cause of the present energy crisis is that the federal government has not taken small hydropower projects (SHPs) in its own hands. Such projects are very viable as they do not require building of large dams and do not pose problems of deforestation, submergence or rehabilitation. Comparatively small capital investment and short gestation periods are required to complete these projects and they cause minimal transmission losses occur compared to WAPDA's current line losses, which are more the 25 per cent.

In Pakistan all small hydropower projects up to 50MW are the responsibility of the provincial governments which cannot construct small hydropower projects due to financial constrains, among other reasons. In India, developing small hydro projects at a fast pace is one of the components of their energy policy. The central government there has completed 90 small hydro projects with 270MW capacity in the past five years.

The state of affairs in Pakistan should change. Punjab has enough financial resources but it has made no real progress on small hydropower plants even though WAPDA has not only identified various locations having a potential of 350MW but also completed the necessary design works. In Azad Jammu and Kashmir, which is endowed with abundant hydel potential, the AJK Hydroelectric Board has only completed hydro projects having a capacity of 36MW against an identified potential of 5,329MW. This hydrogenation cannot even meet the electric demand of AJK itself, which is 250MW; while the anticipated power demand by 2007 will be 350MW. The AJK Hydroelectric Board is facing serious financial problem in starting the projects as funding is not available. International donor agencies are reluctant. In the Indian-held Kashmir, recently twenty small hydro projects were commissioned at various selected sites by the UNDP. Baglihar and Kishan Ganga hydropower projects are in the stage of completion.

The biggest problem is faced by our Northern Areas where the electricity demand is more then 100MW but total power generation from hydel power stations is a mere 46MW. To bridge the gap between demand and supply a diesel power plant with a total generation of 5MW has been commissioned by the government. Instead of tapping ingenious hydropower potential, the Ministry of Water and Power has decided to construct a 765-kv transmission line that is 794-km-long, to import 1000MW from Tajikistan via Afghanistan at a much higher rate.

For self-reliance in energy and for eradicating poverty, hydropower is recognised as a renewable source which is economical, non-polluting and environmentally benign. In order to maintain a balance between hydropower and thermal power, the ministry should announce a policy to accelerate hydropower generation in the country. Development of small hydro projects at an accelerated pace should be one of the tasks set by the policy to meet the present power crisis. This is the only cost-effective solution to meet the increasing electricity demand.

Success here is possible only if public-sector funding is made available by the government. The financing of such projects remains a problem for funds from international donors for such projects are difficult to get, considering their commitment to facilitate investments in private thermal-based power plants. Instead of trying to imitate and compete with India in nuclear energy, we should consider the way countries like Laos, Thailand and China have developed small hydropower projects for development and economic prosperity.

The writer is a visiting research fellow at the Sustainable Development Policy Institute in Islamabad. Email: abbasi @sdpi.org