Pakistan’s capacity to produce electricity compared to other states of it’s size (geography) and population puts it in the lower 20 percentile among the comity of nations.
Combining the three major energy sectors, Hydroelectric, Thermal and Nuclear, Pakistan has an installed capacity of 19.5 GW of electric power.
Turkey is a country similar in size to Pakistan, while Brazil has a similar population scale. Turkey has an installed capacity of over 40 GW, while Brazil produces about 95GW of electricity.
Brazil is a much larger country, with vast water resources; but Turkey is very similar to Pakistan in a number of respects, yet it manages to produce over twice the amount of electricity. Given that Turkey has about one-third the population of Pakistan, this statistics shows that its citizens enjoy 6 times more power than those in Pakistan.
Also noteworthy is that India, Pakistan’s arch rival and not the most well managed democracy in the world, has an installed capacity of 150 GW and has managed to significantly decrease power outage in the last 20 years. However, nothing has changed in Pakistan, if not for the worse.
This appalling state of power generation in Pakistan has been widely reviewed and commented upon by its local media. Last Friday, the Nation, an English language newspaper in Pakistan, reviewed the state of affairs and said that the load shedding (intentional power outage) in Pakistan is not only hampering the industry, but also causing unemployment on a grand scale. A report in the News, says that the major city of Karachi suffers from between 3-8 hours of load shedding throughout the Sunday and other Holidays. This is Karachi; the most developed city in Pakistan, with its own, separate electricity board.
The condition is incomparably worse in rural areas, especially the previously militant controlled North West Frontier provinces. These areas have virtually no power, and one hour of electricity a day is considered miraculous.
Thermal power generation produces about 65% of Pakistan’s electric power, while the Hydroelectric and Nuclear sectors account for 33% and 2% respectively. Thermal power is generated using oil, natural gas and coal. Oil, which accounts for 43.5% of total energy generated, has to be imported (almost two-thirds of it), while natural gas (39%) and coal (5%) is indigenous. There are vast reserves of natural gas in Pakistan, with 611 billion cu m in Baluchistan alone. Moreover, the government has noted that using crude oil for thermal power generation is not only expensive, but also pollutes the atmosphere; yet a major switch to natural gas power production has not been attempted yet.
Hydroelectricity is generated from the major dams, the Tarbela, Mangela, and the Warsakh dams. The Tarbela is the largest rock and earth dam in the world, and generates 2.1 million kW of electricity. The vast Indus basin has a potential to generate 25 GW of power, despite seasonal wanes, but most of that potential has not been built upon yet.
Pakistan has two nuclear power reactors, one each in Karachi and Chasma, which together produce 425 MW of power, which is about 2% of the country’s total. More nuclear reactors for power generation are under approval stages.
There is the need for a three pronged development goal for the future. In the first stages, a quick, stopgap measure of changing from crude oil based thermal power generation to natural gas needs to be undertaken. This measure will not require expensive creation of new power plants or natural gas extraction facilities. Existing thermal power plants could be switched to natural gas fuel, and natural gas production itself could be increased at existing facilities. In the second stage, the vast hydroelectric potential of the Indus river basin should be harnessed to full capacity, producing the 25 GW it is capable of. In the third stage, major cities and industrial hubs should be switched to nuclear power, given that nuclear power, while expensive, is the most dependable source of power.
Both the US and China have been long involved in Pakistan; but while China has historically been more involved in a constructive, peaceful capacity, the US has largely used Pakistan as a base for fighting land wars in Asia. If the US wants to invest more in the economic development of Pakistan, a few areas need its urgent attention.
The US has a very developed capacity in the natural gas industry. Given the progressive economic development of Pakistan, the US will find a major investment in Pakistan’s natural gas sector vastly profitable.
Also, as the Special Representative Richard Holbrooke, recently noted, the expulsion of militants from the country has given the US “breathing room” to focus on other aspects of development.
A major energy assessment has been done by the USAID, the US government’s international aid department, in this regard.
Another major area where Pakistan needs US help is to fight the seasonal fluctuations of the hydroelectric sector. The sector has an annual capacity of 25 GW, as discussed; however, the problem is that this capacity is mostly expended during a few months of the season, and throughout the rest of the year, the river basins remain dry. This problem can be solved in two ways, one, by building more dams to harness the water throughout the year, and two, to create energy storage capacity to generate energy during the monsoon months and use it during the winter.
Finally, there is the question of nuclear power. This is a thorny issue, and the US has not been forthcoming in developing even civilian nuclear power in Pakistan. However, with a stabilizing political situation in Pakistan, the US should rethink its nuclear strategy and help develop reactors for the major industrial hubs, as China has already begun to do.