By AMJAD AGHA
The country is facing a huge electric power crisis today. This crisis appears insurmountable in the near or even long-term future, unless proper understanding and correct implementation is undertaken on priority basis. At present total power production capacity in the country is about 19,500 MW, out of which Hydel Power is only 6,500 MW, balance of 13,000 MW is thermal either using Natural Gas or Furnace Oil. Small capacity of 450 MW is Nuclear and only 150 MW is through coal.
Although gas is to be provided for 5800 MW to various thermal plants, but in actual fact much less gas is being made available, the deficiency is being filled through furnace oil. It can be inferred that in the recent past, only furnace oil was used as fuel for about 9000 MW generation.
It is very important to understand the consequence of the prevailing situation. Current price of furnace oil is about Rs 49,000 per ton, which amount upto Rs 49/- per kg. On an average one kg of furnace oil produces 3.8 kWh of electricity. Thus, the cost of furnace oil for generating one unit of electricity is about Rs 13. On top of this the fixed cost of a thermal plant works out to be about Rs 3 per unit. Therefore, one unit (kWh) of the electricity produced by all thermal plants using furnace oil is Rs 16 per unit. According to WAPDA/IPP agreement, the private power producers will charge WAPDA the actual fuel cost for which they have a direct contract with PSO. As we all know that WAPDA tariff charged from the consumers is about Rs 5 per unit (kWh).
The production cost of furnace oil electricity is Rs 16 per unit, add to it the transmission, distribution cost (including loses), “the total cost of such electricity works out to approximately Rs 22 per kWh. The difference between WAPDA tariff and the furnace oil electricity is Rs17 per kWh.” It is estimated that the country consumes at least 25 billion units of electricity produced annually through furnace oil, which amounts to the total deficit of Rs 425 Billion. If WAPDA has to balance its books it would require a subsidy of Rs 425 Billion. This deficit is somewhat reduced due to cheap power produced through hydel energy and natural gas, but the deficit cannot change substantially, unless bulk of electricity is produced through hydel energy. Obviously, a deficit of Rs 300-350 Billion cannot be sustained, the government does not have resources to pay such a huge subsidy, it is also not feasible to increase the power tariff very much. Therefore the power crisis is far greater than what is being perceived. In the absence of extremely heavy subsidy, WAPDA is delaying payments to IPPs and also to the oil companies. The result is that IPPs are now producing much less electricity than their capacity.
To any planner, it should be obvious that the country cannot afford electricity produced through oil. Indigenous fuels like coal, gas, atomic will have to be developed and developed quickly. The final solution however lies in depending on the hydroelectric renewable energy, but unfortunately the narrow minded bickering on construction of dams has persuaded the planners to find an easy solution, which we cannot afford any more. Since the shortage or high price of electricity has severe detrimental effect on all sectors of economy, the situation calls for concerted short-term, medium-term and long-term actions to overcome the problem of energy shortage.
Way Forward: In the short-term, the shortages have to be somehow met. The foremost immediate action which can give some relief is the conservation of energy. The government has already announced certain measures like shutting down power on billboards, hoardings and neon signs. Recently in Lahore supersize televisions have been installed on important traffic points. In order to keep the temperature down air conditioners are installed behind these sets. In spite of government directions, the energy saving measures are not being implemented. Shops use excessive lights, which can be conveniently reduced. A suggestion that cities be divided in zones, and the market on these zones be closed on different days, can also save peak time energy usage. In order to implement conservation measures, the nazims, naib nazims should visit the areas and try to convince and negotiate with the people, shopkeepers etc requesting them to cooperate in the overall interests.
At present the IPPs, and WAPDA owned thermal plants are averaging about 50 percent plant factor, which means that they are not being used to their potential level, 70 to 80 percent plant factor is quite feasible; this would require better maintenance of such plants. A higher plant factor on these power stations can provide 20 to 30 percent more energy, which will circumvent the present shortages to a certain extent. Improving the plant factor of the existing plants is far more economical then setting up new plants, although new plants will still be needed. One of the reasons for low plant factor is that the funds are not made available for the purchase of oil, solution for this factor will help in short term increase in energy production. The government has announced that immediately 1200 MW of additional plants will be set-up. If these plants will operate on furnace oil, the deficit will further increase. At present the country has about 28 Trillion cft of recoverable gas available, the yearly consumption is about 1.2 Trillion cft, which means that even if gas consumption is increased, the existing recoverable gas will be sufficient for the next 15 years. Therefore the additional thermal generation should be based on gas, but in order to make additional gas available, the gas pressure and its transmission system will have to be enhanced. The money saved by using gas instead of furnace oil, should be invested in developing new gas fields which have already been discovered.
Mid and Long Term: The oil prices are not going to come down drastically, therefore all efforts are needed to stay away from oil. For thermal plants only Coal and Natural Gas should be used. Vast deposits of coal exist at Thar, but it is inconceivable why the mining of this coal has not yet started. There are a number of new gas fields discovered; but their development has been put on the back burner, again for some unknown reasons. The gas purchase agreement with Iran be finalised immediately, even without India. A large power station using this gas can be installed at Gwadar, 500 KV transmission lines can bring the power to load centres. In addition agreement with Kazakistan be persued diligently for the import of gas.
Currently the country loses 29 billion units of electricity annually due to heavy losses in the system. All efforts must be genuinely applied to reduce the losses. If losses are reduced by even 5 percent, the saving will be over 7 Billion rupees.
For hydroelectric projects, the large ones can only be built on the Indus River, where not only hydroelectricity can be produced, but highly needed water storage can also be a by-product. Some legitimate objections on the environment and social impacts of large dams are there, but solutions for such objections can be satisfactorily found. The will of the government leaders is needed, with the present coalition partnership in the centre, matters can be resolved. Experts from various provinces can get together and put forward a solution for mitigating the objections. It was due to the clear vision of the leadership that the Tarbela Dam was constructed, without which where would we have been today. Similar visionary approach is needed and needed now.
There are a number of other attractive runs of the river hydel projects which are being offered to the Private Sector. None of these projects have yet started, because the tariff is still not finalised. With the huge losses being accumulated in thermal plants, again it is strange that the hydel projects in the private sector are not being encouraged. Under the present circumstances, a rational and market oriented policy has to be adopted, hopefully the present government will immediately look into this.
It is good to know that the work on Neelum Jhelum Hydro Project (900MW) has started by WAPDA.
The current power crisis is grossly due to very high oil prices, and the country has to prepare itself at least for the next several years to somehow cope with it, since no immediate cheaper alternate solutions are available. It has been a big set back that new Hydel Projects have not been undertaken, neither the indigenous coal mining has started, investments in the existing as well as new gas field have been lacking. The policy orientation needs a drastic modification and indigenous resource like hydel energy production as well as development of coal mining and new gas fields should be the top priority.
Source: The Nation, 10/6/2008