By Humair Ishtiaq
The national energy crisis getting worse by the day is causing serious heartburn at the domestic level and adding to the financial woes of industrial and trading classes. The worse part is that people across the board are beginning to lose hope on that count.
The highest offices in the land have been handing out assurances on a routine basis for the past ten years or so and there have been a lot of talk about diversifying the country’s energy mix and reducing our dependence on fossil fuels but with little change in the ground reality.
The frustration is mounting and is not without a reason. According to Economic Survey of Pakistan, energy shortages caused a loss of more than two per cent of the GDP to the national economy during the last fiscal year. The supply of petroleum products to the energy sector increased by a couple of million tons during this period, which, said the Survey, was “mainly because of a lack of adequate power supply” that forced the industry to use “more generators because of the prolonged loadshedding.”
With the industrial sector finding its hand forced, it passes on the additional cost to the various tiers of the trading community. The ultimate victim, of course, is the consumer who has no way of passing the buck onwards.
“The loadshedding takes its toll on home appliances – from ceiling fans to television sets to refrigerators and everything else – and when you go to the market to have them replaced, the cost factor makes life unbearable,” said a middle class housewife in a bitter tone.
Taking the route backwards, retailers blame wholesalers, the wholesalers point towards manufacturers, who, in turn, recount their own tales of misery that focuses on the rising cost of doing business owing to the energy crisis.
“The simple fact of the matter is that everyone is a victim,” said one industrialist, adding that the lone exception seems to be the “people whose job it is to set things right”.
An Islamabad-based energy sector consultant who is an active proponent of alternative energy cited a couple of examples of how the world at large is trying to be inventive and innovative in dealing with a crisis which is truly a global concern. In the French city of Toulouse, for instance, pedestrians earlier this year used specially-designed pavements to generate electricity in a two-week energy-saving trial. The group of paving slabs installed in the city centre generated 30 watts of electricity, which was enough to power overhead street lights.
“For the time being, it was just an experiment, but it is a sign of times where even the advanced nations are anticipating tougher times ahead and trying to come up with various means to pre-empt a crisis as worse as ours,” said the consultant.
The paving slabs contained micro-sensors that captured the energy created by people walking on them, and stored it in a battery. This enabled the city to collect electricity during the day for use at night when there were fewer people on the streets.
The other example he cited was from the United States where a health club chain is using dynamos on fitness bicycles to transfer 12 volts of electricity produced by the cyclists’ pedalling to a generator which creates alternating current of 110 volts. From there, the current helps power the gym building.
It takes 20 people to create about three kilowatts in a one-hour session. In other words, with four sessions a day, the gym creates 300 kilowatts a month, which is the same as the power needed to light a typical home for six months. Over a year, it can power the equivalent of 72 homes for one month. A small fitness facility can even be able to run its lights entirely on human power.
The system was invented in early 2007 in Connecticut. It was first made commercially available two years later in California and now is available not just in Washington and New York, but also across the border in Canada. And all of the clients are not fitness clubs; there are also schools, universities and even a homeless shelter, narrated the consultant, adding that according to the company literature, inquiries have also come in from four prisons.
“It is naturally not practical to see any of it happening in Pakistan any time in the foreseeable future, but we can at least take inspiration from them and try to focus on what we can – and shall – do in terms of windmills, solar panels and other such variants that may help us move away from fossil fuels,” the consultant added.
The government may or may not take inspiration from such examples, but, ironically, they only add to the depressing mood that one finds among industrialists, traders and the masses alike. Officially, 74 per cent of Pakistan’s population is connected to the national power grid and most of them envy those who are not on the grid for they are not hurt by loadshedding and its consequences. The situation is that bad.