By Muhammad Luqman
Pakistan needs to fully exploit indigenous renewable energy resources including hydel and solar modes of power to improve energy security and overcome the crippling power crisis in the country, a recently released report by the International Renewable Energy Agency said.
According to the study prepared in collaboration with Government of Pakistan, the fast-rising share of imported fossil fuels in power generation risks undermining the long-term energy security of the country.
The research also highlighted the need for Islamabad to shift focus in renewable energy away from hydro-power, and towards the tremendous potential for growth in solar, wind and biomass solutions for power generation.
According to IREA, half of the rural population in the country still does not have access to electricity, and imports of fossil fuels are rising as domestic production of oil and gas slows down.
As the country reels from the impact of prospective financial sanctions over a perceived lack of action against militants, a rapidly increasing population, coupled with inadequate investments in power sector infrastructure, will likely impact the social and economic development of the country negatively, the report noted.
The study also provided a comprehensive overview of the energy sector in Pakistan and outlined several recommendations to streamline power management reform, improve regulatory frameworks, and push for more informed policymaking.
Pakistan currently relies on natural gas, oil, hydro-power, coal and nuclear energy for the bulk of its energy needs, according to the inter-governmental organisation based in Abu Dhabi.
Natural gas supplies 43 per cent of the total primary energy supplies in Pakistan, oil accounts for a 36 per cent share in national power generation, hydro-power contributes 11 per cent, coal 7 per cent and nuclear power some 2 per cent of our total energy needs.
The report underlined that natural gas has played a key role in power generation inside Pakistan for decades, but as reserves of the natural resource rapidly dwindle, the country has witnessed no marked increase in production and supply of natural gas over the last ten years. A lull in domestic production has been identified as the main reason behind this.
The study further stated that although the balance of recoverable reserves of natural gas fell from 31 trillion to 23.64 trillion standard cubic feet between 2009 and 2014, the share of natural gas in the energy mix is expected to increase moving forward. This is primarily because Pakistan has signed a deal to import Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) from Qatar for the next fifteen years which will increase the supply of natural gas into the energy sector and weaken overall energy security.
Pakistan has also consistently increased its reliance on oil imports for the energy sector since 2006 as domestic production failed to meet demand, and nearly one-third of the hydro-carbon resource is now imported from abroad.
The authors of the research stated that the import of oil has proved to be a huge budgetary burden on the Pakistani economy over the years despite a reduction in global oil prices, and also exposed a critical national sector to the volatility of prices on the international market. Figures quoted in the report show that oil constituted 28.27 per cent of total energy supplies in Pakistan in 2006, 32.04 per cent in 2011, 34.42 per cent in 2015, and almost 36 per cent in 2016. This represents an increase in oil consumption by 4.5 per cent per year.
Compared to this, renewable energy resources contribute less than 12 per cent to the total primary energy supply, according to IREA. Hydro-power constitutes almost all of this, and if it is removed from the equation, the combined share of renewable energy for power generation is only 0.3 per cent.
IREA has revealed that more than half of all rural households in Pakistan still lack access to electricity, and are forced to use biomass for energy requirements. A significant portion of the population in Pakistan still lives in rural areas, and the lack of a more diverse array of energy options for rural communities is hampering the fight against poverty and indoor pollution, according to the report.
In terms of overall energy consumption during the last year, the industrial sector accounted for 36 per cent of the power use, followed by the transport sector, which consumed 32 per cent, domestic users took up 24 per cent, and agricultural use constituted 2 per cent of the overall supply.
IREA has highlighted that during the last ten years, the rising industrial, commercial and domestic demand for electricity has not been met with adequate capacity additions.
From 2006-2016, the electrification rate in Pakistan increased from 54 per cent to 73 per cent, and created a gap in demand and supply which has ballooned into an energy crisis. According to a non-profit group, the electricity shortfall in the country was 55 megawatt in 2006 and topped at 6,758 megawatts in 2012.
Interestingly, the country has a larger power generating installed capacity than peak demand, but the energy system in Pakistan is not capable enough to handle it, due largely to deterioration of old power plants and the deficiencies in transmission grids, the researchers say.
Pakistan has tremendous potential in renewable energy resources, evidenced by presence of mountain ranges and glaciers in the northern region which have numerous hydro-power sites, deserts and plains in central areas which have ample sunshine all over the year for solar projects, and coastal areas of Sindh and Balochistan also provide winds of change for harnessing the power of air.
However, despite the fact that hydro-power is the cheapest and most prominent source of energy, the installed capacity of hydro-power energy supplies are lower than true potential. IREA says that the country had a total installed hydropower capacity of 7116 megawatts in 2015, while if all types and scales of water projects are initiated, the total capacity can be enhanced to an astounding 60 gigawatts. The government, in collaboration with private partners, has started projects to harness this potential, and IREA identified several examples of this in the report, including the SK Hydro, Azad Pattan and Chakothi Hattian endeavors.
The southern parts of Pakistan have high solar irradiation values, and the solar sector in Pakistan is “taking off”, according to the inter-governmental organisation, as projects which add almost 400 megawatts of electricity to the national grid have been completed. The sector is also responsible for the provision of thousands of jobs, the report has underlined.
Compensating for the lack of hydro-facilities, wind power is very important for the renewable energy needs in the south of Pakistan, and has an approximate theoretical potential of over 50 gigawatt, the study has noted. The Gharo-Keti Bandar wind corridor is currently responsible for all the installed wind power in the country, although new projects are under construction.
The report has not only identified the challenges for the energy sector in Pakistan, but also outlined several recommendations to tackle them.
IREA has called for a coordinated development and implementation of an energy plan that which integrates the independent power policies, plans and infrastructure of the provincial governments. This could help with cost-benefit analysis and setting priorities. The government has also been urged to encourage private investments in energy generation.
The non-profit group wants the government to set clearly definable goals for the development of renewable energy which puts aside political ambitions. The move could inspire confidence in investors, and translate political will into a language understood by businesses.