5 steps to solving Pakistan’s energy crisis

Published: March 3, 2012

Are political parties finally taking the energy crisis seriously? If so, I have a few suggestions...

Out of all the problems we face as a country, energy seems to be the one that annoys us the most. It’s not that other issues are not important or are somehow less annoying; it is just that every single person in Pakistan uses energy in one form or another and hence is directly affected by it at a very personal level. So when a few days back I was invited as an expert delegate to the PML-N’s energy conference , I was pleasantly surprised that our political parties are beginning to showing signs of maturity and started talking issues.

The conference itself was an unusually serious affair where actual experts sat through a gruelling six hour discussion session on the draft PML-N energy plan. It was for the first time I saw an actual alternative workable policy being presented and discussed by a political party with stakeholders such as academia, power producers and energy experts. All in all, it was a great platform and serious discussion took place that can potentially lead to a solid energy strategy. I later found out that PTI also held an energy conference of its own and presented their draft plan as well.

Even though I would have personally preferred the perspective economic plans to be put forward first, but a start on an issue like energy strategy seems to be pretty good too. This is a national issue and we need all the alternative policies we can get to finally craft a solid national policy and in that regard, political parties putting forward their workable strategies is something the people have longed for.

And in that spirit, I would like to present a few ideas that can help with our energy crisis. 

1. Replacing thermal power fuel

Pakistan produces about 81 percent of its electricity through oil and gas which costs us about 9.4 billion dollars. To put it in other terms, that is about 53 percent of our total exports and is the biggest cost on our import bill. Now given that our reliance on thermal power is so large, we simply cannot dismantle it and magically move to hydro power, however we can change the fuel used to gain thermal power. Instead of using oil and gas, both of which are getting more expensive and have volatile international prices, we can move to using coal.

But not the Thar coal, I will explain why later, but imported coal. If we were to import clean coal and use that as a fuel instead of oil and gas, it would cost us less as the price of coal is more stable than that of oil and gas in the international market. This can bring some sort of price stability in our electricity prices that keep changing due to changes in international market prices

2. Moving past the myth of Thar coal

Yes, there is coal in Thar, but assuming that it can be used immediately or it will solve all our energy problems is a myth propagated by a few people and political parties for their personal gains. Experts agree that Thar coal is highly unstable – making it difficult to transport it from one location to another – and even its gasification is not risk-free.

On location gasification also requires heavy investment, which has practical difficulties due to the unstable nature of the coal deposits. So instead of wasting time and effort on this, we should focus on importing coal to replace the ever increasing oil and gas bill.

3. Improved energy mix

Energy mix refers to the sources of energy we utilize in Pakistan to fulfil our overall energy needs. I need to give credit to the PML-N on this one as they are the first ones to talk of the holistic energy mix and not just the CNG or the electricity crisis.

The fact is that all our energy is interdependent.I have previously advocated that we need to move off CNG as we simply do not have enough of it to supply to all the commercial, industrial and home users. Its about time that any future energy strategy Pakistan is supposed to have comes with a proper energy mix to solve our issues.

We need more hydel plants and renewable energy projects. In the next five years, the aim should be at getting five percent of our total power supply from renewable sources and to also use the nuclear power we are so proud of, to provide electricity. Right now, we are at about three percent power generation from nuclear sources, which have to go up to at least percent. Hence an overall improved energy mix is what can solve our issues in the long run.

4.  Stand alone power projects

This is a suggestion that I gave at the conference and I am advocating it now again. About 40 percent of Pakistan is off the national grid; that means they effectively get to no electricity.

The way our grid operates, it is already suffering from heavy line losses and other technical issues, which makes it extremely hard and costly to get 40 percent of the  Pakistan on to the national grid. However there are solutions to this.

We can finance independent stand alone power projects that can function in areas where there is no national grid, this way the local communities and businessmen can set up their own energy solutions without taking prior permission from the National Electric Power Regulatory Authority (NEPRA) like they have to now. This will enable them to set up small scale solar panels and plants in their communities and sell electricity locally. Small wind farms can also be used in areas which are close to wind corridors.

The bottom line is, let the people who are living in areas that don’t come under the national grid, do whatever they can to supply themselves with electricity without any government involvement.

5. Dismantle the national grid

The national grid needs to be dismantled and provincialised, because under the 18th amendment, the profits of power generation go to  the province that is producing the power, meaning if electricity is being produced at Tarbela, royalties of that are being paid to KP Government by all other provinces. However, they sell it to the national grid and then the national grid sells it down to the District Electrical Supply Companies who further sell the power to the consumers. This way, if there is a shortfall, national grid chooses the electricity supply patterns and hence decides which areas suffer outages the most.

If we dismantle the national grid and change the electricity supply to an open market, where provincial grids can buy energy directly from the source, it would improve the power supply and be more financially beneficial for the power producing province. This way, the provinces with the most issues with electricity supply can simply outbid the others to get enough for their local demand. This would not be privatization but ‘provincialization’, and will encourage provincial governments to start doing more for their people instead of relying on the federal government.

This can eventually lead to provinces working harder to upgrade their grids and reduce their line losses as their people would know exactly who to blame if the power goes out. I think it is time we started thinking on these lines given that the 18th amendment has already been passed and provincial autonomy is our future.

I hope our political parties come with their own alternative strategies while taking these points in to account too. Energy crises is a national issue and all possible solutions should be explored to solve it.

 Read more by Adnan here.


Adnan Khalid Rasool

Currently the Deputy Executive Director Center for Enterprise, Trade and Development, Adnan is also a political analyst working mainly on electoral politics and political campaign management. He tweets at @adnanrasool

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.

  • bilal

    i will still go with thar as kalabagh will cause problems in lower sindh……………!
    or put wind mills in sindh and balochistan , they have a potential to produce 50,000 mg watts only from wind …!Recommend

  • Tharki

    Sir, Coal cannot be used in thermal power plants. We have Gas Turbines and heavy fuel engines installed and they cannot be converted to coal. Coal is solid fuel while these machines require liquid or gaseous fuel. We will have to scrap the old plants and install New Steam Power Plants with heavy investment. Recommend

  • R.A

    You forgot no.six
    Cut off elctricity to the places of worship
    God will listen to us in dark as much as in light

  • loinden

    Everyone talks of new idea, is desireable, but why not improve the same with addition to some new cost effective changes. As in the story, jackal becomes friend of healthy dear inspite of advice by crow(the oldest friend)that ‘gorey or gaas ki koi dostee nahee’ which leads dear to get caught in farmer net. jackal gave excuse of fasting due to which he’d cut the net nextday. crow saw dear and again gave advise ‘ dam saad ker bethey raho jab tak main na kahoon’. farmer arrive removed the net saying ‘ zinda hota to isay rakhta’. dear ran on advice of crow. Farmer threw axe on dear which hit the jackal hidden ahead in the bush.So one must find way with few alteration of old one.There is always a way where there is will. Using other option from very start might not be viable even these are usefull in future as the country cann’t afford at this moment.Slow and steady in right direction wins the race.Recommend

  • http://twitter.com/#!/Pugnate Noman Ansari

    With Humsafar going off the air, a lot of TV sets will be turned off in the evening. Recommend

  • Bilal Qureshi

    I did my thesis on the subject and one major factor is that energy policy cannot be made in isolation of foreign and security policy as taht plays a huge role in the way that energy policy is developed and the solutions possible. I studied this within an EU perspective but the general rules apply, before any energy policy can be truly successful Pakistan needs to determine if its living in a world shaped by Regions and Empires or Markets.

    Although the point of letting people produce off the grid is essential as it also gives investors security in terms of investing and not having to sell to the national grid. Recommend

  • http://www.struggle.com.pk/ Imran Kamyana

    This article has added many things to my knowledge. I have recently written an article on this artificial energy crisis which is symptoms of a chronic disease (capitalism) and its very possible solutions under a Socialist Planned Economy.

    Please have a look:


  • shaizy

    I need to write another blog to answer all this crap solutions you are saying… It’s good that you are thinking on the issue but the recommended solutions are somewhat faulty except the one of banning the CNG for transportation purpose. IA ll write another blog to answer all this. Until then, live in peace:)Recommend

  • Aryan

    Dear author, here are couple of links to biomass fueled power plants adaptable for a village use. may be something similar will be useful for point#4.


  • Umair Ahmed Baig

    A simple solution would be to get rid of this monopoly,let investors come to pakistan and setup their own grid and then the consumer has the right to choose the company he prefers to….
    now this doesn’t mean that it would solve all our problems and the import bill would be reduced drastically but we need to look at a bigger picture,any company that will come here will come here for profits so we need to encourage them by incentives,tax cuts etc etc so that they invest more in renewable sources of energy,this would result in a better supply of electricity to the public sector which faces majority of the brunt of the energy crisis. Competition always results in better quality for the consumer,a monopoly is going to benefit none…..
    An example can be competition in the Broadband industry that led PTCL to improve their service and the rates plummetedRecommend

  • Parvez

    Surprised that there is no mention of conservation of energy or of wastage or of small dams that could be put up mostly with local funding and resources.
    Most importantly, we are very good at making proposals and working papers, our stumbling block is the implementation process. A good example of failure was the small dams project, extremely doable on paper but implementation, I read somewhere was a disaster.Recommend

  • Syme

    Setting up independent power companies off the national grid is the best idea.Realization of our short comings is another grand idea, of course there ain’t any pride in holding on to Thar coal project, boasting endlessly about the possibilities but having nothing feasible at hand is laughable.
    Setting up nuclear plants is no simple task and may I add a bit, commissioning a plant is relatively easy but decommissioning and handling the nuclear waste is not an area Pakistani scientific elite is well versed.
    Saving energy is not a possibility, our per capital energy expenditure is already too little. We must think about increasing our usage rather than putting off light bulbs and switching to candles more often. That might sound ridiculous and its indeed preposterous as its based on the idea of Supply and demand but still we need to consume sufficient energy. Private companies should be given a chance to setup independent power plants.
    Building more dams and small projects is a long term planning. We require something quick to manage the mess created our last few decades.
    PPP policy of rental power project is totally understandable given the hostile political atmosphere and once the things start working out we must make and execute big plans. Corruption finds its way into everything but folks are you sure there is no corruption in Arms deals? Recommend

  • JSM

    Why not have pithead powerhouses in Thar designed to consume coal available in Thar.Recommend

  • http://www.scribd.com/asifameer Asif

    If we are going to move away from the CnG for transport, then we need to do something about Public transportation. Remove subsidies from Petrol, Diesel and removed price ceilings from public transport fares. Rising public fares will bring in more competition.Recommend

  • zalim singh

    6 step. Buy power from India.Recommend

  • http://jellymansthoughts.blogspot.com Adeel Ansari

    I read about China coming to Pakistan’s aid on the power shortage and it seemed like a step in the right direction (link: http://www.defence.pk/forums/economy-development/74123-electricity-china-comes-pakistan-s-aid-again.html).

    However, with that being said, we should still look into the options of wind and hydro electric production and not to mention the seal on corruption within the energy sector.Recommend

  • The Truth

    @R.A… It is not only the places of worship whose electricity needs to be cut… Why not the WAPDA officials and servants and people involved in government.Recommend

  • Mahmood Hussain

    PML(N) is itself fueled from OIL MAFIA so they are against any Energy policy which could give relieve to nation . No wonder about their negative views about Thar coal project.
    we should support OWS ( occupy wall street) to let down oil price to survive the non oil producing countries.
    OIL MAFIA would never allow to get rid energy crisis here.They are ruling now even over US.Recommend

  • Baba Ji

    You forgot the main thing … the “WILL” to do it !!!Recommend

  • Umair

    @zalim singh:
    No doubts; India can sell electricity. India has successfully dried few Pakistani rivers & strictly following Indus treaty to dry remaining rivers. You guys are really zalim.Recommend

  • antanu

    @zalim singh:
    indianpower shortage is as bad as in pakistan. hardly 18 hrs power is available to 40% of its denizen remaining 60% denizens are getting less than 12 hours supply. if india exports power to pakistan we indians will suffer more.but the problem is that people living in a few selected and devloped states can not understand the the problems faced by majority indians living in backward or less developped states which outnumber the developped states.Recommend

  • furqan

    Developing country has power issues and proper statistical data is required to move forward. Independent and localized power units are expensive to handle and run. The most efficient are hydel power units even though have to pay utilization revenue to respective govts. Environmental sustainability is an important issue for any such big projects. Clean and natural fuels are expensive but in long run helps to develop sustainable communities. Only corruption is removed from the system will help to reduce line losses and improve profits in mega generation units for provinces. Recommend

  • none

    yes cut the electricity off of the only place in Pakistan that actually pays its bills. when you don’t have a decent comment to add, please remain shut.Recommend

  • arrrghh

    What’s new in it? GO and get some enthralling stuff new time..Recommend

  • fazal karim

    Here where I live (england) the householders are encouraged to produce their own solar power through goverment grants with a guaranttee to buy back through national grid whatever is surplus of their needs. Can pakistan adopt this idea? Hope this can solve the problem to a great extent.Recommend

  • arsalan thahim(shikarpur sindh)

    Energy crisis can not make end meets by generating huge energy,they can get through fair and managing system.wapda sector is the cause of worsening the generating station due to scarcity of fuel because of openly bribery and fixed monthly charges from most of the consumers without calculations of billing units and that money which is charged from consumers is embezzled by wapda officials without going through the collecting revenue in National treasure resultantly how fuel may be purchased?but unfortunately it all happens due to bad governance.If government will be worked with keen attention and with honest policy the consumers in a country may not only gets kilo watt hours(units) in cheaper rates but also there honestly paying bills may helpful to boost country’s economy, which will be beneficial for both Nation and its government even the government may earn extra money from its managing system through which it may go steadily by alternatig energy sources by installing wind turbines,Thar coal and projects like dams, that may prosperous to our Nation and may tackle out the country from decades long energy problems. Recommend

  • Moin Siddiqui

    Basically what Pakistan needs is a non-profit making organisation delivering energy and spending money on Critical National Infrastructure. Until existing plants are upgraded and made more efficient the problem will not go away. Instead paying the utility bills, they should pool the money as a social fund and develop solar panels plant as a contigency against power outages. At the moment communities are taking to the streets to complain and as history has shown that this kind of action resolves nothing. Positive action taken away from Goverment run organisations speaks volumes.Recommend

  • Moin Siddiqui

    @arsalan thahim(shikarpur sindh):
    That’s what it’s all about. Communities should take away the power from badly run organisations and run stand-alone systems themselves. If in the UK I can instal solar panels in my back garden, then I am sure rural communities can install a major solar plant that will ensure no reliance on the organisations.Recommend

  • F.J Khan

    what is our future….? Only give me the answer……..
    any one have answer………????Recommend

  • http://solarenergy.pk khalil

    hahahaha the answer is
    pakistani Gov can’t do any thing they have enough resources to produce alternative energy
    they dont want us to live a normal life they want us to live a beggar life in pakistan.
    Apart from that every body knows in this blog that in AUS,CAN,UK,America they have installed much solar panels they live a happy life without breakdown

    Gov is Sleeping guysRecommend

  • riaz

    before embarking upon exporting fine coal and other options, lets examine whether we have have gone through the study of available resources and their optimal usages. in case water, oil, gas, wind energy, coal etc, answer is no.

    one of the suggestion of energy conference is to observe early morning timings. whether our legislatures, ministers and other elites ready to follow. can we adopt the culture of meetings at break fast at 7 to 8. once, this culture prevalent in elite class rest will follow. if morning activities are taking boom the allied activities will also take boom. instead requesting or introducing new rules and policies. the enforcement of previous ones shall be ensured, its implications consequences shall be worked out. we don’t practiced what we say. Recommend

  • Fariha

    i have even put on these thing to save energy for us and get less bills better than the bells we pay to K.E.S.C in thousand rupee.So please people of Pakistan please put on the solar panel at your home these are not that expensive we just need to wash and clean it once a year,.

    I am just a student of beacon house discovery centre smart school of grade seven it is obligation to tell you and it is your choice if you want Pakistan to be a a better country like Canada and Dubai and etc. please people do these thing save our beautiful country.Recommend

  • http://yahoo.com sherawat Meo

    Now a days Pakistan is passing through a serious energy crisis.The following solutions are suggested for improvement in energy supply:Cheap bio gas energy generation be promoted in rural areas and natural gas should not be supplied to rural areas.Zero tillage or minimum tillage be promoted to conserve energy, it may brings lot of saving of diesel.Waste material of crops like sugarcane baggasse,organic matter,cotton waste and rice husk can be used to generate electricity. Our energy base should be broad, meaning thereby to use all types of energy resources and should not depend on thermal energy.Solar energy be popularized in household.New dams be constructed on technical grounds without political considerations.Other sources of energy such wind energy be started in Sindh and Baluchistan.Energy saver must be popularized.Educate the people to save energy.Recommend