It was John Lennon who sang “Imagine there’s no heaven, it’s easy if you try” and “Imagine all the people… living life in peace”. This was the same song that landed a school in Karachi in hot waters so I will not dare repeat the song, No Sir. However, my wishful thinking is sort of similar in the sense that it is almost as elusive, however, it is not so iconoclastic in nature as to offend the sentiment of the most important people of all; our religious clerics.
Here’s how my wishful thinking goes: “Imagine there is no politics in our energy sector, it’s easy if you try. Imagine all the decisions… are made with logical & sustainable thinking.” Not quite as catchy, you might say and probably a bit too wishful. However, bear with me and hear me out. I know we’ve heard about the charter of democracy & the charter of economy but never have we heard about the “Charter of Energy”. Why isn’t this article about any of those sectors? Well, the short answer is, I am not studying democracy or economy.
Let’s move to the long answer now. Why am I writing about the energy sector? And why do I think it is important? Energy is the backbone of any sector. Energy drives prosperity. Energy use per capita has also been linked to economic prosperity and to quality of life. And our politics is very strongly linked to our energy sector as well. In fact, the PMLN Government’s whole election campaign in 2013 primarily concerned itself with the eradication of loadshedding in Pakistan which was super rampant in the country back then.
From the ridiculous claim of a man destined on bending the laws of nature (the water operated car) to former PM Imran Khan’s discovery of gas reserves near Karachi to current PM Shahbaz Sharif’s “orders” of bringing 10,000 MW in the national grid by June 2023, we’ve been fooled again and again by our politicians (and the water car prodigy).
But it’s not just about making promises. It’s about making decisions and the reasons behind us making those decisions. The repercussions of those decisions. Starting with IMF pressured unbundling of WAPDA, Pakistan has made a series of bad decisions. Decisions that one after the other have led us down a path of massive circular debt.
When I was a kid, we used to hear Pakistan has enough gas supply to last 100 years. Those claims went down south when Musharraf let almost everyone who had some money set up a CNG filling station and he also sent piped gas pipelines to areas that made no sense. That lead to severe depletion of Gas in our country; this issue was only addressed by the PMLN government that built an LNG terminal & secured long term G2G contracts with Qatar for procurement of LNG. Even last year when gas prices were at their highest of up to $60 per MMBTU, Pakistan was procuring cargoes from Qatar at $15 to $16 (more or less).
This has what has kept Pakistan from the default and a permanent energy crisis in the past year or two because had we not had this cheap gas, we would have faced very dark times. And what did we do to the masterminds of the LNG Terminal (& Qatar LNG deals)? We sent them to jails and unleashed NAB on them. PTI government then went on a rampage. Jailing anyone who they could get their hands on and then they went on to get another LNG terminal set up.
For the past two decades, Pakistan has neglected to address the critical issue of transmission and distribution network and losses, as well as the rampant electricity theft that plagues the country. While efforts were made to ramp up the installed energy capacity, the lack of attention to these underlying problems has resulted in ballooning circular debt. Despite increasing the generation capacity, the exorbitant fuel rates and inefficiencies in transmission and distribution have undermined the potential benefits and perpetuated the vicious cycle of debt.
In a rather ambitious declaration, Prime Minister Shahbaz Sharif proclaimed that Pakistan would install 10,000 MW of solar energy by June 2023. However, this proposal seems highly unrealistic given that Pakistan’s peak energy demand hovers around 37,000 MW. Such an ambitious target would require solar energy to account for more than a quarter of the total energy production—an enormous feat.
Additionally, solar energy exhibits daily variations in peak production, necessitating substantial investments in short-term energy storage systems. Moreover, the development of low voltage transmission systems for efficient storage and dispatch of energy would be indispensable. The entire proposition appears to be more politically motivated optics than a well-thought-out and practical solution to Pakistan’s energy challenges.
To bring about meaningful change in Pakistan’s energy sector, it is imperative to depoliticize the decision-making process and implement measures that have proven successful worldwide. Practices such as daylight saving and setting specific operating hours for markets are widely adopted internationally and should be considered for implementation in Pakistan. These measures can contribute to better energy management and conservation, leading to improved efficiency in energy usage.
Furthermore, the government should explore the possibility of privatizing certain transmission and distribution (T&D) companies. Privatisation can introduce market competition and incentivise private companies to invest in and enhance the infrastructure for their profitability. By transferring the responsibility of T&D to private entities, there is potential for increased efficiency, improved service quality, and reduced losses.
However, it is crucial to ensure that the privatization process is transparent, and proper regulatory frameworks are in place to safeguard consumer interests. Additionally, appropriate oversight mechanisms must be established to prevent monopolistic practices and ensure fair competition among private entities. In simpler terms it would mean that the political parties should stop jailing each other for the commendable work they do for the energy sector. This discourages investment and initiatives needed for the progression of our country.
Depoliticising the energy sector, implementing internationally proven practices, and strategically considering privatisation can pave the way for a more efficient, sustainable, and economically viable energy landscape in Pakistan. It requires a collaborative effort from the government, regulatory bodies, and private stakeholders to drive this much-needed transformation.
Imagine all the people, living life in peace…
So if I may ask.
Would you recommend; Investing in solar energy for my home for next many years ?