Energy security in Pakistan

Dr. M. Asif

Pakistan has been in the throes of a severe energy crisis for a decade now. The problem is not just about electricity outages, as is often portrayed by policymakers, but it is actually far more complex and costly as the country experiences an acute level of energy insecurity.

Energy security is the main foundational block of the national and international energy frameworks across the world. From the geostrategic perspective, energy security is also deemed critical for national and international sovereignties.

Historically, the importance of energy security was realised for the first time during the First World War in terms of access to advanced energy resources. Pursuit for energy resources led to several battles both during the First World War and World War-II. Energy embargoes were also used to cripple the opponents as early as 1940s. Not only that, robust utilisation of advanced energy resources played a decisive role in the outcome of the battles. The leveraging role of oil in the Second World War, for example, has been appreciated not only by countries on both sides that fought it but also by independent analysts. Germany suffered heavily from the shortage of oil in the later years of the war and Adolf Hitler had to admit: “To fight, we must have oil for our machine”. Highlighting the decisive factors in the outcome of the war, Winston Churchill stated: ‘Above all, petrol governed every movement’. The Soviet leader, Joseph Stalin, expressed the importance of oil as: “The war was decided by engines and octane”. One of the most interesting comments was made during a post-war interrogation by Prof Wakimura of Tokyo Imperial University as: “God was on the side of the nation that had the oil.”

In recent decades, the concept of energy security has significantly evolved and has become broader and more meaningful. The traditional idea of energy security has been refined that the needed energy resources should not exist outside the geographic boarders; in other words a country should not be relying on energy imports. On top of this, the modern philosophy of energy security demands the energy supply to have three key dimensions; adequacy, consistency and affordability.

Firstly, a society should have sufficient amount of energy to meet all its requirements; secondly, the energy supply should be reliable and disruption free; thirdly, the supplied energy should be economically affordable. Through this approach energy security also advocates for sustainable development and human security in a society.

Energy security with these three tentacles is at the heart of modern energy policies across the world. In fact, the energy policies of advanced countries have three essential pillars: ensuring energy security, promoting energy conservation and enhancing the share of environmentally-friendly renewable energy.

Pakistan’s energy security situation on any of the above scales is far from being satisfactory. To begin with, there is huge dependence upon imports especially in terms of oil and gas. With nearly 90% of the countries in the world in need of importing fossil fuels to meet their requirements, in times of peace it is generally an acceptable condition as long as appropriate levels of strategic petroleum reserves (SPR) are maintained.

Nevertheless, Pakistan should have vigorously exploited its indigenous oil, gas and coal reserves to curtail dependence on imports. Furthermore, over the last three decades attention has not been paid to boost the water storage capacity by building reservoirs to support the energy and agriculture needs.

The state of affairs with the three modern dimensions of energy security is truly unenviable. Looking at the two interlinked aspects of energy security, adequacy and reliability, it is obvious that while over a third of the population lacks access to grid, the connected ones have been facing ferocious power cuts thanks to the huge gap between demand and supply. Considering the key role of energy in socio-economic development, the situation is nothing less than a nightmare. Coming to the third aspect of energy security, affordability, the picture is not very bright either. Energy prices, be it for utilities tariff or transportation fuel, take a hefty toll on the monthly income of middle class families. While affordability of energy is an issue for most of the societies in the world, including the advanced countries, the situation in Pakistan is quite acute. For example, fuel poverty — that deals with the thermal comfort inside buildings — can be affecting more than 10% of the population in several European countries. The same yardstick would reveal that well over 95% of Pakistanis live in fuel-poverty.

It is time that Pakistan realised the importance of energy security and developed its energy policy framework and implementation road map around it. Capitalisation of indigenous resources, both conventional and unconventional, and energy conservation and management would have to be at its heart. Solutions to problems must be holistic rather than unwarranted and makeshift. For example, setting up new power plants will not help much if they cannot deliver electricity at a price affordable by the common people. Lessons need to be learnt from the reckless episodes of the 1990s independent power producers (IPP) and the recent rental power plant (RPP) sagas. Energy should be seen not in isolation but in conjunction with economic, environmental and social development. A close partnership with Foreign Office taking care of regional and larger international geo-political landscapes is always helpful. Technological self-reliance and human resource development should also be an integral part of Pakistan’s energy security doctrine.

Published in The Express Tribune, October 13th, 2017.

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