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.

Missing out

Dr. M. Asif

PAKISTAN continues to pay a huge price for ignoring energy conservation. The whole energy equation — take the case of electricity that involves generation, transmission and distribution (T&D), and consumption — is full of losses and leaks. Yet improving the productivity and efficiency of the energy equation has never been a priority with policymakers responsible for coming up with national energy frameworks.

This is one of the most important aspects of energy frameworks across the world. The modern understanding is that a unit of energy saved is greater than a unit generated in the context of production, transportation, and T&D losses. International trends towards energy saving can be highlighted from the 20-20-20 directive of the European Union that demands all member states to ensure a 20 per cent reduction in energy consumption by 2020 through improved energy efficiency.

Energy conservation measures can typically be categorised into three types. Firstly, no-cost or housekeeping measures, for example switching off lights and appliances. Such measures can bring about 10-20pc energy saving. Secondly, low-cost measures such as replacing old light bulbs with LEDs. Thirdly, cost-intensive measures including major changes and modifications, such as replacement of single-glazed windows with multi-glazed ones and old technology with modern solutions. Overall, with technically mature and commercially viable solutions, 30-80pc energy saving can be achieved.

Although Pakistan’s energy policies have talked of energy conservation, there has never been a proper road map for implementation. The latest policy development is the National Energy Efficiency and Conservation Act, 2016, that has replaced the Pakistan Energy Efficiency and Conservation Act, 2011. But laws and policies can never deliver unless there is robust implementation.

The conservation law must be enforced.

The focal point of energy conservation activities is the National Energy Efficiency & Conservation Authority (Neeca), formerly the National Energy Conservation Centre (Enercon). Established in the 1980s, the entity has been subject to continuous administrative and inter-ministerial shuffling, indicating a lack of direction. The 2016 act states that the federal government shall establish a body, the Pakistan Energy Efficiency and Conservation Board (PEECB), to oversee affairs. It has been almost a year and half since the law was passed but we are still waiting to hear about its status.

International aid agencies and developmental programmes have launched initiatives over the years to improve energy efficiency. Groups such as the UN Environment Programme, USAID, the Japan International Cooperation Agency, to name a few have led the drive for energy efficiency in Pakistan. Their contribution has been pivotal. Even the inception of Enercon is the result of a USAID project. Unfortunately, efforts by these foreign entities have not been supported by local stakeholders.

It is high time we realised that energy conservation is the cornerstone of energy prosperity. It is the easiest and most cost-effective solution to shortages, and an extremely viable solution in terms of application at both the macro and micro levels, and potential outcomes: the national grid, utilities, industry, and commercial and domestic consumers can all draw multiple benefits. At the national level, it would reduce the need for new generation capacity, ease the T&D network, reduce the energy import bill and curtail the perennial problem of load-shedding across the country.

Policymakers must demonstrate pragmatism. The focus has to be on the implementation of the conservation law, in letter and spirit. Bureaucratic hurdles need to be minimised. What­ever body is in charge, Neeca or the PEECB, it must not be a victim of political arm-twisting; it must have due authority and adopt a carrot-and-stick strategy to deliver results. The trend of taking half-hearted measures only to be abandoned — eg, daylight-saving, the early closure of shops, and energy-saver bulbs — needs to end. There is a wealth of international experience and success stories on the policy and implementation fronts to learn from.

Adopting international best practices is a viable strategy. Sector-specific and goal-oriented standards and regulation should be enacted to deal with all sectors, including utilities, industrial, commercial and domestic consumers. Chambers of commerce, and industrial and trade bodies can be engaged to hold awareness workshops, share success stories and organise training and knowledge-dissemination activities. Professional bodies including the Pakistan Engineering Council, the Institute of Engineers Pakis­tan, and the Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers should be involved.

To find a sustainable solution to Pakistan’s many energy woes, policymakers must give energy conservation at least the same level of importance as capacity addition.

The writer is the author of Energy Crisis in Pakistan: Origins, Challenges and Sustainable Solutions.

Published in Dawn, October 27th, 2017

Enabling renewables

by Dr M. Asif

FOR several years now, renewable energy has been a key area of focus on the global energy scene, having outpaced conventional forms of energy on several counts, including investment and research and development. Since 2006, installed capacity figures for solar photovoltaic cells and wind power across the world have increased by over 5,000 per cent and 658pc respectively. These achievements are a result of well-conceived policies, technological advancements and economies of scale.

Nations across the world are actively pursuing renewable energy. EU countries are set to replace their ageing coal and nuclear power plants with renewables. Germany and Denmark, for instance, are already capable of satisfying peak-load demand from renewables under the right weather conditions.

So powerful is this drive that even the GCC countries — with their abundant oil and gas reserves — are investing in renewables. Saudi Arabia, for example, is working towards putting in place 9.5GW of solar and wind projects by 2023. There are remarkable accomplishments in our neighbouring countries too. China has become the world leader in renewable energy in investment, installed capacity and the manufacturing and export of products. India has developed 28GW of wind power and has set a target of 100GW solar energy by 2022.

Sustainable energy needs to be a key priority.

Compared to all this, Pakistan’s performance in the renewable energy field has been dismal, despite a very rich resource base. The brilliant hydropower developments of the 1960s and 1970s could not be built upon in subsequent decades. It is only in the last few years that solar and wind energy have appeared on the scene thanks to a few fragile accomplishments. For instance, the much-hyped Quaid-i-Azam Solar Park is reportedly in disarray. Considering the mandate of the Alternate Energy Development Board (AEDB) and the targets it set in 2003, wind and solar energy projects as of 2017 are a fraction of what was promised for 2007.

So what are the reasons behind such an unenviable state of affairs? Having shown an interest in renewables by establishing the AEDB in 2003, Pakistan was already a late starter. The AEDB, despite being made the focal point for promoting renewables and given a reasonable mandate and backing from the then prime minister — operated in a directionless manner.

The board also got itself into situations that drew allegations of administrative and financial irregularities. Its lacklustre performance in the initial years eroded the confidence of policymakers who decided to place it under the control of the water and power ministry in 2006-07. Ever since, renewable energy has been on the back burner.

Over the last decade, hefty investments have been made in unviable thermal power projects like rental power plants, overlooking renewable energy. A net capacity addition of less than 500MW from solar and wind projects over a period of 14 years speaks volumes for the role of the concerned stakeholders.

Moving forward, Pakistan needs to adopt renewable energy as a key priority. With their established technical and economic benefits, renewable technologies can end our energy woes and drive us towards a sustainable future. Renewables have wide-ranging strategic advantages, including but not limited to the provision of adequate and affordable energy, energy independence, environmental benefits, industrialisation, the creation of jobs and new economic activities across the whole value chain.

To realise this, however, Pakistan needs to have a coherent and goal-oriented approach. Focused and integrated efforts are required on multiple fronts. Like global trends, renewables should be on the top of our energy agenda. The national energy policy should be re-enacted, and engage the concerned state departments.

Rejuvenating the AEDB or replacing it with a new body with a clear mandate and due policy and financial support is important. Coordination between federal and provincial bodies and other institutional stakeholders should be improved. Energy market and regulatory frameworks need to be revamped to attract foreign and local investment, foster public-private partnerships, enact quality standards, and allow room for new and innovative market approaches and business models.

The wheel need not be reinvented; wide-ranging success stories and models are available from around the world. It is vital that renewable projects, both large-scale grid-connected and off-grid, are strategically conceived after due value-engineering. Also, Pakistan should capitalise on CPEC by learning from China’s experiences and industrial brilliance in renewable energy.

To change CPEC’s energy projects from thermal power plants to renewables would be a superior option. It is high time that policymakers give renewable energy its due importance, for it can propel the country towards energy and socio-economic prosperity.

The writer is the author of Energy Crisis in Pakistan: Origins, Challenges and Sustainable Solutions.

Published in Dawn, June 22nd, 2017