Save Pakistan, Save the World

Spring 2009
Final Research Essays

Article 11 of 12

For the past few years, Pakistan has experienced a very serious energy shortage that does not seem to be getting any better.  A growing demand for power, an aging infrastructure, and poor development by the Pakistani government have all contributed to the shortage of power in the country.  The daily power outages are having an immense impact in the lives of the Pakistani people.  This problem needs an effective solution that can bridge the gap between power supply and demand before it grows any larger.  Some may suggest that the best way to solve Pakistan’s energy shortage is for Pakistan to increase the use of its existing energy resources and increase its importation of fuel.  However, I believe that those solutions are ineffective and the most effective way to solve Pakistan’s energy shortage is a combination of conserving energy, increasing the use of coal with clean coal technology, investing in new power generation facilities, and building new power plants that run on clean and renewable sources of energy.

Narration

The rapid industrialization and modernization of many parts of Pakistan has caused an equally rapid increase in the country’s power consumption.  With Pakistan’s current power supply incapable of meeting the country’s demand, the people must suffer rolling blackouts on a daily basis.  These blackouts threaten the livelihood of the Pakistani people, limiting their ability to work and adversely affecting their health – effects which are amplified due to the extremely hot climate in Pakistan.  Without power, many people, especially those in office buildings and those who rely on computers and electronics, cannot complete their work.  Living in the heat without any fans or air conditioners can and has made people, including myself when I visited Pakistan, very sick.  Without electricity to power refrigerators, food gets spoiled and people become ill when they eat it.  In the modern world, having access to power has almost become a basic human right and need for survival.

The Pakistani citizens’ access to power is shrinking at an alarming rate due to the gap between power supply and demand.  According to a forecast by Pakistan’s Private Power & Infrastructure Board, the power supply and demand gap will grow to over three times its current size by 2020 (Private Power and Infrastructure Board, Supply and Demand).  Solving this energy shortage is a race against time because the longer it takes for a solution to be found, the worse the problem will become.  If the power supply and demand gap continues to grow at this rate, solving the energy shortage may soon become impossible.  An energy shortage is not limited to just Pakistan; it may affect the United States and the rest of the world someday.  Finding an effective solution for Pakistan’s current energy shortage may help prevent one from affecting the rest of the world.

The PPIB’s forecast estimates the shortage of electricity in Pakistan to be at almost 11,700 megawatts (MW).  But what exactly is a megawatt and what does a shortage of 11,700 MW mean?  A megawatt is defined as one million watts and is the unit of measurement for electric power.  Small and medium-sized power plants usually have a generating capacity of a few hundred MW, with large plants generating 1,000 MW or more.  Roy L. Nersesisan, Associate Professor of Management at Monmouth University's School of Business Administration, explains in his book, Energy for the 21st Century: A Comprehensive Guide to Conventional and Alternative Sources, that generally a “1,000-megawatt plant can serve the needs of 2 million people”.  By this estimate, a shortage of 11,700 MW is the equivalent of 23.4 million people, who have access to electricity, without power.  This figure does not even take into account the millions of people in the country who live in areas that have not yet been electrified.  

Short-term Solutions

Thermal Energy Reserves

One possible short-term solution to Pakistan’s energy crisis is to increase the use of the country’s extensive thermal energy reserves (oil, natural gas, coal, etc.).  Pakistan, like most other countries around the world, has veritable reserves of fossil fuels.  The amount of fuel in these reserves is many times greater than how much is used or needed each year.  A report by the Energy Information Administration of the United States Department of Energy states that Pakistan had natural gas reserves of 28 trillion cubic feet in 2006 and consumed 968 billion cubic feet in 2004 (Energy Information Administration),  which means that natural gas reserves should last another 25-26 years at the current rate of consumption.  Similarly, oil reserves would last about 10 years and coal hundreds of years, according to the information in the report.  The advantages of this solution are that it: does not require extensive planning, can be implemented immediately, provides immediate relief from the problem for Pakistanis, and reduces fuel importation needs.

The major disadvantage of this solution, however, far outweighs all of the advantages.  This disadvantage lies in the fact that there is a finite amount of fuel in these reserves and if Pakistan keeps using more of them, eventually they will run out.  If this happens, then Pakistan has no backup plan and will face an energy crisis severely greater than its current one and one that it may never be able to recover from.  Some may argue that the purpose of these reserves is to help the country in a time of emergency and the current energy shortage is such an emergency.   This may be true to a certain extent, but the current problem is not an emergency in the sense that there is no other solution other than using the thermal energy reserves.   At this point, there are other, less risky solutions that can help solve Pakistan’s energy shortage, which is why I do not support increasing the use of Pakistan’s thermal energy reserves.

Coal

However, there is one thermal energy source that I believe should be used to a greater extent in Pakistan’s power production: coal.  According to the report by the US Department of Energy, only 7.6 percent of the country’s energy supply in 2005 was coal, which means that total energy consumption was the equivalent of about 46 million short tons (Mmst) of coal.  Pakistan has coal reserves of 3,362 Mmst and in 2004 used only 3.5 Mmst (Energy Information Administration), which would last over 950 years.  If coal consumption was increased to 70 Mmst – 20 times its current level and equivalent to 1.5 times the total energy consumption in 2005 – coal reserves would still last another 50 years.  By looking at the amount of coal Pakistan has in reserve and the amount that it actually uses, one can conclude that coal is extremely underused.  There is enormous potential for the use of coal in Pakistan to produce electricity.  Zahid Ali Akbar Khan, retired Lieutenant General and former chairman of Pakistan’s Water and Power Development Authority, urges the building of large scale coal-fired plants in Pakistan (Khan).  In his article, Khan acknowledges that Pakistan is behind the rest of the world in coal-based power plants and needs to catch up quickly.  Coal is used to produce a majority of the electricity produced in India, the United Kingdom, and the United States (Khan 30), and should be used to the same extent in Pakistan. 

This solution may seem costly at first, but further analysis leads to the conclusion that it is very cost-effective in the long-run.  There will be a high initial cost of building and developing the plants.  However, building these plants will create thousands of new jobs and help improve the country’s economy.  These plants will also save money because they will reduce the amount of fuel that needs to be imported into Pakistan.  The positives of increasing the use of coal vastly outweigh the negatives.  In return for high initial costs, increasing the use of coal-based power will help solve Pakistan’s energy shortage, create thousands of new jobs, save money on importing fuels, and promote energy independence. 

The biggest concern with an increased burning of coal is the damage that is done to the environment.  Coal is known to release many pollutants and green house gases when burned, contributing to environmental problems such as acid rain, smog, and global warming.  Dr. Javaid Laghari, a professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering and current president of the Shaheed Zulfikar Ali Bhutto Institute of Science and Technology and Senator of Pakistan, insists in his article “Power Vision for Pakistan” that these harmful effects of burning coal can be diminished (22).  Clean coal technologies, which minimize or eliminate impurities and pollutants from coal, are currently being developed and advanced around the world.  By building new coal-burning power plants, Pakistan can become a world leader in the development of clean coal technologies by implementing them in their new plants.  This would effectively solve two energy problems in Pakistan and the rest of the world simultaneously: the energy shortage in Pakistan and environmental problems caused by the pollutants released from burning coal.

Conservation

Another effective short-term solution to Pakistan’s energy shortage that I support is to use less energy.  The less energy the country uses the less energy it needs and the closer it is to bridging the gap between supply and demand.  There are three main sectors for energy usage in Pakistan: the domestic/household sector, industrial sector, and the transportation sector.  Each of these sectors has both unique and similar ways they can conserve energy.  M. Noman Siddique writes in the Pakistani newspaper, Business Recorder, that the biggest way to conserve energy and one that is common to all three sectors, is to use more energy efficient products.  For the household and industrial sectors, this means more efficient lighting and air conditioning systems, and for the transportation sector, more fuel efficient cars, trucks, buses, planes, and other vehicles. With these and other energy conservation methods, the domestic/household sector could become 30% more efficient; the industrial sector could become 23% more efficient; and the transportation sector could become 20% more efficient (Sharif). 

There are many advantages to this solution that make it one of the most effective.  Energy conservation can be implemented immediately and can provide instant relief from the problems of load shedding.  Another advantage of this solution is that it increases the efficiency of energy consumption, making the best use of what the country already has.  But the biggest advantage is the fact that energy conservation techniques can be used no matter what Pakistan’s energy situation is.  More efficient use of energy will help whether or not the country has enough energy.  The disadvantage of this solution is that it will be difficult to spread knowledge and implementation of it, especially in poor and rural areas.  Middle and upper class Pakistanis may be able to afford new more energy-efficient products, but the lower class may not.  However, the government may give the people incentives to buy these products, such as tax breaks and exemptions. 

Long-Term Solutions

Fuel Importation

One possible long-term solution is to increase the amount of fuel imported from other countries.  The principle behind this solution is that if you do not have enough energy in your country, you can get more from another country.  This solution is already being used by the Pakistani government.  They are planning to build up to three new natural gas pipelines that would bring natural gas from the Middle East to Pakistan and India (Energy Information Administration).  The advantages of importing more fuel from other countries are many:  its initial costs are cheaper than those of other long-term solutions; it can be implemented more quickly than other long-term solutions; and it reduces the load on Pakistan’s energy reserves.

The disadvantages of increasing the importation of fuel make it an ineffective way to bring Pakistan out of its current energy crisis, which is why I oppose it.  Though it may seem cheap at first, this solution is actually more expensive than other long-term solutions.  Initial costs may be lower, but over time costs will grow as the demand for power grows.  More importation, especially of something as important as energy, would increase the dependence of Pakistan on foreign nations to support it.  With this solution, Pakistan would not be able to support itself energy-wise and would be at the mercy of the countries aiding it.  This would be a major security risk for the country and the world, especially because of the fact that Pakistan has nuclear weapons.  Countries supplying Pakistan with fuel may threaten to cut off supplies, giving them the ability to demand whatever they please, including use of Pakistan’s nuclear weapons.  At that point, the Pakistani government would have to choose between giving up their power and crippling their country due to the lack of power.  The final disadvantage of increasing the importation of fuels is that it leaves Pakistan more susceptible to fluctuations in fuel prices. This could debilitate the country’s economy, especially if fuel prices spike like they did this past summer.  A weak economy in addition to a shortage of energy could potentially cripple Pakistan and its citizens.

Invest in Domestic Power Production

A more effective and beneficial long-term solution to Pakistan’s energy shortage would be to invest in power generation facilities, both old and new.  A combination of fixing current power facilities and building new ones is the most effective way to get Pakistan out of its current energy crisis.  The term “power facilities” refers not only to the electricity generating plants, but the electricity transportation infrastructure as well.  Two major problems with Pakistan’s electricity transportation system are that it is inefficient and vulnerable to theft.  By inefficient, I mean that, due to the aging infrastructure, not all of the electricity that travels through the transportation system (i.e. power lines) makes it to the other end.  Some of the electrical energy is converted into thermal energy and lost in the form of heat.  General Zahid Khan mentions in his article “Managing the Worsening Power Crises” that line losses are as high as thirty to forty percent (30).  As much as one third of the electricity generated in Pakistan is wasted because of poor infrastructure.  I am assuming that, with engineering and technology as advanced as they are today, most industrial nations have line losses much lower than thirty percent.  The country’s infrastructure needs to be completely overhauled (Khan 30), which should be at the top of the list of things to do for the Pakistani government to help improve the country’s energy situation.  What is the point of generating so much electricity if you cannot get it to the people?  Efficiency improvement is not limited to infrastructure; it can be applied to current power plants as well.  Momin Arif, Director and CEO of Pakistan’s Oil, Gas, and Energy Company , insists in his article “Energy Crisis; What We Can Do Today!” that small changes in power generating plants can have enormous benefits in terms of energy output (61).  These small changes include activities such as running the plants for longer and for more days or buying stronger bolts (Arif 61-62).

The next step in investing in power generation facilities is to build new power plants in Pakistan.  The basic principle for this common sense solution is that if you are not producing enough power, then you must produce more power.  If more power generation plants are built, then enough power may be produced to actually meet the country’s growing demand.  There are many advantages and benefits to investing in power facilities.  Building new power plants and rebuilding the country’s infrastructure would create many new jobs and simultaneously boost the nation’s economy.  It would also promote energy independence and improve Pakistan’s ability to support itself.  The main disadvantage of this solution is its high initial costs and planning/construction time.  A lot of money is required to build new power plants, but this should be viewed as an investment.  The new jobs created by the plant would decrease unemployment and increase spending by the people receiving these jobs.  This results in more money in taxes for the government and more money in the economy, a win-win situation for the country and its people. 

The final step in investing in power generation facilities would be to build new power plants that produce electricity from renewable sources of energy.  Renewable sources of energy include hydroelectricity, wind energy, and solar energy.  In terms of power generation capacity, there is enormous potential for these sources of energy in Pakistan.  Mohammad Aslam Uqaili, a professor in the Department of Electrical Engineering at the Mehran University of Engineering and Technology in Pakistan, with the help of two of his colleagues, wrote a research paper that discusses the potential of some renewable sources of energy.  According to this paper, the technical potential for hydroelectric power is 20,000 MW with a currently installed capacity of 6,494 MW (57).  The concerns with hydroelectric power are that it can harm local ecological systems and that some of the rivers that run through Pakistan also run through other countries, which can cause political problems if dams are built on these rivers.  There is much potential for wind energy as well, “The estimated technical potential of centralized grid connected wind power in the coastal areas is 484 TWh [Terawatt-hour = energy equivalent of 1 Terawatt of electricity for 1 hour ; 1 Terawatt = 1 million MW]  per year, which is 5.65 times the current total conventional power generation in Pakistan” (Uqaili 58).  Wind farms would be built in the coastal areas of Pakistan because they are very windy, but wind farms in these locations may disturb local ecosystems.  The renewable source of energy with the largest potential in Pakistan is solar power.  The maximum potential for solar power is about 3.5 PWh (Petawatt-hour; 1 Petawatt = 1 billion MW), which is 41 times the total conventional power generation (Uqaili 57).  However, electricity output at these levels would require much more advanced and efficient photovoltaic technology than is available today.  Hydroelectric dams and wind turbines/farms can be built at locations where the harm to local ecological systems is minimized or eliminated.  More research can be and is being done around the world to develop better photovoltaic cells for solar power.  These challenges of renewable sources of energy can be overcome without excessively limiting their potential for electricity generation.

These sources of energy are environmentally friendly, renewable (will never run out), and would help bring Pakistan into the 21st century.  A major concern with conventional sources of energy such as oil, gas, and coal is their harmful effects on the environment.  Renewable sources of energy minimize or eliminate these concerns and would help slow the progression of global warming.  On the other hand, there is only a finite amount of the conventional sources of energy and they will eventually run out.  Renewable sources of energy will most likely never completely run out.  Environmental factors may reduce the amount of energy that may be extracted from these sources, but they will never be eliminated.  This conditional availability, however, is the disadvantage of renewable energy sources.  If it is not windy, wind energy is limited; if it is not sunny, solar energy is limited; if there is less water due to the extreme heat, hydroelectric power is limited.  The way to get around this is to use a combination of these and other sources of energy.

Conclusion

The growing demand for power in Pakistan combined with the country’s inefficient power transportation system has caused a massive power shortage that will only get worse if nothing is done to stop it.  Some may say that Pakistan’s energy crisis should be solved by increasing use of the country’s thermal energy reserves and increasing the importation of fuel.  However, I believe that the disadvantages of these solutions overshadow the advantages and that they would only create bigger problems.  The energy shortage in Pakistan should be solved by increasing the use of coal, conserving energy, and investing in power generation facilities with a strong focus on renewable sources of energy.  This combination would provide short-term relief and long-term elimination of the problem. 

I don’t expect anyone reading this paper to go to Pakistan and solve the energy crisis, it would be great if they did though.  People should be aware of this problem and the fact that it affects millions of people around the world, not just those in Pakistan.  Also, think about how much electricity you use and waste, and what you would do without it.  I visited Pakistan this past summer and saw how hard life is for the people there.  It made me more conscious about my electricity usage and I would like to convey this consciousness to others through this paper.  The problems Pakistan is facing today may be the problems faced by the whole world in the near future.  The solution for Pakistan’s energy shortage today may be the key to preventing a global energy catastrophe tomorrow.

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