NationalVOLUME 17 ISSUE # 32

A layman’s suggestions to resolve power crisis

With the start of the summer season every year, complaints, wailing, sloganeering and threats start pouring in from across the country against the electricity distribution companies as well as the government. The practice has continued for over two decades, and the successive governments had to face severe criticism and curses on this count, but almost all of them failed to resolve the issue once and for all.

Energy experts must have presented various solutions to the authorities concerned so far, though the issue is still there with all its intensity. Here’s one solution suggested by Muhammad Badar Anjum, a grade-19 retired government officer and a ‘layman’ in the energy field. He believes the issue is not technical, but a political one, and its solution will also be found politically.

He says that it is an admitted fact that Pakistan’s capacity to produce power is greater than its needs, still people have to suffer long load-shedding hours every summer season. According to the Pakistan Economic Survey 2021–22, the installed electricity generation capacity reached 41,557MW in 2022. The maximum total demand coming from residential and industrial estates stands at nearly 29,000MW, whereas the transmission and distribution capacity is stalled at approximately 22,000MW.

As far as the potential of the country to produce electricity is concerned, the estimated figures given by international and local expert bodies are mind-blowing. According to a NEPRA report, Pakistan is endowed with a hydel potential of approximately 41,722MW. Also, Pakistan has tremendous potential to generate solar and wind power. According to the World Bank, utilising just 0.071 per cent of the country’s area for solar photovoltaic (solar PV) power generation would meet Pakistan’s current electricity demand. According to the WB report, the solar potential is estimated to be over 100,000MW, as the country has a high solar potential.

Also, the country has a total estimated gross wind power potential installable capacity of around 346,000MW. On the other hand, only the Thar coal presents an electricity generation potential of 100,000MW, at estimated consumption of 536 million tonnes/ year. There are various other sources of power generation in Pakistan, though those are costly.

However, Badar Anjum has suggestions only about solar energy, which is renewable and doesn’t pose any threat to global environmental issues. He believes the federal government could solve the power shortage issue once and for all with the help of citizens. He suggests the launch of a pilot project in any ordinary locality of Lahore. Initial work for the project could be legislation to provide legal protection to all stakeholders, signing of memorandums of understanding (MoUs) with commercial banks, authorised solar energy companies and other stakeholders.

The government should form committees in the targeted areas comprising its officers from the administration and technical side, representatives of banks, and public representatives from local governments. These teams should go door to door, and offer people installation of solar energy units at their houses. The solar energy units must be compatible with the electricity needs and monthly incomes of the programme beneficiaries. The loan offered for the installation of the solar units must be recovered in monthly instalments. The process must be made most simple and comprehensible to the power consumers.

It is generally believed that people belonging to lower strata of society are hesitant to avail bank loan facilities for their being complicated and the related information mostly being incomprehensible to them. The project must run under the slogan of “Solar energy at people’s doorsteps”, and the consumers should not have to visit banks or any other office even for a single time. The instalment must not exceed the monthly bill of the consumers, to avoid any further financial burden on them. Interestingly, consumers can even sell their excess electricity to Wapda or distribution companies, if they are careful about use of energy.

In fact, the idea is not unique; it is already in place with the installation of solar energy units at consumers’ premises, along with the net metering system. In 2015, the government of Pakistan introduced the Net Metering Policy for consumers, who own or plan to set up a renewable energy (RE) facility at their premises (Solar power or wind power). Net Metering allows users to produce electricity (using wind and solar) for their own use and supply the excess produce to the national grid setting off units of electricity consumed during off-peak hours or at times when the production from the RE facility is not enough to meet the consumer load. The consumer will either pay reduced utility bills or get paid for access energy exported to the grid, as stated in the contract with the relevant DISCO.

With more than 6MW solar power installed with Net Metering, solar users sell energy during the day and consume it at night. By the end of the month the solar user will be billed at the balance of electricity produced and electricity used. In the case the user sells more electricity than it consumes, it will get a credit that carries on to the next month from the distribution company.

Here arises a natural question: why are a huge majority of people unaware of such a scheme through which they could get uninterrupted solar energy, especially in summers, when it is required the most? Badar Anjum sees a sinister design in it, and the complicity of the vested interests active in the sector. He claims that the involvement of independent power producers, which are mostly well connected to the powers that be and the vested interests do not want a permanent solution to the issue. He believes it is a matter of investment of billions of rupees, and the vested interests find an opportunity of making money from miseries of people.

Coming to the technical side, for which he secured some data from the companies involved in solar energy business, Badar Anjum says if the owner of a 3-5 marla housing unit installs 10 solar panels, it could produce an average of 10,000 watts per day, which equal to savings of 10 Wapda power units. Mostly, 10 power units are consumed by a 3-5 marla house, which means they would get an uninterrupted power supply, and pay the bill amount to the banks as a monthly instalment. Mr. Anjum believes hundreds of thousands of watts of power could be produced only by Lahore dwellers monthly, sharing the burden of the national grid. Thus power produced through hydel, atomic, solar, wind and coal resources could be provided only to industries.