No rhetoric but a sound energy policy is the solution
May 18, 2012
A heat wave is currently coursing through many parts of Pakistan and it is quite distressing at many levels. However, the sad news is that this is just the beginning. Heat is one of the most underrated and least understood of the deadly weather events. Unlike other natural disasters, such as floods and tornadoes, a heat wave can be a silent killer.
The worst heat disasters, in terms of loss of life, occur in large cities when a combination of high daytime temperatures, high humidity, warm nighttime temperatures, and an abundance of sunshine occurs for several days. Large urban areas become “heat islands.” Brick buildings, asphalt streets, and tar roofs store heat and radiate it like a slow burning furnace. Heat builds up in a city during the day and cities are slower than rural areas to cool down at night.
The extreme heat has exacerbated chronic power cuts which have prevented people from using air-conditioning. The electricity is cut out for up to 22 hours each day in rural areas and over 18 hours in urban areas as part of a severe load-shedding regime that has caused riots in parts of Pakistan where cities are experiencing a severe heat wave.
The unbridled load shedding has brought about mass protests across Pakistan. In Lahore the protesters blocked roads and various crossings, burnt tyres and shouted slogans against government functionaries. The activists of Shabab-e-Milli have threatened to besiege the power installations if there was no respite from the continued load shedding. In Charsadda district of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, enraged villagers wielding sticks turned violent and broke down the windscreens of several vehicles that were stranded on the Motorway. The police, as usual, baton-charged the protestors and used teargas and aerial firing to disperse the protestors.
As the mercury in the port city, once dubbed as the “City of Lights”, soared to over 42 degree centigrade, the Karachi Electricity Supply Company (KESC) added to the agony by increasing load shedding hours. Manzoor Colony, Rehman Colony, Junejo Town, Azam Basti and other areas of the city are enduring over 12 hours of power cut. Hundreds of angry protestors also staged demonstrations in a number of localities in Karachi and in interior Sindh. Hyderabad, Jamshoro, Kotri including many small cities of Sindh are without electricity. Protests broke out in Malir, Khokrapar areas against load shedding in Karachi.
There is no justification or explanation by the KESC for this prolonged power cut. Repeated calls at the KESC helpline, 118, are of no avail. The number is continuously busy and if by fluke it is free, the call goes unattended.
The PPP-led government seems least bothered about this situation. It has broken all records of open loot, plunder, corruption and rape of the national kitty. The students of Inter, A and O’ levels are experiencing great difficulties preparing for the exams. This situation is more painful and hurting for those who cannot afford to have UPS or generator. These students are now practically burning the proverbial midnight oil!
Load shedding in the city is proving troublesome for many hospitals, which have no choice but to keep generators on as the lives of several patients depend upon ventilators, monitors, and other such devices. This has ultimately led to patient discomfort and dissatisfaction. Despite generator back-up, running all the machines consuming high levels of electricity at the same time is causing delays in conducting high-end diagnostic tests and scheduled elective surgeries. Even with high capacity generators it becomes difficult to run all the machines consuming high levels of electricity, like MRI and CT scan equipment and the central air conditioner, simultaneously.
However, generators can break down due to overload and so it is risky to depend on them every day. The power generated through them has voltage fluctuations as well. The government should consider connecting all hospitals to an emergency feeder line, which will ensure 24 x 7 power supply.
The countrywide anti-load shedding protests failed to move the unsympathetic government bent on staying in power through hook or crook. The latest strategy adopted by the Zardari-Gilani duo, both convicted by the court of law, is to malign the independent judiciary at the cost of torturing the public through prolonged, unscheduled load shedding. This is done to spite the Supreme Court for its verdict against the Rental Power Plants case.
The foundations of government were shaken by its coalition partners when the PML-Q threatened to quit the government if the government did not seriously address the load shedding problem. The threat forced the president and his convicted prime minister to jump into action. An emergency meeting was called by the president and the Ministry for Water and Power was ordered to announce that unscheduled load shedding should be stopped from Friday.
The chief justice rightly observed that the emergency meeting summoned by President Asif Ali Zardari to discuss the electricity crisis was indicative of institutional and administrative breakdown in the country. Heading a two-member bench of the Supreme Court during the hearing of a case lodged against two RPPs, Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry said that the electricity crisis in the country was so severe that it had forced the president to convene an emergency meeting, and this was an indication of government’s failure.
Load shedding in the country has increased manifold which is constantly becoming a source of agony and a great hassle for the citizens. This is mainly due to overwhelming market demand, limited generation capacity and aging transmission systems infrastructure not designed to accommodate the huge increases. Electric grid is in urgent need of modernisation. The demand for electricity is outpacing the investments in delivery infrastructure creating potential bottlenecks, which increase costs to consumers and elevate the risk of blackouts.
Modernising efforts, such as smart grid initiatives, tend to be slow and protracted. Interim solutions that use existing technologies could provide temporary relief and buy time for the nation to upgrade its power transmission system. Such technologies, that may employ methodologies such as distributed generation where net zero initiatives create a grid friendly solution, are but a small aspect of what can be implemented now. Many alternative energy solutions employ technologies that relieve the grid of its distribution overload problems by eliminating the need for power from the grid itself.
The late Fred Schweppe, in his pioneering work on electricity markets, presented homeostatic control where the consumer has an active role in adjustments to energy shortages and prices. Homeostatic control (demand response) seeks equilibrium between consumption, market demand and the grid capacity for distribution. The time has come now for working out the details of homeostatic control, since automation and its cost make this a truly viable concept.
What the country needs now is a comprehensive solution based on sound energy policies that are integrated into the realities of the market. Instead of making bold statements like that of Water and Power Minister Naveed Qamar that “there will be no load shedding in Pakistan from Monday [February 6] onwards”, there is an urgent need to address this crisis wisely and quickly. The government should build up a stringent framework to purchase cheap electricity from China and Iran.