The horrific reality of loadshedding still very much exists in the aftermath of the National Summit on Energy and all other half-hearted efforts to alleviate the suffering of people have not, predictably, borne fruit. The rental power plants and several power generation projects that have been recently inaugurated have failed to provide relief to the consumer. There is no set minimum or maximum number of hours during which  electric supply remains suspended. In the urban cities hit by congestion, the situation is bad enough, but worst so in the rural areas that may remain without electricity for an entire day.

The domestic commercial and manufacturing sector have all been badly affected, which has contributed to soaring unemployment in Pakistan. Manufacturing units, struggling to survive the loadshedding menace, are suffering from a lag time in their productions. The decrease in power supply is an additional contributory factor to the rising inflation, as the demand for commodities in Pakistan increases by the day with its soaring population. Interestingly, the price being paid per unit of electricity by the consumers has increased inversely to the supply of electricity. Thus, the consumer has been left with a feeling that he is paying the price for the electricity, which he does not consume.

The landmark decision of the Supreme Court against the rental power plants proves that the nation is being taken for a ride by the government. Besides there being a lack of vision and planning in the short, medium and long-term, the ego problem of various ruling leaderships has taken its toll in the form of escalating hardships for the masses of this country. The fact remains that to this date no government has been able to evolve a consensus on the Kalabagh Dam or had the courage to implement it in the national interest against all odds. The result is that the entire population is suffering an economic crisis for which the energy deficit is largely responsible.

The cost of rental power plants and the siphoning of billions of rupees of the taxpayers’ money to pay for electricity that never reached them, has left the decision makers with little choice, but to look for workable options for energy generation in the short-term. The patience of the people of Pakistan has already been tested beyond reasonable limits. They are now protesting against loadshedding, as well as the rising electricity bills. Such protests have been recorded in all major cities and are becoming more violent as the heat of the summer season picks up. The damage to public and private property during these protests is also escalating.

Our current power generation is heavily dependent on oil or gas. Gas reserves of Pakistan are depleting fast, while oil imports are costing over $13 billion that account for more than 70 percent of total imports. Besides, oil prices in the international market are constantly fluctuating due to the weak position of our rupee. Nevertheless, the huge reserves of coal have immense potential to serve as the key fuel resource for power generation in the years to come. But before this happens, the existing oil and gas-based furnaces need to be converted to coal-based that will cost significant time and money. Hydel power generation utilising cascading dams is another effective, but long-term option. Will people taking to the streets remain calm till such long-term power projects realise?

It is important to note that alternative forms of energy, such as solar and wind, are not being given importance. According to 5th Power and Alternative Energy Asia 2011, “The earth receives an incredible supply of solar energy - the sun provides sufficient energy in one minute to meet the world’s energy demand for a full year. In one day it provides more than our current population would consume in 27 years. Solar energy is the cleanest source in environmental terms.”

Against this backdrop, the geographical location of Pakistan places it within the Sun Belt, which has a peak potential to utilise solar energy as a key source of electricity generation. The technology to convert the sun rays into electrical current is available and minimally used in Pakistan, but is not being utilised to tap the actual potential of the solar resource.

The key components required to generate electricity from the sun rays are the photovoltaic solar panel, solar inverter and a battery. The electricity that is excess to consumption is stored in the battery during the night or can be fed into a commercial grid. It is interesting that these kits are available at the DIY stores in the developed countries, which do not enjoy a favourable geographic location within the Sun Belt, since facilitation and comfort of the people is a key priority of these governments to meet energy needs. After the once off investment in setting up the system, the electricity is produced free of cost with minimal maintenance required. Affordability should not be a problem for some of the high consumers of electricity, as Pakistan is a poor country of numerous rich people.

Anyway, China is a key producer and exporter of the solar panels and an old and dependable friend of Pakistan. We can import the necessary equipment from China at reasonable cost and make it available in the market. But the question is: are the federal and provincial governments willing to share the power they enjoy to facilitate and empower people to make their lives comfortable?

n    The writer is an ex-assistant commissioner Income Tax, IT and Change Management consultant and a Public Sector Management analyst.

    Email: drsaniachaudhry@gmail.com