Energy is an important issue in Pakistan, but it is not the most important issue, according to a leading environmentalist. “You need electricity to illuminate your house but you will need education to brighten the country’s future,” says Islamabad-based Ali Tauqeer Sheikh. “Education is Pakistan’s most important issue.”
More than 100 million people in rural areas do not have access to electricity, he says. “It is an issue of inequitable development.” There was a shortage of energy in Pakistan as far back as 50 years ago, he said.
The issue has become central today only because the shortage is now affecting the lives of the upper and the middle classes. “Our infrastructure and architecture is such that we can’t breathe fresh air. We can’t survive without air conditioners and we can’t maintain this lifestyle without electricity.”
There is a direct link between energy consumption and the pace of development, says Sheikh. “We can’t begin to develop unless our energy density is increased. We use little energy on per capita basis. To develop with a faster rate, we need more energy.” Pakistan also needs to resolve the inequitable patterns of energy distribution, he says.
“My house has seven air conditioners. I need more energy to run them than 20 tube wells that produce wheat. A single household in the F-7 locality of Islamabad consumes more energy than the entire slum adjacent to it.” Energy has been privatized and companies sell it for profit, Sheikh says.
The tariff policy gives incentives to the companies to sell it to people who use it the most, leaving out rural areas where more than 50 percent of Pakistanis live. “We need more energy, but we should also put in place an equitable distribution pattern.”
Sheikh disagrees with some environmentalists who say the distribution is equitable because the rural population does not use air conditioners and refrigerators. “Equitable distribution can allow them mechanized farming. Most of Pakistan’s rural economy is not agricultural. Sometimes it lives on agriculture, but not always. The dairy sector is an example. Such sectors need modernization and more energy.”
While there has been public debate about Pakistan’s electricity generation policy, Sheikh explains how the distribution is also inefficient. “The cost of electricity is Rs 35 per unit. The government recovers only around Rs 11.” A large number of consumers use UPS backups that charge with an efficiency of about 30 percent, or use generators that run on other fuels, spending Rs 35 per unit anyway. The government continues to lose money because it only charges Rs 11.
To resolve its myriad electricity problems, Sheikh says Pakistan must invest in solar energy. In Nepal, he says, every rooftop in even the poorest localities has solar panels with rechargeable batteries, with which they can run fans, light bulbs and heat water. “We don’t need Chinese help. All we need is a good policy to take more and more people off the grid and use alternative energy sources.” He says only one percent of Pakistan’s electricity needs are fulfilled by alternative energy sources. “Ideally, it should be 20 percent.”
Although the new PML-N government does not have an energy policy in its manifesto, Sheikh says it is not too late for them to formulate one. “It should set a target of doubling the ratio of the use of alternative energy every year in geometrical progression. More and more households need to be encouraged to go solar. They should be able to get a certain percentage of their energy needs without the national grid. This will reduce pressure on the grid and save foreign exchange.”
Bangladesh is adding 12,000 units of solar electricity to its national grid every month, he says. It has changed building codes to encourage architecture that allows installing solar panels. Owners of new buildings have to commit to produce 10 percent of the energy they consume from alternative sources. Pakistan, he says, should set a target of one million households using solar energy. “This will reduce the load from the national grid by four or five percent.”
He suggests the government should distribute solar tube wells on loan with the collaboration of banks and the private sector. But apart from that, Sheikh believes the government should limit its role. “So far, the government has tried to do things herself and has miserably failed. The Alternative Energy Board and more than a dozen such institutions should be sent home. They can’t give you anything. They have drawn more in salaries than they have contributed.”
Pakistan needs energy instantly, says Ali Tauqeer Sheikh, and solar energy is the most viable option. “Forget China. There is sufficient indigenous capacity to make solar panels and batteries in Pakistan. We can go solar next month if we wish. All we need is commitment and transparency.”
FirozAli Virani on Power Theft in Karachi: If only someone has the power/courage to stop theft of electricity in Karachi it will make great difference. I do not know about theft of electricity in other areas of Pakistan.
We can see with open eyes one pan seller or chat seller in Lalukhet lights three bulbs of 1000 watts, which I am sure they can not afford if they are paying the electricity charges at the actual commercial rates of electricity.
Bundles and bundles of cables are attached to main electricity cable on roads which are used as KUNDAS with the support of local thanas and other hidden powers. We all can see but only the KESC officials and authorities can not see this.
When the Officials of KESC contacted about heavy load shedding they replied that if you remove the KUNDAS from your area, there will no load shedding in your area.
During Mush era when the KESC was under control of Millitary one Brig. Shb. Claimed that I will remove all KUNDAS from Karachi within a week. When contacted again he said that he has been stopped by his officers on political basis.