An unending energy crisis could soon bring catastrophic consequences. Here’s what needs to be done before it’s too late.
Last week, Pakistan was hit by a heat wave of highly tragic proportions due to energy crisis.
The country has suffered through deadly hot spells in the past, but the lethality of this latest one was astounding. According to Pakistani officials, high temperatures killed more than 1,200 people — most of them in Karachi — over a one-week period. The true figure could be much higher, given the likelihood of unreported deaths.
In effect, this heat wave killed more than twice as many people in a matter of days as terrorism has over the entire year (as of late June, about 530 Pakistani civilians had died in terrorist attacks in 2015).
This crisis was exacerbated by rampant power outages. Many households had little electricity to operate fans or air conditioning units; in Karachi, some complained of having no power for more than 12 hours per day. While the rich ran emergency generators, the less fortunate faced stifling conditions that hastened heatstroke and, often enough, death. One woman in Karachi became sick and later died after suffering in an electricity-deprived home that her son described as “like a baking oven.” Power cuts even denied dignity to those killed by the heat wave. CNN’s Saima Mohsin reported that one charity-run morgue had no electricity to keep bodies cool, resulting in an overpowering “stench of death.”
Sadly, such energy woes aren’t surprising.
Deep and Destabilizing
Pakistan has been convulsed by power outages for years. Electricity deficits on any given day may range from 4,500 to 5,000 megawatts (MW), though they’ve sometimes soared to 8,500 MW — more than 40 percent of national demand. These figures are somewhat comparable to those of India (which has experienced shortfalls between 3,000 and 7,500 MW over the last year or so). Many other countries in the developing world, particularly in Africa, also experience power shortfalls of varying levels. Developed countries experience deficits less frequently, though they sometimes face localized modest shortages (for example, in February 2011, power plant breakdowns caused deficits in Texas).
Pakistan’s supply shortages, however, merely represent the tip of an immense iceberg.
As I argue in Pakistan’s Interminable Energy Crisis, a new Wilson Center report, Pakistan’s energy problems are rooted more in shortages of governance than of supply. The energy sector suffers from transmission and distribution (T&D) losses that have exceeded 30 percent, as well as from several billion dollars of debt. The losses are caused by bad equipment, poor maintenance, and energy theft. The debt — often described as “circular” in nature — is a consequence of cash flow problems. Energy generators, distributors, and transmitters lack funds. This is due in part to a flawed pricing policy: The Pakistani government charges a pittance for energy, and yet few customers pay their bills. As a result, revenue is scarce, and the sector literally cannot afford to provide energy.
Pakistan’s energy crisis has troubling implications for its fragile economy and volatile security situation. In recent years, power shortages have cost the country up to 4 percent of GDP. Hundreds of factories (including many in the industrial hub city of Faisalabad alone) have been forced to close. Some Western companies, citing electricity deficits, have suspended operations in Pakistan. In January, the Moody’s ratings group warned that energy shortages will damage Pakistan’s credit worthiness.
Meanwhile, militants are happy to exploit Pakistan’s energy insecurity. Over the last four years, separatists in the insurgency-riven province of Balochistan have targeted more than 100 gas lines. Back in April 2013, the Pakistani Taliban blew up the largest power station in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa province. Half of Peshawar, the provincial capital with a population nearly as large as Los Angeles, lost power. And just last week, the Pakistani Taliban tapped into widespread anger at Karachi’s main electricity utility, K-Electric, by threatening to attack the facility if it did not restore power.
Wide expanses of Pakistan’s population are affected by the energy crisis. Shortages prevent people from working, cooking, and receiving proper medical care (in some hospitals, services have been curtailed). Not surprisingly, public opinion polls in Pakistan identify electricity shortages as one of the country’s top problems.
In sum, the energy crisis threatens Pakistan’s economy and its precarious security situation, while also deleteriously affecting the lives of everyday residents across the board. Something needs to be done, and fast.
Sustainable Solutions, Not Short-Term Fixes
Pakistan’s Interminable Energy Crisis offers nearly 20 recommendations to ease the crisis in a meaningful and lasting way. It calls above all for a new way of thinking about energy — one that emphasizes more judicious use of existing resources. This means aggressively reducing T&D losses; better enforcing laws against energy theft; developing robust maintenance regimes to ensure that energy infrastructure does not fall into disrepair; and establishing incentives for consumers to use less energy. Achieving these objectives would drastically enhance energy security. Our report estimates that Pakistan’s energy savings potential is about 2,250 MW — roughly half of its total power shortfall.
We also urge officials to pursue a more affordable energy mix. This will require less focus on expensive imports and more focus on indigenous reserves. Pakistan should embrace domestic coal, though within reason; technological and infrastructural constraints preclude heavy exploitation. It should pursue indigenous natural gas alternatives such as tight and shale gas; current reserves are estimated to be quadruple those of conventional natural gas. Pakistan should take advantage of falling solar and wind power costs to increase the proportion of renewables in its energy mix. It can make its mix even greener by adapting other cleaner fuels, such as coal briquettes — which are cleaner than ordinary coal when burned.
Additionally, we recommend more effective energy market policies. Pakistan’s government should scale back its involvement in the energy sector and encourage privatization — but not necessarily full-scale privatization. While electricity generation companies should be fully privatized, it may be prudent for distribution companies — which tend to be larger and employ more people than generation companies — to be restructured through the use of franchising, which transfers operational responsibilities to private actors while the government maintains ownership over assets. Pakistan should also aim to attract a more geographically diverse set of foreign investors. Its aggressive courtship of Chinese companies has made some energy investors from other countries fear the lack of a level playing field.
Finally, we call for institutional reform: Pakistan should bring more coordination and order to a dysfunctional and chaotic energy sector. This means establishing a new energy ministry with overarching responsibility, and with full access to top policy levels; streamlining institutional decision-making processes so that policies no longer need so many approvals (more than 15 government entities are currently involved in energy policy); and integrating energy subsector plans and policies to support national goals. For Pakistan to ease its energy crisis, it needs more effective energy policies — but energy policies can only be as effective as the institutions that shape them.
Costs of Inaction
These are admittedly ambitious proposals, and Pakistan’s risk-averse politicians may wish to have nothing to do with them. That, however, would be a big mistake. Because as bad as things are now, Pakistan’s Interminable Energy Crisis warns, they could soon get much worse.
Pakistan is in the midst of rapid urbanization — a major societal shift that could worsen the effects of energy problems in the years ahead. Demand for electricity is particularly high in cities, because urban industries and homes tend to be more dependent than those in the hinterland on grid-connected energy sources. With droves of Pakistanis entering cities and becoming dependent on grids, supply pressures will deepen exponentially.
And with demand for energy rising dramatically in the coming years, Pakistan could face unprecedented shortages.
Our report concludes that during a period stretching from 2014 into 2015, peak demand was 20,800 MW. This figure is expected to rise to nearly 32,000 MW by 2019. In effect, in just four years, demand could exceed, by nearly 10,000 MW, Pakistan’s current installed capacity of 23,000 MW. To address this gap, Pakistan may need to install as much electrical capacity in the current decade as it did over the last 60 years.
Ultimately, if Pakistan does not move with alacrity to address its energy woes, the challenges that the crisis presents today will seem tame compared to what could be in store in the years ahead.
This means, among other things, that when heat waves strike Pakistan in the future, power outages could be even more lengthy and widespread than they are today.
And, tragically, many people — perhaps even more than the staggering 1,200-in-a-week that perished this time around — would likely die as a result.
Courtesy: Foreign Policy
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By: Irshad Ali Sodhar (FSP)
2. What is energy crisis?
3. Share of energy resources in energy supply
4. World consumption distribution
5. World production distribution
6. Causes of crises
a) Surge in demand
b) Resource nationalism – tighter supply
c) Political uncertainty
d) Lack of diversity
7. Impact of crises
8. Environmental concerns
9. Way out: Renewable energy
Man is dependent on energy, which has been the key to his rapid industrial growth and
technological development. The pace of development after industrial revolution is
unprecedented. Just 200 years ago, the world experienced energy revolution that launched
the industrial age. The catalyst to this epochal change was ordinary black coal – an energy
rich hydrocarbon. A century later, oil and gas were added to satiate the thirst of industry.
Man still relies mainly on these fossil fuels.
Nevertheless many other sources of energy: hydro, solar, nuclear, wind, geothermal, biogas
and wave have been taped. These sources of energy are not only renewable but clean as
well. Since the hydrocarbons are exhaustible and their use also threatens human health and
environment; this fact has necessitated transformation from non-renewable energy
resources to renewable and clean energy resources so that economic growth could be
sustained and environmental degradation could be prevented.
Energy is not only vital for the industry but it is also the life blood of our daily life. The
consumption of fossil fuels has increased manifolds due to rapid industrialisation of
developing countries like China and India. However, the major proportion of hydrocarbon is
consumed by already developed countries like the US, Japan and Western European states.
The fossil fuels are also the main source of energy for heating of houses and running motor
vehicles and generation of electricity. Since the demand has been increased far more than
the increase in the production of fossil fuels, a disproportionate imbalance between the
demand and supply has been created which has resulted in energy crisis.
If the fossil fuel production remains constant, it is estimated that the reserves will be
depleted soon. The oil crisis of 2008, when petrol prices soared to $150 a barrel, was an
early symptom of such scenario. The increasing demand coupled with speculations of
depletion of fossil fuels caused sky rocketing rise in the prices, which was the principal
catalyst behind economic crises in the world.
The energy crises are caused due to disproportionate dependence on non-renewable energy
resources fossil fuels. The hydrocarbons; coal oil and gas together constitute 85 per cent of
the world’s total energy supply. Their respective share is oil 37 per cent; coal 25 per cent
and gas 23 per cent (total 85 per cent).
On the other hand the renewable resources of energy; hydro, solar, wind, nuclear,
geothermal, biogas and wave constitute only 15 per cent of global share of energy supply.
These are also clean sources of energy. Despite their enormous benefits, the renewable
sources of energy have not been exploited sufficiently due to many reasons. The reasons
may include technological barriers, initial cost and political compulsions. Both the least
developed and developing countries mainly face technological backwardness and barriers,
while the developed countries have been too slow and reluctant to transfer their technology
due to the higher cost and political reasons.
The world distribution of energy consumption reveals that the most developed countries are
the highest consumers of fossil fuels. The US, which is the most advanced country
technologically and richest economically, consumes 25 per cent of the total world energy
output while its population makes only five per cent of the world. This makes America the
highest per capita energy consuming nation. Second comes Japan, which consumes six per
cent. The Western European countries which are also technologically advanced consume 15
per cent of the world energy. China, a growing economy, consumes nine per cent of the
world energy resources. However, the rest of the world consumes only 45 per cent of energy
This consumption is in sharp contrast to the production in respect of regional distribution. As
the US has only 2.4 per cent of world oil reserves and 3.5 per cent of gas reserves, Japan
imports 75 per cent of its energy needs, China imports more than 50 per cent of its energy
needs. The largest fossil fuel reserves are located in Middle East and Russia. The Arab
countries possess 61 per cent of oil reserves of the world but they are not big consumers.
This uneven distribution of consumption and production is the one cause of energy crisis.
Other three causes behind the global energy crisis include surge in demand, tighter supply,
political uncertainty in oil producing countries and lack of the diversity of resources. These
One, the demand of energy resources have surged throughout the world. In 1970, the total
consumption of world was 204 Quadrillion BTU which doubled in 2000 to 402 Quadrillion
BTU and is now around 500 QBTU higher. It is projected that the energy demand by 2030
will be increased by 50 per cent.
As the economy of world is mainly dependent upon fossil fuel energy, the demand of oil andgas is increasing tremendously. Let’s take example of China has more than doubled its oil
use over the past decade to 5.55 million barrel a day. The US Energy Information
Administration (EIA) has reported that China oil needs could almost double to 11 million
barrels a day by 2020. Same is the case with India, the largest growing economy in South
Asia. The Central Asian and South American countries have also multiplied their
consumption due to rapid industrialisation.
Two, the supply of oil and gas are mainly dependent upon the capacity to pump from the
reserves. Though, the Organisation of Oil Exploring Countries (OPEC) boosted the supply
during the peak crisis in 2008 but that was not enough to meet the demand of the market.
Another factor determining the oil supplies is the volatile price mechanism. As the
speculations cause increase in the prices, the oil producing countries get higher profits. This
trend has led to new political concept– Resource nationalism. The international firms have
found themselves faced with tougher terms and shut out of globe’s most promising oil
Third, the supply of hydrocarbons is also affected by the political condition in the resource
countries. Unfortunately, the political conditions in all the oil producing regions are volatile.
It was painfully felt by the western world when Arab leaders clamped an oil embargo on the
US in retaliation to Washington’s support of Israel in the 1973 Middle East war. Even today
the conditions in this region are not stable. The US forces are occupying Iraq in order to
secure oil supplies. Iran is facing sanctions due to nuclear imbroglio with the West. Russia is
also at odds with Europe on the gas supplies. Hugo Chavez is busy in consolidating power in
Venezuela where he is facing the US-backed political opposition. The Central Asian States
have their own internal political turmoil.
Fourth, nature has bestowed man with infinite resources of energy but man has made
himself dependent on the finite resources. The lack of diversity of resources is the chief
cause of energy crises. Instead of harnessing new technology, the industrial growth in
developing countries is increasingly dependent on fossil fuels.
Such importance of energy has made it important element in the foreign policies of the
independent states. The 20th century and dawn of the 21st century have seen wars fought
for oil. In 1977, CIA prepared a plan “Go to war to get oil” and subsequently, the US went to
war with Iraq in 1991Gulf war. America is again there for the same purpose.
Similarly China’s foreign policy towards many regions of the world particularly Africa, the
Middle East and Caspian Sea region, oil holds a critical status. China’s vibrant policies in
these regions are being watchfully monitored by Washington. This is also true for South
Asian region. Pakistan is engaged with Iran for gas pipeline project and is equally interested
in the Caspian Sea region – Central Asian States.
Besides these conflicts, the fossil fuels cause havoc to our environment. The hydrocarbons
are the chief source of green house gases-carbon dioxide, Methane, fluorine, which cause
global warning. Burning coal accounts for 43 per cent of carbon emissions. Oil and gas
account for another 40 per cent of emissions of CO2.
Fears of global warning aside, burning fossil fuel releases chemicals and particulates that
cause cancer, brain and nerve damage, birth defects, lung injury, and breathing problems.
The toxics released by combusting hydrocarbons pollute the air and water and causes acid
rain and smog. These negative implications of burning fossil fuels on human environment
and life make it incumbent upon man to diversify the energy resources.
Man also needs to realise that the fossil fuel energy is limited and would be depleted.
Hennery Kissinger had said, “The amount of energy is finite ………. And competition for
access to energy can become the life and death for many societies”.
First; the solar energy, the basic source of energy, can be converged and converted into
different ways, such as simple water heating for domestic use or by the direct conversion of
sunlight to electrical energy using mirrors, boilers or photovoltaic cells. Currently only 0.5
per cent of the world energy supply is obtained from this source.
Second; humans have been harnessing the wind for thousands of years and have succeeded
in producing electricity from it. Air flowing through turbines or spinning blades generates
power that can be used to pump water or generate electricity. At present, the wind energy
constitutes 0.3 per cent of world energy supply but it has a great potential. Germany is
producing 23000 MW from wind, which is more than Pakistan’s total installed electricity
generation capacity. Like solar energy it is also a clean source of energy. According to the
US Department of Energy the world’s winds could supply more than 15 times its current
Third; hydroelectric power is another source of renewable energy in the natural water cycle.
The flow of streams can be manipulated by construction of dams at higher altitudes and the
kinetic energy of waterfall is used to rotate the turbines to make electricity. This is the very
cheaper source and clean form of energy.
Fourth; atomic energy is hailed as panacea to pollution problems generated by fossil fuels,
and is destined to be the cheapest source of energy. However, it is also limited and has
hazardous effects on human health. But given the potential of energy and the capacity of
technology to safeguard the nuclear plants, it is the quickest option to solve the energy
crises in the world as one nuclear pellet (finger) produces energy equivalent to 17000 cubic
feet of natural gas.
Fifth; biomass is also a potential source of energy. Humans have been burning biomass
materials since the dawn of time. It has been recently discovered to produce clean
combustible gas from waste products such as sewerage and crop residue. Many countries
have also invested in bio-fuels. However, this is counter-productive as it induced rise in food
prices, therefore only bio waste should be used for energy production.
Sixth; another alternate source of oil is methanol – a clear colourless liquid made from
natural gas, coal industrial garbage. This is a reliable source of fuel for automobiles as it is
cheaper and far easier to be produced in bulk.
Seventh; geothermal energy can be used with heat pumps to warm a buildings or swimming
pools in winter. This can lessen the need for other power to maintain comfortable
temperatures in buildings, particularly in countries having very cold winters.
Eighth; hydrogen has been touted as the fuel of the future. It is most abundant element
known in the universe and can be burnt as a fuel for vehicles and industry. If this form of
energy is taped at a larger scale, it will eventually become society’s primary energy carrier
in the 21st century.
The media and industry claim that renewable energies are not yet economically competitive
fossil fuels. Perhaps not; but given the health and environmental costs, and limit of fossil
fuels, the price of renewable energy is only viable option. However, no renewable energy
form will single handedly replace oil, but together they will become a very important part of
the energy mix of the future.
As the demand of energy is set to grow rapidly during next 20 years the supply of energy is
going to decline, which could give rise to competition and conflict coupled with economic
instability. Meanwhile, human environmental and health hazards could become
irrecoverable. Therefore, man should strive for energy independence that can be achieved
only through fuel choice and competition. And the first choice of sustainable energy is the
clean and renewable energy.
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