Can we solve the energy crisis?
The sleepless nights and disruption to daily routine through load-shedding has come to be known as business as usual in Pakistan. Over the years however, the realms of what is normal in terms of duration has been pushed to the limit with the country experiencing up to 10-hour electricity and gas load-shedding – an unprecedented level. My sympathies go out to the people who have to bear this experience alongside soaring mercury levels (up to 50 degrees celsius). Thanks to a series of broken promises and sheer mismanagement by the rulers, there doesn’t seem to be any short term solution nor a long term commitment to solve this problem.
It doesn’t take much to conclude that the existing scenario is essentially due to some of the following factors (in no particular order):
1. Uncontrolled population explosion
2. Rising Middle Class with more energy needs
3. Unchanged power infrastructure
4. Inefficient management of power authorities
5. Lack of vision and investment by the Government
Add to the above a consistently unstable political framework and massive levels of illiteracy, any solution not only seems very daunting but downright impossible for the next few years. So what can be done to break this vicious (and self-sustaining) cycle. Considering the indispensability of energy to the future growth needs of the country, a clear vision and plan needs to be drawn up and an unwavering commitment by people and rulers to the process of rolling out the goods regardless of political affiliation.
Based on geological analysis, it is evident that the most pragmatic and sustainable solutions would involve adding multi giga-watt capacity through coal and hydropower based projects. According to research, Pakistan sits on top of the world’s 8th largest reserves of coal and is also home to one of the most extensive natural river systems. Despite the fact that there is widespread agreement on the basis of these two options, progress has been slow and even stalled due to lack of commitment at all levels of government. I would like to draw a distinction here between financial and political ability. It is fair to assume that if a nation wide motor-ways and a new port city (Gwadar) can be built, so too can more dams, power plants and coal exploration be funded by the same government.
Another less talked-about aspect of power generation is solar and wind energy. It is clear that the world’s appetite for non-renewable sources such as crude oil, coal and gas is set to diminish over the next 50 years as some of the world’s largest deposits show signs of depletion. At the same time, there is a shift towards renewable energy sources such as solar, wind and water with great advancements in the development and distribution of infrastructure. Pakistan could seize an opportunity in the current crisis by investing in solar and wind energy farms. With one of the most sunniest outlooks in the world, the plains of Punjab and Sindh could house industrial-scale solar farms or subsidise the technology for distribution at domestic level to help increase self-sufficiency. The coastal regions of Sindh and Baluchistan could be utilised for off-shore wind farms which would not only provide additional capacity but also result in thousands of jobs for locals across the coastal regions.
All the above options seem quite plausible in the case of Pakistan and given some political will, might even get to see the light of day. But what can we do to stop the crisis from further deterioration and provide some ways to survive this summer? The solution lies in a collective national effort.
It is clear that consumption habits of consumers across Pakistan are grossly inefficient. Leaving lights and home appliances on even when they are not being used is a common practice across our homes. Similarly, many businesses such as small retail outlets use excessive lighting. It is commonly observed that shops that could do with a few energy efficient lights to meet the desired level of luminance use as many as 15 to 20 tube lights. Not only does this increase power consumption, it also generates heat and creates a need to purchase even more power hungry cooling appliances such as ACs. The inefficient consumption trend simply runs across all domestic, industrial, trade and commercial sectors. It is crucial that there is an immediate collective national-level effort to stop this misuse of energy.
So what can be done to buck the current trend? With minimal effort, well over ten percent of the overall consumption can be saved by simply changing our attitudes. The people of Pakistan need to acknowledge that the country is faced with an acute energy crisis which requires a national-level effort to overcome it. Together we must draw a distinction between electrical necessities and luxuries. There is simply insufficient levels of energy to fuel both aspects.
There is real potential to avert a real disaster by simply promoting conservation and meet almost half of the energy deficit. To ensure success, public awareness is essential. With the help of effective electronic and print media campaigns the government can quickly educate the masses on the necessary steps.
Unfortunately, we will have to compromise on luxury in order to meet the necessities. Commercial establishments can substantially reduce their power consumption by changing their working hours. An early start and early end to maximise daylight ought to be adopted as opposed to afternoon until late at night hours. AC usage must be dropped to a minimum.
The AC has long been associated in Pakistan with higher social class and with a sign of a luxurious lifestyle. It is probably a fact that rising middle class’s demand for ACS finally broke the proverbial camel’s back. At the current AC consumption trends, we will probably have to stare at the silent ACs with no power as there will be no electricity left for anyone to run them. So let’s stop the use of ACs and grab the good old fan and mosquito net and take in the pleasure of sleeping on the roof. Oh and the beauty of the celestial setting will truly take away any worries of heat. On a personal note, some of my most memorable nights in Lahore have been under the sky during cloudless summer nights.
To conclude, there is no denying the fact that probably the whole world is faced with a form of energy crisis. Energy is scarce and is becoming increasingly dear. The power to harness and conserve energy is in the hands of the people of each nation – In our case, all Pakistanis.
I call on the educated and ruling elite to lead by example and convince the poor and common man that charity indeed starts at home. The masses will take on the idea when they see that the rulers practice what they preach and will play an equal role in changing the status quo.
Hopefully projects such as Dams, Wind, Nuclear and Solar farms will eventually see the light of day. But until then, it is the simple solutions that could potentially save us from a slow and painful process of suffering.