Pakistan: A Nuclear Power Facing a Grave Energy Crisis

As a country of great geographical importance and an ally to US in its war against terrorism; Pakistan has a huge crisis at hand. The country is deemed as a nuclear power but it is currently facing an immense power and energy shortage. With a daily eight to ten hour of country wide power outage routine, both business and personal life of Pakistanis are hampered. Mumtaz A. Piracha, in his blog post puts it quite aptly:

“In June 2007, the power cuts in Pakistan lasted no more than 3 or 4 hours a day. Today, in extremely hot weather, Pakistanis have to endure without electricity for 8 to 10 hours a day. Industrial production is suffering, exports are down, jobs are being lost, and the national economy is in a downward spiral. By all indications, the power crisis in Pakistan is getting worse than ever.”

Karachi city, which is Pakistan’s biggest financial and industrial hub, is facing a deficit of approximately 700 MW against a fair demand of total 2200MW. The present situation continues to cause a huge industrial loss and adding nuisance to an already troubled economy. Riaz Haq, a Pakistani blogger, looks at the rising energy demand very critically and shares vital information with his blog readers:

“At an Asia Program event organized by Wilson Center in 2006, Vladislav Vucetic of the World Bank provided a troubling assessment of the state of Pakistan’s electricity sector—demand is approaching maximum production capacity, while institutional capacity for policy development and implementation remains low. Worse, failing to resolve these problems may cause investment delays and hamper Pakistan’s economic growth.”

It’s not the economy that’s singly paying for the incompetence and corruption of previous and present Governments. In fact the everyday life of an average Pakistani has come to a standstill. In a blog post Saeed Shah narrates the story of a working Pakistani woman:

“Children can't do their homework. Household work doesn't get done, as washing machines and other appliances cannot work. When you go home from work, you have no idea whether there will be electricity at home. Your whole life is disturbed,” said Mahnaz Peracha of the Network for Consumer Protection, an independent Pakistani advocacy group.”

Protest Against Kalabagh Dam and Thal Canal. Image by Flickr user International Rivers. CC By-nc-sa

Energy crisis of such magnitude doesn’t come about one fine day. Question arises what led to all this? For more than a decade KalaBagh Dam Controversy has annoyed the nation like an old gramophone. Pakistan, since its very creation, fixated on hydropower as its only technique of power generation. Minus the politics, KalaBagh Dam was a brilliant project and could have supported the national need for years to come. Tahir Hameed pens down the lack of national consensus on Kalabagh Dam issue in his post:

“The inability of provinces and governments to resolve the Kalabagh Dam issue speaks volumes about our acumen and wisdom especially when International bodies point out that the building of Kalabagh dam will save the country from becoming a barren desert.”

In the current scenario Government, power producers and distributors are all trapped in a circular debt, which has administratively damaged the already worsen situation. Riaz Haq writes:

The key players in this “circular debt” trap are the federal and provincial governments as the biggest deadbeats, the power distributors like KESC, the power producers like Pepco and Hubco, and the fuel suppliers like government-owned Pakistan State Oil (PSO) and partially state-owned Pak-Arab Refinery Ltd (PARCO). This debt circle begins with the government as the biggest debtor and ends with a government-owned entity as the biggest creditor….. Is there a personal profit motive of the top leader of the ruling PPP, who is allegedly pushing rental power plants (RPPs) contracts ahead of the speedy resolution of circular debt? Is it a combination of corruption and incompetence?

Work around like Rental Power Plants (RPPs) is look down upon by the Pakistani people, blogger from My Land Pakistan shares similar sentiments:

“The whole drama of load shedding is being played to create the importance of RPPs (RENTAL POWER PLANTS) among the people. There has been great criticism on the government from the media and public on the issue of RPPs”

Is there an alternate solution, if we don’t go with RPPs?

Saeed Qureshi enlightens us with his upright opinion:

“Iran has offered Pakistan up to 2270 MG way back in 2008 to beef up the indigenous power production and to offset the shortage that has brewed up an unremitting social and economic chaos. And when Iran is bending over backward and frantically trying to help Pakistan overcome its chronic energy deficiency , the government looks askance, willfully ignores such direly needed offer and prefers the make-shift arrangements for generation of electricity that are not only overly expensive, are squarely unreliable but also cannot meet the energy requirements of the country. A newly born marvelous nation is the helpless victim of a monstrous rip off by a pack of greedy, rapacious, money hunting human hounds.”

While the authorities employ their power shedding experiments on the nation, Pakistani public helplessly endures the menace for the time being. But from the deteriorating condition at hand one cannot disregard the possibility of a violent outburst from the seemingly patient majority.


  • Energy Technologist

    There have been alot of talk. From hydro to wind to wave. The problem with pakistan is that, none of these options are going to work. Pakistan is a small country compared to its population. hydro dams aside from being expensive in an effectively bankrupt country, drown large amounts of precious land, so Pakistan can not meet all of its energy needs by hydro generation. wind, solar and wave technologies are not proven and are expensive toys which hardly contribute a few percentage of power demands in the most rich and technologically superior countries so Pakistan should not gamble on these toys and spend its precious money on them. Coal power plants are a very attractive option, since pakistan has coal reserves to provide its energy needs for several dozen years, but they are dirty and generally any kind of power plants are not cheap. A 1,000 MW plant costs upwards of a billion euroes, and that is only the price of the plant and does not include a billion dollar more needed to develop a large enough mine to feed coal for the plant. Nuclear plants cost several times more and can cost upto 10 billion dollars for a 1,200 MWh. Pakistan does not have the technology to make nuclear power plant and currently no other country also wants to sell nuclear plants to Pakistan due to terrorism problem. Pakistan as of now is short by 6,000 MW and as the population grows and people’s expectations shoot up and half of Pakistan that is right now not connected to electric grid, become connected, You can imagine how many plants Pakistan has to make. Also it takes anywhere between 4 years for a small coal plant to 12 years for a large dam or nuclear plant to be built.
    Right now facilities like airconditioners and computers are used by less than 10% of pakistan and most of the economy is based on ancient agricultural techniques. If pakistan is ever to become modern and industrialized then it needs, at least 1 Kilowatt hour capacity for every person. With a current estimated population of 180 million that comes to 180 thousand Megawatt hour capacity. Pakistan has now just 20 thousand. With growing population Pakistan would need more than 360 thousand MWh of energy by 2050, when Pakistan’s population hits 360 million.
    So what is the solution. Pakistan does not have money and technology to develop its own plants. Independent power producers and private generating units are also not a long term option as they are thieves selling the same electricity in Pakistan for up to 55 US cents per kilowatt hour as compared to 12 cents in Canada and United States, under the pretext of investment in a risky terrorist infested country. Only one option remains, which is fortunately for Pakistan is both very cheap and reliable as well as least time consuming. The option has only one glitch, and that is, it will accompany the wrath of USA. That option is Iran. Iran can provide Pakistan with almost unlimited amount of natural gas which is much cheaper than the prevailing LNG prices in the world. Also Iran has a very developed electricity generation system and has offered Pakistan to meet the entire Pakistani shortage of electricity by offering the subsidized rate of 11 cents per kilowatt hour. Iran has even offered to build the entire transmission lines to Pakistan entirely with its own money and expertise on a record time of 14 months. If Pakistan just says ok. there will be no load shedding by the next summer. It is a very brilliant option both economically as well as security wise. Economically Pakistan will get as much power as it needs comparatively cheaply, and can spend its little money on developing industries and other needed infra structure instead of building power plants. And since Pakistan is going to be dealing with a government that is the brotherly government of Iran, Pakistan will no more need to play a slave to IPP’s. These kind of arrangements are immensely successful and promote peace and prosperity, for example almost all of the countries in continental Europe buy their power from France and Germany. But alas our leaders are too afraid of US. They have not learnt anything from Turkey which is in a similar situation to Pakistan being an American client. But Turkey despite being a client has defined its red lines with USA regarding its national security. So Turkey buys both gas and electricity from Iran, and Americans understand that Turkish people will not listen to them in these regards unless USA could satisfy their energy needs instead of Iran. But since USA can not even satisfy its own energy needs and has to import energy itself then Turks buy cheap energy from Iran. Pakistan could do the same if it had the guts to tell Americans that either they should meet the national energy needs by the next summer or that Iranians will be invited to take care of our problem. It is a choice Pakistan has to make today and not tomorrow. Iran is pakistan’s only option. And pakistan is lucky that its only option is in the lap of a brotherly country which is not only trustworhty but also eagerly willing to help out. Pakistan should not die of energy starvation while its brother is willing to feed it.

  • “Minus the politics, KalaBagh Dam was a brilliant project and could have supported the national need for years to come.”

    I would love to disagree with you on this. Minus the politics, Kalabagh Dam is an absurd project. Here’s the reasons why:

    a. It is a ‘large’ dam. It destroys the ecosystem of the environment it is created in, causes exodus of thousands if not millions. Imagine, Pakistani government coming to your house tomorrow and asking you to move out for the ‘country’. Do you find the government credible enough to do it?

    b. It is a ‘large’ dam, it requires huge amount of capital, careful execution of construction, too much focus on ‘one’ project, whereby same amount of capital can be expended on multiple short-term smaller projects, they would be become operational sooner.

    c. There are no guarantees that we are going to have the water to support such a large dam. Sure there are studies, but if you start building it today, you are looking at 10 years from now for its completion and a lifetime of at least 20 years after that. There is no study which guarantees water for the lifetime of this project. Most of the current feasibility studies call the water going down to ‘sea’ as waste, which is utterly wrong. That water (which is not there anyway!) supports the Indus delta, where millions of people and animals live. That water supports a huge chunk of life.

    d. There is a huge amount of resentment in smaller provinces, against the project. You can easily disqualify it by calling it ‘politics’. But it is not! It is about lives of millions who irrigate the land in Sind, it is about farmers, small business-owners who depend on Indus. Sure, it has been used as a political card but there is a basis for the argument too, it is not only ‘politics’.

    e. There are many other ALTERNATIVES. If it was our last option, then you would think about going against all of the above but we don’t have to. We have sun shining on us whole year, you pointed out that we have the nuclear power, we can build smaller dams, we can use the coal in Thar and make sure we don’t pollute the environment with it. There are other ways!

  • – Three out of four Provincial Assemblies have passed about 10 resolutions against construction of Kalabagh dam (KBD) in Punjab.

    – Punjab is giving impression that three out of four provinces viz. Sindh, Balochistan and KP by opposing Kalabagh dam in Punjab, are real enemies of Pakistan is totally wrong and unacceptable. At the same time, Punjab giving impression that only Punjab is well-wisher of three provinces and people of three provinces are enemies of their own, is wrong. This thinking must be abandoned immediately as we have not learnt lesson from separation of East Pakistan (56% population)

    In the past, Punjab compelled “majority” (56% population) to get independence from “minority”. The only example in the sovereign states in the world.

    Now a gang of people belonging to Punjab are bent upon to prove the people of three provinces out of four are “Traitors”. What a shame.

    Bhasha dam is already under construction whereas Munda dam with double capacity of KBD is also to start construction work soon.

    Therefore, there is no need to build KBD as it would only control and reduce the water of Sindh.

    In Sindh, sixth largest Indus delta in the world is on verge of unnatural death due to non-implementation of water Accord – 1991 by Punjab after passing 19 years of signing it and Punjab not allowing to release 10 MAF water downstream Kotri to save Indus delta and people 2.7 million living in areas between Kotri and Arabian Sea. They are Pakistani and Muslims. What happened if they are not Punjabis?

    Flood water is not stored in dams. Plz see interview of Fatehullah Gandapur, ex-IRSA chairman (1993-1998) to daily Times (Aug 12, 2010) while denying the claim of PM Gillani (belonging to Punjab) that KBD was not designed as flood control project.

    – Why super floods are creating havoc in USA, Europe and Asia despite having dams? Please think it again and again

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