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ARTICLE: Karachi is Pakistan's economic backbone, providing the lion's share of the country's revenue. The city contributes more than 20% to the national GDP, and its power needs are growing at a faster pace.

This economic engine is powered by K-Electric, which is Pakistan's only vertically integrated power company, and also the only privatized power distribution company in the country. The power utility understands the need to plan for the future. The state-of-the-art BQPS-III RLNG based power plant at Bin Qasim, first unit of which is expected to be online by summer 2021, producing affordable and reliable power by shifting the fuel mix towards cleaner fuels is a part of this. It underscores KE's commitment to serve Karachi's growing power needs to help the city's fulfill its economic potential.

The company has already invested over USD 2.7 billion across the power value chain since 2009. As a result of these investments, efficient generation capacity of 1,057 MW has been added to KE's own fleet. Transmission and distribution (T&D) losses have been brought down from around 36% in 2009 to below 20%, and T&D capacity has been enhanced by around 48% and 69% respectively. The company is also continuously working to improve its fuel mix by increasing the share of renewables. In the last few years, KE has included 250 MW renewables in total generation mix with plans to add another 350 MW in the next few years.

The power utility acknowledges the support it has received from the Ministry of Energy, from the Power Division as well as other concerned authorities and regulators such as the National Electric Power Regulatory Authority (NEPRA). KE hopes that this support will be forthcoming in the future as well with regards to timely regulatory and tariff approvals, right of way issues and gas supply at the right pressure to ensure that the power plant and other investments proceed as per schedule. K-Electric also plans to invest around USD 2 billion in the next few years in generation and the associated transmission and distribution network as well as interconnection facilities to evacuate power from the national grid. These efforts are aimed at shifting Karachi into a power surplus position by 2023, through the addition of nearly 2,700 MW of power, both through own as well as through PPAs. Here too, the power utility hopes the required permissions and approvals will be given in time to ensure interconnections facilities and PPAs are concluded in a timely manner.

KE has always stayed abreast of the latest trends and technologies in the energy sector and the shift to Aerial Bundled Cable (ABC) - which is a growing global trend - has helped reduce the incidence of power theft through kundas and also improved the reliability of supply. In the past we have also undertaken a number of projects to aggressively curtail power theft such as Operation Burq where we leveraged the support of customers in identifying unscrupulous energy usage and pilferage. Today more than 75% of Karachi is exempt from load-shed as a result of such efforts.

However, we are not simply in the business of providing energy but we believe in energizing the hopes and dreams of the more than 20 million lives and in making a meaningful and lasting impact. As a vital part of Karachi we believe in fostering healthy relationships with communities across our service area and helping them break through the stagnancy and provide them with the means to embark on a journey of continuous progress.

This was clearly encapsulated in Project Ujala, under which KE made significant achievements towards reliable and consistent electricity supply in disadvantaged communities. A key point that made Ujala so sustainable is that it was mutually beneficial to KE and to the people, creating a continuous cycle of good with long-term benefits. This momentum is being carried forward now under Project Sarbulandi. Under its Social Investment Programme, the company has successfully been partnering with 16 philanthropic organizations working in the field of education and health for underprivileged people, providing them with subsidized electricity, benefiting millions of people across Karachi.

Furthermore, through the #PlantforPakistan initiative, KE has been playing its part for a greener Pakistan. More than 200,000 trees have been planted so far under this initiative. The power utility has helped uplift underprivileged communities by installing water purification plants as well as conducting free eye camps. The Lyari Youth League is another example of successful youth engagement that has left a lasting positive impact on underserved communities.

The city has had to go through a lot this year, first with devastating impact of COVID-19 which brought with it not just economic challenges but also impacted millions of families because of the precious lives lost. Karachi, had not yet started to recover from the impact of this global pandemic when city's already over-burdened and brittle infrastructure was yet again brought to a standstill by unprecedented rains, which resulted in urban flooding. The power utility, while understanding the need to keep the city powered up had no choice but to switch off power to several parts of the city in the interest of saving lives. We are extremely proud of the extremely resilient citizens of this great city, for withstanding all of this and they are the source from which we draw our inspiration for the company's future.

At the end of the day however, we are not operating in a vacuum - we need the full support and understanding of all key stakeholders, particularly the federal and provincial governments and the regulator. It is therefore critical that the state adopts a holistic approach towards KE so that it continues to stand out as a privatization success story and acts as a catalyst and platform for attracting further domestic and foreign private investment in the country's energy sector. KE, the government and the regulator are natural allies in achieving this objective in the overall national interest.

Writer is CMCO K-Electric

Copyright Business Recorder, 2020