The latest power breakdown is another feather in the cap of the government’s ever-growing list of unwanted. The aftermath has seen a few officers suspended and a detailed inquiry ordered. Both were needed, but this should not end as an investigative case, fixing the responsibility, punishing those involved, and chapter closed. This should ideally serve as a lesson that the fragility of the electricity transmission system is real.
On the face of it, the National Transmission and Despatch Company (NTDC) has made significant progress in terms of adding more capacity to the overall transmission network. From under 30,000 MVA (megavolt amperes) in FY10 to a little over 55,000 MVA in FY20 is not half bad. A lot of charts and tables are making rounds on social media, where MVA is misconstrued for MW.
Eyebrows are being raised on the technical explanations of the power breakdown. Unfortunately, electricity transmission is as technical as it gets in the entire power chain, and system failures of such magnitude will eventually have technical details aplenty. This was a one-off and will likely not be repeated. There is little point in presenting the nationwide power breakdowns as year-on-year percentage changes.
What matters more is the compatibility of the transmission network with the power generation plants. Measuring the efficacy of transmission in kilometers and MW added is not exactly the smartest way.
There is no denying that the transmission network was not propelled simultaneously during the previous government tenure which has led to a lot of other problems, leading to under-utilization, overloading, and forced load-shedding. That said, the current government is fast losing currency on continuing to lay the blame on the predecessors. Two years in the office may not be enough to resurrect the transmission system, but enough to stop putting the blame on previous governments and show progress towards reforms.
The kind of overhaul needed for the transmission system to work more efficiently surely requires more than Rs45 billion that the NTDC gets to spend annually. A number of projects underway have faced delays or have shown painfully slow progress. Pakistan has not been able to fully reap the fruit of some of the world’s most efficient power generation plants on cheaper fuel, largely because of transmission constraints.
Case in point is the continued use of FO in peak demand season as the system lacks the capacity to evacuate power beyond a limit – leading to suboptimal utilization of efficient plants. For instance, the Bhikki Baloki power plant has to curtail power generation because of the constraints with the 500 kv grid station it is attached to. The proposed 132 kv network is a must to ensure optimal utilization, but the work remains slow-paced. Most of the projects underway are not slated to be completed by end of 2021 or mid-2022. Stricter compliance of operational protocols may well ensure there won’t be a repeat of the nationwide blackout, but there seems no end to the generation losses and related inefficiencies due to inadequate and incompatible transmission network.