The inquiry report on the power system collapse in January 2021 is out. Do not expect media frenzy and mafia-calling that happened with sugar, wheat, and petroleum inquiry reports. There is good reason too, as the power blackout report has no sensational details around corruption, or political patronage, and is not even the first-ever inquiry of its kind. But in a way that very fact makes the whole episode a sadder affair, as this has happened all too often, and yet the actions to prevent it from happening have not been taken in spirit.
A large portion of the report details the circumstances that led to the collapse, and then fixes the responsibility of those who showed negligence. The report is understandably laced with all sorts of technical details, which were critical for an inquiry of this scale. Kudos to the committee for that.
But it is actually the peripheries of the technical details that raise more eyebrows and makes one wonder if those who have failed to implement recommendations over the years, should be the ones held more responsible, than those who simply failed to perform as per instructions on the given day. Now consider some (not all) of the shortcomings that the power system has. There is no centralized event recorder for the entire power system. The sequence of tripping of machines and transmission lines cannot be precisely ascertained.
There have been ten major power shutdown incidences in the last eight years. It is pertinent to note that, Guddu power plant and the grid network was at the center of all total and partial collapses - for eight out of the ten times. In light of previous inquiry reports ranging from 2015-2018 – no less than 12 recommendations were put forward by the respective committees. Only four of them stand implemented today, and one remains under progress.
One wonders if the inquiry should actually be on the non-implementation of key recommendations, than the staff which failed to comply with the right set of protocols. Mind you the recommendations are made by the technical experts after very detailed study of the chain of events - and the non-implementation of very important recommendations is a huge concern.
There have been recommendations to maintain hydel generation at a minimum of 1500 MW at all times between mid-December to mid-February to avoid such incidences, but that remains unimplemented. Use of Radial feeders was recommended to achieve load shedding through under frequency relays at 132 KV stations – this remains unimplemented.
Number of points at Guddu grid were identified in 2016 as very old which needed replacements – that never happened. It cannot be a coincidence that events have mostly surrounded Guddu, yet hardly a concrete step was taken to ensure it does not happen again.
The delay in system restoration is also caused by non-availability of Black Start Facility at power plants in the Central Region. It was recommended in 2018 for the PPA of future plants to have that clause. This too remains, unimplemented. Surely, when you can ink negotiations around tariffs, including a technical requirement that reduces restoration time, could have been considered too, especially when it was recommended.
Real time analysis, which allows access to real time supervisory control and data acquisition is still under progress. It is disturbing that for such a complexed, highly connected, and data rich sector, the unavailability of SCADA system persists even in this day and age Pakistan would do well to take a leap of faith as the Artificial Intelligence, Machine Learning and Internet of Things take precedence in all industrial settings around the world. It is about time that matters that do not necessarily revolve around revenues be given equal importance to the ones that are to do with tariffs, surcharges, and more surcharges.