For several days, the whole country suffered a massive breakdown of electricity amidst unprecedented heat crossing 45 deg. C. In some localities, claims are that the load-shedding has been for more than 20 hours a day. Government’s own MNAs have protested rather violently in the assembly. It would be of interest for the readers to know as to what actually happened. This writer will try to build an integrated picture of what happened and what should not have happened. This writer will attempt to present some recommendations and repeat some of the oft-repeated ones that have been made in this space over the years. But let us have some facts and data:
There was a shortfall of 6,500MW; it was not because there was not enough installed generation capacity;
Installed generation capacity is 36,000MW out of which dependable capacity is 29,000MW;
The power demand was unprecedentedly high on 11th June at 23,633MW which on the same day last year was only 18,392MW;
GoP (government of Pakistan) has shutdown inefficient Genco power plants to the tune of 4,000MW .Only, Guddu and in Nandipur have been retained which together total less than 1,000MW. The step was long called for;
Wapda (Water and Power Development Authority) has an installed capacity of 9,000MW, out of which 3,300MW was not available due to a number of reasons being cited;
The most efficient thermal power plants (RLNGCCPP-Bhikki, Haveli Bahadur Shah, etc.) of an aggregate capacity of 3,500MW are running under-capacity due to lack of gas supplies;
NTDC (Nationaal Transmission & Despatch Company) claims and perhaps rightly so that there was no issue in transmission;
Lack of RFO availability although refineries have been crying hoarse of their unsalable RFO capacity and production.
Let us first congratulate the government which has been under severe pressure, that an increase of power demand since last year by 5,241MW is an indicator of the truthfulness of the higher economic growth rate of 4.8%. It is obvious that power demand could not have increased by such a margin had economic growth not have improved.
But what were the main reasons that are being cited; 1.Untimely maintenance activity by Wapda (Water and Power Development Authority) which blocked 3,500MW of capacity in such a critical overheated season which occurs every year; 2. RLNG supply issues which kept RLNGCCPP under-utilized.;3. RFO capacity could not be utilized which has been providing a back-stop role.
First, as to the low capacity utilization of RLNCCPPs, we have earlier discussed the merit order dispatch issues and gas pricing anomalies. Why is gas not available for these highly efficient power plants? Gas/RLNG demand from other sectors should be low around this season. There are other power plants which can run on RFO or gas; their bad economics would have been better than the heavy load-shedding. It is not clear whether lack of RFO availability was a factor or the lead time required to run steam power plants was not provided due to inadequate planning and forecasting by NPCC (National Power Construction Corporation).
Secondly, several reasons are being cited for Wapda’s lack of availability of 3,000MW; 1. Water is indented for agricultural use and gets priority; thus lesser water indent, lesser electricity; 2. Two Tarbela power plants were off due to maintenance; 3. Interruption was due to the expansion projects. Wapda has not come out with a clear statement, thus this speculation.
In winter times, there is almost no hydro generation which is the time for its maintenance activities. In summer, most of their generation capacity is utilized. They know it, everybody knows it. I am sure that there should have been some good reason that it occurred, but that good reason is bad reason, whatever it may be. It appears that Wapda does not have the required level of contact and coordination with NTDC (National Transmission & Despatch Company) and NPCC (National Power Construction Corporation) so as to enable mitigation and alternate planning due to WAPDA’s plants unavailability. Water indent issue should be resolved as well.
Thirdly, NPCC was lacking in its forecasting, planning and coordination activity. NPCC is a technical organization. It has no teeth. Teeth are elsewhere as we shall see. Nevertheless, all of this indicates a lack of integrated operational planning on a daily, weekly, monthly and quarterly basis. It has been wrongly assumed that had the boards of companies, especially, Discos had been performing well, all problems would have been solved. It is a wrong expectation. Board meetings occur too infrequently and may be able to take some strategic or statutory approvals of managements recommendations. It may have the powers although not the capacity to be able to supervise such complicated organizations. Ministry has been providing to fill the gap to deal with the day-to-day operations and difficulties. There was a competent secretary power division who used to hold daily meetings at Sehri times to coordinate supply schedules in Ramazan. It is said that Ministries are for policy-making and oversight. Perhaps the word ‘oversight’ has been extended beyond its usual meanings.
It is being done, because there is an institutional gap which, this writer has pointed out, a number of times. There are more than 20 companies which are under the management and control of the power division: NTDC, CPPAG (Central Power Purchasing Agency-Guarantee), PPIB (Private Power Infrastructure Board), AEDB (Alternative Energy Development Board), NPCC, Discos, Gencos, etc. In order to assure, efficient and integrated operations of the power sector, a management organisation is required which should have administrative and technical capabilities and powers. Pepco (Pakistan Electric Power Company) was earlier providing this function partly. It was coordinating Discos only. Pepco has to be revived, although almost on a death bed currently. A revived Pepco would have to control and coordinate among all power division companies. Unless this is done, disorder and inefficiencies cannot be removed.
There is another important factor. Although, it has been good that the Wapda monolith has been disintegrated and it is now responsible only for Hydro, that we have been able to induct private sector participation and FDI and can move towards a competitive market eventually. The bad consequence is that counter institutions to take care of its negative consequences could not be built. The sector is disintegrated. There is no technology pool to accumulate and develop know-how. In the West, group head offices of the power companies provide these functions. In developing countries in our region, there are organisations like CEA (Central Electricity Authority) which provide technical and technological support to the power sector in India. It also provides technical input to the regulators as well and develops recommendations for the government. We badly need such an organization.
One can have a unified organization having dual functions of operational management such as revived Pepco and technology component as provided by CEA India. Sceptics may argue that yet another organization would create more bureaucracy and expense. Some manpower may be generated from existing manpower in various companies. Some companies like PPIB may have reduced functions in the wake of a competitive market. But the benefit side should also be looked into when cost is being considered. At this moment, almost anything worth mildly significant is done by foreign experts and consultants. Local technical content is negligible in most important matters, issues and activities. Soon, we will be having 50,000MW of installed power capacity. Steps to accumulate technology and incubate are required. It can be done without accumulating deadwood, and nurturing of able and capable talents can be done.
The above-mentioned recommendations about the establishment of organisations do not mean that nothing can be done without it. The weaknesses and gaps have been made obvious by the load-shedding, corrective steps can be taken. However, sustainable and consistent efficiency and capability may not be possible without institutional strengthening of the power sector. Reforms have to come from the government.
(The writer is former Member Energy, Planning Commission and author of several books on the energy sector)
Copyright Business Recorder, 2021