For anyone wishing to believe that power outages will vanish anytime soon, Nepra’s recently released report on the state of the transmission network will be a reality check. Even though the previous government went gung-ho on power generation by installing a plethora of power plants, transmission and distribution were treated like unfortunate step children.
Transmission and distribution are in dire need of investment for maintenance and up-gradation. Nepra’s findings in the Performance Evaluation Report 2016-17 based on data reported by the National Transmission & Despatch Company (NTDC) shows that the grid has only gotten worse with time.
The transmission network has fared worse off across almost all performance parameters which include system duration and frequency of interruption, energy not served (ENS), loss of supply incidents, system collapses and voltage variation.
Even though the report can be considered dated given it is coming after a lag of more than a year, it still provides useful information. The system duration of interruption which measures the average outage duration that an interconnection point observes on a yearly basis increased by 135 percent to 1.08 hours in 2017 as compared to 0.46 hours in the previous year.
Similarly, system frequency of interruption which is a reliability indicator that measures the average number of outages per circuit in a year increased by almost 84 percent to 0.35 in 2017 (2016: 0.19). The regulator also notes that the total number of outages have increased by almost 90 percent as compared to the previous year.
To gauge the financial impact of grid system constraints, the energy not served (ENS) by NTDC amounted to almost 75 million kWh which amounts to Rs415 million according to Nepra’s analysis. This was the result of loss of supply incidents which increased to 165 incidents involving 515 hours of lost power supply.
Without delving into more technical jargon most of which is far from positive, it should be noted that the findings of the report should not come as a surprise. The writing on the wall has been there since ages when it comes to the state of the transmission network in Pakistan.
The need for a robust transmission and distribution system is all the more important now though given the rise in installed capacity which has crossed the 30,000MW mark. Unless the energy sold is increased which naturally requires minimum outages and system breakdowns, the capacity payments of power plants cannot be offset and the financial viability of the entire power system will remain bleak.
Investment needs to be dedicated for up-gradation and maintenance but that is just one aspect. The other elephant in the room is NTDC’s capacity which lacks the professional merit and competence required for technical engineering matters. Unless this institutional capacity is built alongside even simply pouring money into up-gradation projects will not yield a secure supply of power.