The total power generation capacity of Pakistan is about 23,538MW, with energy consumption having grown by about 80 percent in the last 15 years. According to the Pakistan Water and Power Development Authority (Wapda), the country’s electricity demand will increase to around 40,000MW by 2020.

Pakistan’s energy demand had grown at an annual consumption growth rate of 4.8 percent in the past five years, but now it is expected to grow at 8 to 10 percent per annum. There is need for a high and sustained growth in energy supply and infrastructure capacity of 7 to 8 percent per annum to support the steady growth in the state’s GDP. Since hydel power is considered a cheap source of energy, it requires the highest degree of attention. Add to this, it could produce large quantities of clean, renewable energy at low cost.

The federal government has been asked by the Ministry of Water and Power to start the construction of large storage dams on major rivers on a war footing, as several years have been wasted due to disagreement between the provinces.

Pakistan is an arid country built around a single river with about 70 percent of the flow in the upper Indus occurring in merely three months of the year and large annual fluctuations. Moreover, its reservoirs are Tarbela, Mangla and Chashma with 6.78, 4.46 and 0.22 MAF live storage capacities. The lack of fair approach to sharing the costs and benefits of water has been a major hurdle in developing high-return infrastructure in Pakistan.

Pakistan, though it hopes to induct at least 18,000MW hydel power in the next 10 years, is rapidly depleting its water storage capacity due to sedimentation. Currently, the storage capacity is up to 13 percent of the annual flow of rivers. The depletion has not only reduced the power generation capacity of our dams, but also proved detrimental to the country’s agriculture. For instance, over the last 30 years, the storage capacity of Tarbela has been reduced by 27 percent due to silting.

To save the people from severe energy crisis, the new government, headed by Mian Nawaz Sharif, has directed the concerned authorities to speed up the pace of work on the Neelum-Jhelum Hydropower Project that has the capacity of generating 969MW power.

This, indeed, is a mega project of high national importance, as it will help reduce the gap between demand and supply of power in the country. It is in the neighbourhood of Muzaffarabad (Azad Jammu and Kashmir) and envisages the diversion of Neelum River waters through a tunnel and after producing power, out-falling into Jhelum River.

Having said that, Pakistan’s first private hydropower IPP established by Hub Power Company (Hubco) was successfully commissioned on March 23, 2013. The project will contribute 540 GWh of green energy annually into the national grid under a 25-year Power Purchase Agreement (PPA) with National Transmission and Despatch Company (NTDC).

According to reports, “the Asian Development Bank (ADB) and other lending banks, multilaterals IDB, IFC and Proparco France, and two domestic commercial banks – the NBP and HBL – played a very active and constructive role in structuring the project and finance documents.” It will provide cheaper electricity and energy security to the country. It includes replacement of some 135,000 tons of oil import valued in excess of $100 million per annum and reduction in carbon emissions. It has yet a year to begin commercial operations.

Further, the Himalayas are the most glaciated region outside the North and South Poles; its glaciers and waters are a source of life, livelihoods and sustenance in our region. At least 1.3 billion people are directly and half of the humanity is indirectly dependent on them. Such is the importance of the Himalayas, which is the backbone of multiple adjoining regions.

Pakistan’s water resources of the Himalayas are a rich means of hydroelectric power generation. Dams being built in the region can produce energy, develop agriculture, conserve water, promote fisheries and sustain communities.

Also, Pakistan is capable enough to produce over 50,000 megawatts of electricity at a cheap cost through micro hydropower generation means, especially in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Kashmir and northern areas of the country, since these areas have a large number of sites where power generation units can be installed.

The country is highly in need of overcoming its persistent energy shortfall, which has critically reduced the national growth and economy, in addition to affecting routine life across the board. Keeping this in view, micro hydropower potential can make turnaround in the energy sector. It is a type of hydroelectric power that produces up to 100KW of electricity using the natural flow of water. These installations can provide power to an isolated home or a small community, or sometimes connected to electric power networks. According to power experts, there are many similar installations around the world, particularly in developing countries, as they can provide an economical source of energy without the purchase of fuel.

There are many types of water turbines too, which can be used in micro hydropower installations, selection depending on the head of water, the volume of flow and such factors as the availability of local maintenance and transport of equipment to the site. For mountainous regions, where a waterfall of 50 meters or more may be available, a Pelton wheel can be used.

The studies underway include Diamer Bhasha (4,500MW), Bunji (7,100MW) and Kohala (1,100MW) among others. Although hydel power is the cheapest source to generate energy, it is the most controversial because the construction of dams involves a lot of investment and displacement of natives. The situation is not too good with big projects, such as Bhasha-Diamir, Neelam-Jhelum and Bunji dams, since none of them are likely to be completed in the given timeframe.

Small hydro projects are also very important, as Pakistan has a great potential in this sector. At present, some 300 small and mini hydropower plants, installed by the private and public sector in the northern hilly areas, are supplying electricity to these areas.

It is unfortunate that we have failed to make full use of the potential in small dams as well. In June 2011, President Asif Zardari inaugurated a project for the construction of 12 small dams in different parts of the country by 2013. However, work on a single dam has yet not commenced till now.

The writer is a freelance columnist.