Load shedding is a common term that is used in every Pakistani household – it is almost considered as a part of our culture. Despite being everyday phrase, every Pakistani yearns to make it a thing of the past.

Summers are approaching, which means the general public is automatically expecting the everyday lives to be ruled by presence and absence of electricity. Hours without electricity are now going to be directly proportional to temperature – hotter the day, worse would be the condition. It can be Ramadan, Eid, public holidays or world cup final – power cut will follow irrespective of days, festivals and occasions.

For over a decade now, Pakistan has struggled to balance supply against the demand for electricity. The governments have always tried to prioritise the energy sector and take steps to reduce the electricity deficit, however, efforts have not solved the problem entirely and the common person continues to face the issue. The multiple energy projects under China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) are more recent and major steps to curb energy crisis in Pakistan. Although these projects seem like a necessary step towards addressing the power shortage but unfortunately, majority of the electricity generation are expected be done through fossil fuel – coal, which is extremely detrimental for the environment.

Pakistan has the capacity of producing over 23,000 MWs of power and faces approximately 5,000 MWs shortfall. The power projects under CPEC show potential of adding over 13,000 MWs of electricity to the national grid, which will not only help overcome the energy crisis but will also provide surplus. The government clearly has immense challenge in terms of tackling energy deficit while being clean in its approach. The recent government of Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) emphasizes on green revolution, which was evident even during their previous government in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa where they introduced a mega project on Billion Tree Tsunami (BTT) that focused on restoring 350,000 hectares of forests and degraded land in response to the challenge of global warming.

Keeping up with its previous record and trajectory, the government has taken a major step towards minimising expected damages of planned energy projects under the CPEC. Recently, the government has asked for removal of Rahimyar Khan Imported Fuel Power Plant project, which was one of the most environmentally-detrimental projects under the CPEC. The power plant was actively promoted by the previous government of Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N), and intended to use imported coal for electricity generation.

Pakistan is unfortunately one of the worst affected countries by climate change. Despite the fact that it contributes less than one percent globally to greenhouse gas emissions, it still needs to work on reducing the carbon dioxide emissions. The Rahimyar Khan Imported Fuel Power Plant project was not only costly, as it was estimated at about US$1,600 million, but was also impractical and environmentally degrading. Coal powered plants release more greenhouses gases per unit of energy produced than any other electricity source. Importing coal was further going to add to overall emissions, causing pollution, and negative impacts on health, agricultural productivity, ecosystem and ecotourism.

The project although had the potential of providing 1,320 MW of electricity but its environmental and economic cost surpassed the generation potential and therefore after analysing costs and generation capacity from other lined up projects, the government decided to halt the project.

While most projects are fossil fuel based, there are some promising renewable energy projects under the CPEC including UEP 100 MW Wind Farm and Sachal 50 MW Wind Farm in Jhimpir, District Thatta as well as Quaid-e-Azam 1000MW Solar Park in Bahawalpur, which are operational and producing energy through renewable resources. Several hydropower projects are also planned and are being initiated under the CPEC, which will collectively add over 2,500 MWs to the national grid.

Sardar Mohazzam, Energy Expert Consultant, working with Ministry of Climate Change on analysing the energy projects under CPEC said, “The government is keen on solving energy crisis of Pakistan while ensuring minimum environmental degradation. Pakistan is slowly but surely moving towards renewable energy, which is evident through several wind and solar projects under CPEC. The global trends show that most of the developing countries invest in adapting to climate change, however, Pakistan is one of the very few developing countries which is making major investments in mitigating the emissions by moving towards cleaner energy generation options.”

Despite immense potential of renewable energy in Pakistan, boosting production of clean energy alone would not be sufficient to deal with the grave crisis. Major attention needs to be diverted towards improving the existing power generating capacity. Currently, WAPDA and independent power producers (IPPs) are running at 50 per cent of their actual capacities while the thermal power plants operate at about 80 per cent of their capacity globally. Improving power generation by 20 to 30 per cent and brining the production capacity close to the global standards can help in producing significant amount of energy without additional projects. Moreover, 20 to 25 per cent of the electricity generated in Pakistan, on average, is lost in distribution. Energy efficiency and conservation is also one of the cost effective ways of tackling energy crisis, which essentially makes use to energy saving models and suppressing energy demands in various sectors. Asad Mahmood, Energy Efficiency & Renewable Energy Expert from National Energy Efficiency & Conservation Authority (NEECA) upon being asked about energy crisis of Pakistan said, “Major capital investments and time is required for setting up power plants including renewable ones. Saving one unit is far more cost effective than generating three additional units.

Around 70 per cent of the domestic energy consumption comes from inefficient appliances such as air conditioners, fans, lights etc. Therefore, attention needs to be given to energy efficiency in various sectors as well as at domestic level in order to efficiently tackle energy crisis.” Therefore, the issue needs to be tackled from all sides including devising effective ways of increasing power generation capacities of power plants, mainstreaming energy conservation, minimising electricity theft and distribution losses.

The energy crisis of Pakistan needs utmost attention and given the severity of the situation, fossil fuel powered plants are inevitable. However, Pakistan requires a mix of energy generation options from both renewable and nonrenewable resources, which energy projects under CPEC are catering for. The PTI is perhaps one of the first governments in Pakistan, which is keen on green growth and tackling climate change. It is also actively trying to make CPEC eco-friendly and a pilot model for mega Chinese vision of “Eco-Civilization,” something that was ignored by previous ruling parties despite the obvious red flags.

Along with these game changing environmental initiatives, the government now needs to focus on making effective plans, policies and strategies, to ultimately transition away from fossil fuels completely in the future.

– The writer is a freelance contributor.