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TODAY, Pakistan’s energy security stands compromised and the country is looking towards the Iran-Pakistan gas pipeline as a potential solution.
Given the intricacies involved in this particular project, however, it would be useful to dwell upon the blunders that have led us to this juncture. One of these was the shelving of the Kalabagh dam project.
Over the years, there has been a substantial increase in the consumption in Pakistan of gas, a locally available energy resource.
The shelving of the construction of Kalabagh dam led to renewed interest in exploring gas as a power resource.
The discovery of additional gas reserves fuelled the unrestrained exploitation of the resource towards the generation of energy.
The disproportionate dependency on gas skewed Pakistan’s energy mix, and led to insignificant focus on harnessing other sources of energy, especially renewable energy. Meanwhile, burgeoning energy consumption aggravated the depletion of gas reserves.
Initially, gas was considered a feasible resource because of the low costs involved in using it to generate power. It was believed that, given the vast reserves in the country, gas would contribute effectively to Pakistan’s economic growth.
However, the decision to rely on gas did not take into account the nature of future consumption patterns and the fact that this natural resource is finite. Focus on other energy sources took a backseat, particularly power generation from hydroelectric schemes. In hindsight, it is clear that had different decisions been made then, it would have helped avert the gas crisis Pakistan is facing today.
Had Kalabagh dam been constructed, the total annual production would now have been around 11,400 gigawatt hours (GWh).
But since the dam project was never initiated, the power that it could have generated was instead generated from local gas reserves. The dam would not only have saved the costs of electricity generation but would also have dispersed monetary losses incurred due to the present gas shortfall.
Had Kalabagh dam became operational in 1993, 2737bn cubic feet (cft) of gas would have been preserved. Between 1993 and 1999, a saving of 2.7tr cft from a consumption of 10.9tr cft would have been made, which is about 24.77 per cent of the total amount of gas consumed during the period.
Gas is used extensively as fuel in a number of sectors. In 2008-9, it was mainly being used for power generation (32 per cent), industry (26 per cent), household consumption (17 per cent), the production of fertiliser (16 per cent) and compressed natural gas or CNG (seven per cent). The consumption of gas in the power sector has been around 40 per cent since 1995, which started decreasing in 2006. The share of the consumption of gas in CNG in the 2010-12 period was around nine per cent but an annual increase of around 23 per cent has been observed.
The country could therefore have made tremendous savings in gas. Had natural gas been used for solely domestic purposes, the period of gas supply could have been extended. The repercussions of the gas shortfall have been many, from business losses incurred by CNG stations to rising socio-political unrest. A timely decision in favour of hydropower development would have saved the country from the energy crisis it is facing today.
Kalabagh dam would have guaranteed the continued supply of gas to the domestic and transport sectors by 12.78 and 31 years respectively. There is no rationale behind opting for gas as an energy source, given that the cost of generation is high and it can in the long term become unaffordable. Kalabagh dam could have saved Rs76.8bn if the energy produced had solely been used to generate electricity. In addition, the share of oil in the energy generation mix is 32.3 per cent, which again costs more. If hydropower had been used to replace oil, Rs124.5bn could have been saved.
Heavy dependency on natural gas has also contributed substantially to Pakistan’s circular debt conundrum. This issue has debilitated the Water and Power Development Authority (Wapda), resulting in long power outages which have tremendous ramifications for the industrial sector in particular.
No significant expansion of the national grid to remote rural areas has been possible either, which has kept large swathes of the population deprived of energy. Meanwhile, gas shortages have aggravated the miseries of the common man, and there is no relief in sight. Indeed, the gas shortage is currently one of the greatest impediments to the country’s development. In addition
to the heavy financial losses being incurred, gas shortfalls have caused the termination of jobs which has increased the level of unemployment in the country.
Of course, Kalabagh dam on its own would not have averted the present crisis, which had been imminent in any case. Yet it would have to a great extent delayed the onset of the crisis. Pakistan’s power planners should have recognised the benefits of hydropower projects; the investment of time and effort on that would perhaps have prevented a gas crisis of this scale.
In light of the gas shortfall and the high exploitation of reserves for the generation of power, the government must rapidly undertake a number of measures that would help to not just reduce reliance on a finite energy resource but also help build a national consensus on Kalabagh dam.
These include the installation of telemeter systems on rivers to ensure transparent water management, expanded investment in the hydropower domain and renewed commitments to increasing the share of hydroelectricity in the energy generation mix.
The timely implementation of hydropower projects is needed, as well as the financing of renewable energy and hydropower
projects and the enhanced use of renewable energy.

The writer is an adviser to the Sustainable Development Policy Institute, Islamabad.

This article was originally published at: Dawn

The opinions expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect the viewpoint or stance of SDPI.