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On the same grid
By: Arshad H Abbasi

In November 2014, I had written a letter addressed to the prime minister of Pakistan before his scheduled visit to China. Keeping in mind the strong relationship between Pakistan and China and the significant strategic importance of our bilateral ties, I had suggested that Pakistan and China may connect their electricity grids. The letter was three-pronged:

One, electric grid connectivity between China and Pakistan (future prospects to be connected to Europe). Two, the promotion of Chinese independent power producers (IPP) in the hydropower sector. Three, Clean Coal Technologies and the Integrated Gasification Combined Cycle (IGCC).

It is our great hope that the relationship between Pakistan and China is strengthened. Indeed, Pakistan’s energy security is at the top of our agenda but is still neglected somewhere in energy-related MoUs and agreements. If included, it would have benefited the people of Pakistan at a much larger scale.

With plans to increase connectivity between Khunjrab and Kashghar, it must be noted that building infrastructure and improving communication and energy linkages between China, Pakistan and the rest of the global market is a positive step for Pakistan. For Pakistan to fully benefit, political stability will need to be improved and we must aim to become an economic powerhouse, so that Pakistan does not become a mere dumping ground for economic goods.

Moreover, for Pakistan to explore its connection with countries such as Kazakhstan, Russia and Mongolia, it will need to improve its own industrial base, as well as build capacity in services. Via this Pak-China grid, connections between the two countries may be improved through China’s largest ultra high-voltage DC (UHVDC) transmission lines. This technology has emerged as the preferred transmission technology for long-distance bulk power supply. UHVDC transmission lines are among the longest in the world including the Jinping-Sunan and Xiangjiaba-Shanghai transmission line.

China’s decision to go for UHV transmission is based on the fact that energy resources are far away from the load centres. The majority of the hydropower resources are in the west whereas coal is in the northwest, but there are still huge loadings in the east and south. Hence, I had suggested that Pakistan and China deepen their ties on energy through inter-connection between their grids – as a feasible medium-term power solution of energy trade.

There is another revolutionary idea , which would not only strengthen cooperation, but be an effective long-term strategy for energy security for the two countries. Pakistan’s long-term energy goals are towards renewable energy with a special emphasis on hydropower, which reflects its estimated potential of 120,000MW. The letter recommended investments through Chinese IPPs in hydropower, an avenue of cooperation that would benefit both China and Pakistan.

China has an installed capacity of 987.94GW and was the world’s largest power generator in 2011. It is in this scenario that investments in Pakistan’s hydropower would be a good incentive for China, if the two countries manage to strike a fair deal on electricity trade. Chinese companies could become independent power producers in Pakistan in order to fully exploit Pakistan’s hydroelectricity potential. Twenty percent of the electricity produced in these projects could be given to the Xinjiang region, leaving 80 percent for the Pakistani grid. There are many such projects feasible for energy trade between the two countries, as part of the China-Pakistan Economic corridor.

In our request to China for greater investment in energy, Pakistan must ask for clean coal technology, keeping in mind that high tariffs are the single biggest perpetuation of circular debt in the country. It must be noted that Chinese investment in coal power generation in Pakistan must reflect global trends in higher efficiency and lower emissions (HELE). In fact, higher efficiency means less consumption of coal, and this also has an impact in lowering tariffs.

At 50 percent efficiency of coal power plants, carbon emissions are 669g/kwh, dramatically lower from the 881g/kwh that are released in a plant that is 38 percent efficient. China is a global leader in coal water slurry and this is an area of cooperation that must be explored as a possibility for coal power generation in Pakistan. In particular, Pakistan should ask for Chinese cooperation by investment in clean coal technology. It must be highlighted that in China, the Wangqu 1& 2 plants operate at an efficiency of 41 percent. Pakistan should pursue this path in coal power generation as part of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor.

Overall, encouraging foreign investments is a healthy activity for economic growth. The present government has been quite busy in engaging with its Chinese counterpart, for bringing in huge investments which will not only strengthen our already stable bilateral ties but will pave way for further socio-economic development in the country.


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