Pakistan is facing a threat of low levels of coal inventory that might take 3,900 MW out of the national grid, making the situation of power outages worse.

The overall shortfall of electricity in the country has reached 5,000 MW.Power Division sources said the total power generation in the country was 21,500 MW while demand stood at over 26,500 MW.The energy ministry has warned Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif to immediately arrange Rs100 billion to address the issue of coal inventory in a bid to avert the power crisis.

At present, the country is passing through one of its worst power outages situation after the new coalition government came into power.According to the sources, power generation from hydropower sources was 5,090 MW.They added that the government’s thermal power plants were generating 960 MW. The production of private sector power plants is 12,578 MW.

Power generation from wind is 428 MW and zero from solar plants.Bagasse-based power plants are generating 167 MW while power generation from nuclear fuel is 2,277 MW.The total power generation capacity is 36,039 MW, the sources said. Currently, different parts of the country are experiencing around 12 hours of power outages.

The duration of power outages is longer in rural and high-loss areas.Cabinet members from different provinces including Balochistan have lashed out at the government for being unable to bring prolonged outages under control.

The government had also admitted in a recent cabinet meeting that zero power outages were not possible due to the financial crunch.The Power Division secretary briefed the cabinet on state of situation. They were informed that an unprecedented rise in international fuel prices had resulted in a substantive rise in the cost of generation.

The price of coal, in particular, had increased from $100 per metric ton to $300 per metric ton. To maintain the supply chain of coal, he had said Rs100 billion was required as an additional supplementary grant as equity by former Water and Power Development Authority (WAPDA) distribution companies over and above the budgeted and approved subsidies.

He had added that this additional supplementary grant would be used to pay imported coal-based independent power producers (IPPs) against their overdue payables for timely procurement of the coal inventory.

It was informed that in case the required supplementary grant of Rs100 billion was not approved, further purchase of coal stocks would be suspended until the time when its International prices were substantially lower.This disruption of coal supply chain would result in stoppage of the IPPs producing 3,900 MW.

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Consequently, about two-hour system-wide power outages would have to be scheduled in the month of June, three hours in July, and four in August. During discussion, the cabinet members were of the opinion that aiming for zero power outages was not plausible given the current financial crunch.
The government should find a middle ground, which was financially affordable and also contain the power outages to a tolerable level for the public.

Furthermore, a balance must be struck between the scheduled power outages in the urban and rural areas. Currently, the duration of power outages in villages is much longer than in cities. The cabinet members also stressed on the need to ensure that there were no unscheduled power outages and they should take place as announced.

Members from Balochistan highlighted that power outages in their province were about 12-14 hours long in cities and 13-20 hours in the rural areas, causing great hardships for the residents. The need for exploiting renewable energy options, such as solar, was also underscored.

The issue of supply of electricity to K-Electric from the national grid was also raised. It was pointed out that against the commitment of 1000MW, only 650-900MW was being supplied from the national grid to the city.

The members also emphasized on the need for a clear future roadmap to rid the country of the menace of electricity outages. For this purpose, improving the energy mix through increased reliance on green energy and exploitation of domestic resources; setting up of projects under the public-private partnership mode; replacing heads of Discos with capable professionals to improve service delivery; and establishing a National Commission on Energy Conservation to stop wastages and inculcate awareness among the general public was suggested.

The cabinet took note of the briefing by the Power Division secretary. It issued directions that a sub-committee on energy, under the chairmanship of the power minister, would be notified by the Cabinet Division.

The cabinet committee would also prepare a viable plan for power outages during the coming summer months, keeping in view the financial constraints. The plan, to be submitted within 10 days, would strike a balance between the proposed duration of power outages in the urban and rural areas.

The cabinet also ordered formulation of a new Power Policy within two weeks in consultation with the provincial governments – with the objectives of greater reliance on renewable energy, use of provincial power generation potential reducing approval processes and use of off-grid innovative solutions for Balochistan.

All distribution companies would enhance comprehensively their service delivery to the consumers. A Ministerial Committee on Conservation would be established to consider and recommend measures to be taken for conservation of energy, water and food.

The committee would present its first report within a month’s time. The committee shall be notified by the Cabinet Division and will be provided secretarial support by the Power Division.

(With input from another Islamabad-based correspondent)

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