Greening the electricity grid in Pakistan: a few caveats.


Byline: Dr. Shahid Rahim

Speaking to Khaleej Times on the sidelines of the Abu Dhabi International Petroleum Exhibition and Conference (ADIPEC 2019) recently, Special Assistant to our Prime Minister on Petroleum, Nadeem Babar, announced that the government was targeting 64 percent of green power in the national grid by 2025. While it isn't a target beyond reach, the government will have to pursue it very carefully because without the supporting transmission and distribution (TandD) networks, imaginative tariffs, and facilitative institutional capacity, it could add to the nation's already-serious energy woes, also hurting the very cause of otherwise a laudable goal of securing sustainable energy and power supplies for the nation.

While there's no denying that "to make a big dream come true, one first needs to dream big", but it's also a fact that in the absence of careful planning, necessary funding, and enabling conditions in place, a dream will most likely remain so, that is, a dream. For a number of reasons, a few of which are discussed below, the government's above target appears rather ambitious. It's an example of aiming "too much, too soon". Caution is, therefore, called for to eliminate any unintended consequences and associated costs.

Let's first be clear as to what constitutes "green" power. As clarified by the Special Assistant himself during the ADIPEC event, the green generation portfolio will include solar, wind, biomass, and hydro capacities (53 percent collectively by 2025); add to it nuclear plants (10 or 11 percent) and the total reaches 64 percent. Even though one can dispute the decision to include nuclear plants under the "green" umbrella due to the still unresolved issues of safe disposal of nuclear wastes, let's ignore it for the time being.

Though the targets of 20 percent by 2025 and 30 percent by 2030 have been previously announced by the government and are also stated in the draft Alternative and Renewables (ARE) Policy 2019 (currently at an advanced stages of approval), these are not reflected in the capacity expansion plan that the National Transmission and Despatch Company (NTDC) has prepared and is currently being reviewed by the National Electric Power Regulatory Authority (NEPRA). These targets may have been announced after the preparation of NTDC's strategic plan for the power sector.

NTDC's Indicative Generation Capacity Expansion Plan (IGCEP) 2018-40-a key document to guide the future power sector...

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