Targeting SDG 7.

Byline: Sohaib R. Malik

THE United Nations member states adopted the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development in 2015. A set of 17 Sustainable Development Goals laid the foundation for global partnership to develop strategies for shared prosperity. Among them, SDG 7 aims to provide universal access to reliable modern energy services at affordable prices. For Pakistan to achieve this goal by 2030, a set of urgent policy measures is needed.

According to the 2017 census, there are over 32 million households in Pakistan. These households are served by nearly 23m connections, equivalent to a grid electricity access rate of 72 per cent. This means that at a population growth rate of 2pc per annum, at least 101m people will have to be provided electricity services by 2030 to achieve SDG 7. The need to address the challenge is reinforced by the fact that the majority of unserved households are in rural areas and urban slums. As per the power regulator's estimates, 32,000 villages were not connected to the electricity grid as of 2017. A closer look reveals more disturbing regional disparities.

Sindh has the highest number of unelectrified villages, followed by Punjab, KP and Balochistan. In terms of electrification rates, Balochistan lags far behind the rest at only 25pc. The situation is not better elsewhere as KP and Sindh have 66pc electrification rate each while 27pc of Punjab's households most of which are concentrated in the southern part don't have grid electricity. Notably, connection to the grid does not equate to reliable electricity service. Majority of villages, officially listed as electrified, continue to experience 12 to 16 hours of blackouts. Analysts estimate that two-thirds of Pakistan's population is living in unserved or underserved areas for electricity.

It's not too late to reassess our policy choices for ensuring universal access to electricity services by 2030.

There are two broad categories of available solutions in this regard: grid-supplied electricity and off-grid systems/applications. The latter differs broadly in scope. For instance, an off-grid solution can range from a solar lantern of sub-watt category to an isolated micro-grid with several megawatts of power generation capacity serving hundreds of households and businesses. These solutions have their respective advantages and limitations. It seems, however, that our policymakers have an unwarranted bias to promote grid extension due to its political mileage without...

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