THE load shedding-driven sleepless nights and disrupted daily routines of last summer are still haunting the people as the weather turns hot. The situation has not improved since last year; indeed all the signs are that it is getting worse. Credit goes to brave Pakistanis for surviving through the winter despite 10-hour power and gas load shedding. But in the upcoming summer when the mercury is going to consistently hover round 40°C, occasionally rising to 50°C in some places, a power crisis of a similar order is going to prove unbearable. Last summer the national media reported tragic deaths due to heatstroke and dehydration. The energy crisis in winter forced thousands of industries to shut down operations, affecting industrial production and the livelihoods of thousands of families.
Considering the indispensability of energy — since 1947, per capita electricity dependence in Pakistan has grown 82-fold — the current state of affairs can be regarded as a ‘national crisis’. The quickest and pragmatic solution — multi-gigawatt capacity addition based on local coal and hydropower — will require at least 2-3 years (5-7 years for hydropower) provided that bold and concerted steps are taken on a war footing.
Assuming optimistically that this will happen, we still have to devise ways in the interim to meet the electricity deficit in the country which has soared to over 40 per cent. The challenge now is how to survive this summer and how to stop the crisis from getting worse. The solution lies in a collective national effort.
Two key elements of a possible solution are: categorical change in the pattern of energy consumption and change in lifestyles.
The current energy consumption trends in Pakistan are extremely inefficient, whether it be in the domestic, industrial, trade or commercial sectors. With minimal effort, well over ten per cent of national electricity can be saved by applying only the first level of energy conservation that is a change in attitude. It is simple, instant and effective and all it requires is a stop to using energy unnecessarily.
Leaving lights and home appliances on even when they are not being used is a common practice in our society. Similarly, many businesses such as shops dealing in cloth and garments, jewellery, cosmetics, home appliances and electronics are usually extravagantly lit. It is commonly observed that shops that could do with two or three 40-watt tube lights to meet the desired level of luminance use as many as 15 to 20 tubes. Not only does this increase power consumption, it also generates heat and makes the environment uncomfortable.
A further economy of 10-15 per cent can be achieved by introducing the second level of energy-conservation practices, especially in industry. Collectively, just through conservation, more than half of the electricity deficit can be met. However to do that, public education is essential. With the help of effective electronic and print media campaigns the government can quickly educate the masses.
The second part of the solution is a change in lifestyles. It would begin with the acknowledgement that the country is facing a national disaster and every citizen has to pitch in to overcome it. The nation has to draw a clear line between necessities (lighting, fans, TVs, computers, etc) and luxuries (air conditioners, microwaves, etc). There is not enough electricity to meet both requirements.
We will have to compromise on luxurious lifestyles in order to meet the necessities. Markets and commercial places can substantially reduce their power consumption by changing their working hours. An early start and early end to capitalize on daylight as much as possible should be recommended rather than having opening hours from afternoon until late at night. Air-conditioning, usually a sign of a luxurious lifestyle, needs to be dropped. Bearing in mind that a typical domestic AC consumes far more electricity in one hour than a fan does over 24 hours, air conditioning should not be allowed except for sensitive applications such as hospitals and research centers. The choice is between using ACs for a few hours and then doing without electricity in peak summer months or avoiding ACs and other luxury gadgets but having round-the-clock electricity available to meet fundamental needs.
Any such policy should be made at the highest level and its implementation should also begin there because charity starts at home. The common man would only be convinced of the looming crisis when he sees the ruling elite practice what it preaches.
The ruling class should lead by example in matters of power conservation. If it does so the common man will follow suit. It is time for the elite to take energy-saving initiatives like abandoning the use of central air conditioning, traveling by special flights and irrelevant use of official transport.
These recommendations are neither impractical nor a step backward, as some sections may perceive them to be. If implemented they can not only avoid the collapse of a bankrupt energy infrastructure but also ensure progress. Even those who have access to easy money and can afford different gadgets such as generators to offset reduced power supply will still feel the heat one way or the other. The bottom line is, in order to safely get through the current energy crisis the nation has to differentiate between its necessities and its luxuries.
If load shedding is still unavoidable despite all these measures, Wapda/KESC should organize the cuts in a sensible way to cause minimum discomfort. Load shedding schedules should be properly planned and announced.