VIEW: Load shedding, enough already —Dr Syed Mansoor Hussain - Monday, April 25, 2011

Of all the things Mian Shahbaz Sharif accomplished during his recent visit to China, one that impressed me most was a deal to import solar energy technology. China at this time is a world leader in the development of such technology

The ongoing ‘energy crisis’ is getting worse by the day. Prolonged load shedding and closure of CNG stations are just two obvious manifestations. The effect on industry is of great significance but not talked about quite as much. Only half the electricity needed by an average household is being supplied since electricity is available for only about ten or twelve hours in a day. About natural gas, CNG stations are being closed for days on end. Now I am not an economist or a specialist in the goings on of the power sector but I am what might be called a concerned consumer who has thought a bit about these things.

First thing to consider is that in very simple terms Pakistan just does not have enough gas or electrical generation capability to fulfil the demand. Second, there is no way that these capabilities can be increased rapidly due to administrative incompetence, lack of funds and the ever-present background of corruption and theft. So, for all practical purposes, the demand for these two basic commodities is going to exceed availability for the foreseeable future.

Once we accept as a nation that we are not going to be able to increase electricity production or delivery of natural gas in the short term, then the obvious answer to the problem becomes simple. Let us cut down the demand! The solution for the shortage of natural gas, in my opinion, can be ameliorated considerably by a very simple step. Let us restrict the use of natural gas for homes, industry and mass transit. All cars and other internal combustion devices are already equipped to work on petrol and let them use petrol. This will obviously be considered a ‘hardship’ by many, but then it might bring back the use of bicycles for ordinary commuters, decrease traffic congestion and improve the health of our people!

The problem with electricity is a little more complicated, but then, as I have said above, as it is, we the consumers are only getting half of what we think we need and, in spite of all the cries of utter dismay, we are surviving. So let us formalise that and provide a limited amount of electricity for all the consumers but make it available around the clock. For instance, electricity supply can be limited for all domestic users according to the number of people in a household. Enough, let us say, to provide for two electric fans, one ice box or refrigerator, four electrical light sources and one air-conditioner for a family of four. Or perhaps some other similar formula can be developed.

For the wealthy and those that just want more electricity, let them utilise other sources including diesel or petrol generators. The price for such home consumption should, of course, be made much more expensive than it is for industry and those that use it for transportation purposes. However, use of renewable sources of electrical supply should be encouraged and even subsidised. Clearly, the one source of power that we have a surfeit of is solar energy.

Of all the things Mian Shahbaz Sharif accomplished during his recent visit to China, one that impressed me most was a deal to import solar energy technology. China at this time is a world leader in the development of such technology. As it is, motorways and other government facilities are using solar panels for some of the more limited electrical needs. This should be immediately expanded.

All government offices, official residences, hospitals, large private homes and even the houses of parliament should be equipped with solar panels to a level so that at least 50 percent of their electrical needs are met through this way. The list can be expanded in time. This will, of course, be expensive but it will be a one-time expense. Of course there will be a lot of resistance to any such measure from those in the government and the private sector that make a lot of money from the import of oil and gas. After all, importing billions of dollars of oil and gas every year enriches everybody in the relevant ‘food chain’.

For starters I hope that the Punjab government will start a solar energy-based pilot project as soon as possible. The PML-N government has two more years to go and Mr Shahbaz Sharif can burnish his credentials tremendously if he successfully starts such a project in Punjab. Here Chinese help will be of great importance since, as I have mentioned above, they are the world leaders in the development of this technology. More importantly, in an energy-starved world, Pakistan can become a test case for the widespread use of such technology. If it does not work out too well, at least we can go back to where we are right now.

Building major dams can improve the production of electricity as well as manage our water resources, but the time has come to accept the obvious. We in Pakistan have not built a major new dam in almost 50 years and that we will build enough of these over the next few years to get us out of electricity shortages is, at best, a fool’s dream. Of course these dams should be built, most importantly to manage our water resources more effectively but that is a separate discussion.

The other ‘accomplishment’ of Mr Sharif on his China visit was to get an agreement about building an underground ‘mass transit’ train system for Lahore. That will also help out but this is again a long-term project. What is needed is the development of surface mass transit in our metropolitan areas in the form of a clean and efficient bus system to carry commuters around. With such a system in place, the need for individual commuters to use cars and motorcycles will diminish considerably and decrease the pressure on use of petroleum products.

Desperate times need desperate measures.

The writer has practised and taught medicine in the US and Pakistan. He can be reached at

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