Pakistan has the world’s
seventh largest reserves of lignite, yet less than 0.1pc of its energy is
generated from coal. Since the World Bank and other multilateral financial
institutions have turned their back on coal, China has become Pakistan’s partner
of choice for investment, construction and operation of these new coal-fired
The China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) is a bilateral deal between the two
countries under which the Chinese government and banks will financially support
Chinese companies to build USD 45.6 billion worth of energy and infrastructure
projects in Pakistan over the next six years. The power plants will initially
run on imported coal and will later transition to locally mined coal.
From a climate perspective, Pakistan’s coal revival presents a grim picture. In
2010, one of the deadliest floods in Pakistan’s history inundated over a fifth
of the country, killing two thousand people and displacing several million from
their homes. In the subsequent years, heavy monsoon rains once again battered
several Pakistani villages and towns. The intensifying monsoon-induced floods
appear to be part of an emerging pattern of extreme and erratic precipitation in
South Asia, which climate scientists are attributing to climate change.
Last June, a lethal heat wave claimed over a thousand lives in the city of
Karachi. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has predicted that heat
waves will become more frequent and more intense in parts of South Asia as a
result of the changing climate. Despite the fact that Pakistan has experienced
the negative impacts of climate change in the recent past, a lack of awareness
among citizens, misguided energy and environmental policy and a desperate need
for energy make it likely that the coal projects will proceed as planned.
Moreover, in a country where almost half the population teeters on the brink of
the poverty line, environmental concerns are placed rather low on the priority
A multi-dimensional approach is required to tackle Pakistan’s energy crisis
while being mindful of the disastrous impacts of fossil-fuel related greenhouse
gas emissions. Short-term measures could include upgrading aging power stations
to become more energy-efficient, minimizing transmission and distribution losses
through smart metering and improved system monitoring, as well as introducing
demand management initiatives such as peak pricing to curtail peak demand.
In the long-term, Pakistan should aim to transition away from imported fossil
fuels and focus on developing indigenous resources to meet its growing energy
needs. Historically, large hydro projects have spawned civil society opposition
and politicians are therefore leery of developing the country’s vast hydropower
resources. But hydropower could provide the long-term solution to meet
Pakistan’s energy needs sustainably.
Pakistan has an estimated 50,000MW of hydropower potential of which only 6,600MW
has been tapped so far. Hydropower potential could be harnessed to provide
base-load power and be supplemented with technologies such as wind and solar to
cater to peak demand. Nepal, for example, has a number of small run-of-the-river
hydro projects which power communities without placing undue stress on
The off-grid population could also benefit from the opportunity to ‘leapfrog’
directly to renewables via distributed generation without having to wait for
central grid extension.
Small-scale systems using localized fuel sources such as biomass and animal
waste could be used to generate power. Solar cell technology could also be used
to power micro grids in off-grid communities. Not only would this be cheaper
than extending the centralized grid to remote locations but transmission and
distribution losses resulting from transporting power over long distances would
also be reduced.
Pakistan has already experienced the mobile revolution and facilities like
mobile money transfers and phone banking are used by a significant portion of
the population. These existing facilities could be extended to pay for
distributed energy services across the country. To stimulate private sector
investment, the government should provide financial incentives and streamline
the approval process to expedite project implementation.
The cost of renewable energy is declining worldwide and Pakistan must use this
opportunity to develop its vast indigenous renewable energy resource base to
power a green economy.