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Hydropower — a friend in need

Due to population expansion and urbanisation, Pakistan’s energy landscape radically transforms as electricity consumption rises. In 2022 the nation’s total electricity consumption reached 138,755GWh due to industrial growth and socioeconomic progress. The expansion has not, however, been strictly linear. A considerable decline was recorded between 2018 and 2020, most likely due to economic, political, and infrastructure issues. This decline was followed by a brisk recovery, with 2021 being the highest year for consumption. Using exponential smoothing for forecasting, the predicted consumption for 2023 is around 142,897,68GWh, emphasising the continued growth velocity in the nation’s power demand. During the first eight months of the current calendar year, 91,819GWh are already consumed.

In addition to the overall growth trends, the seasonal subtleties of Pakistan’s energy usage offer essential insights. The data exhibits a pronounced cyclical trend, with consumption peaking throughout the summer. This increase is particularly noticeable in July, August, and September, coinciding with the subcontinent’s hottest months. The higher demand during these months can be ascribed to the population’s increased usage of cooling appliances, such as air conditioners and fans, in response to rising temperatures. In contrast, electricity usage decreases by an average of 3,000GWh per month during the cooler months. This cyclical ebb and flow emphasises the significance of having a flexible and adaptable infrastructure for energy generation that can adeptly handle these seasonal variations.

Hydroelectricity plays a significant role during periods of high demand, dynamically increasing its output as the demand for cooling solutions rises. During peak months, its average output is around 4,500GWh, nearly double that of off-peak months, emphasising its versatility and vital role in maintaining grid stability. In 2012 hydropower accounted for 38 percent of Pakistan’s total electricity production. Surprisingly, by 2022, this percentage has experienced a decline to 25 percent. Given the commissioning of new hydroelectric facilities in the prevailing decade, such a decline could initially look ludicrous.

Nonetheless, it reflects the greater diversification of the energy mix and the growing importance of alternative power sources. Regarding diversification, renewable energy, which had no presence in the point mix a decade ago, accounted for 4% of the energy mix in 2022. This achievement demonstrates Pakistan’s dedication to green and sustainable energy solutions, in line with global trends and environmental imperatives.

Looking closely at seasonal patterns, hydropower exposes its full prowess from June to November. During this period, its contribution fluctuates between 30-40 percent. As a direct result of this increase, the proportion of other energy sources decreases from its regular range of 70-80 percent to a more modest 60-70 percent. This seasonal change is notable. It indicates that during peak demand, hydropower production increases, reducing the need for more expensive thermal installations. From April to June, renewables find their rhythm, after which hydropower takes the central stage. The cyclical nature of hydropower generation is evident when examining its decline after November, which reaches its lowest point of 11 percent in April. This cyclical trend is not a liability but a source of hydropower’s strength.

However, there’s a twist in the tale. While hydropower and renewables have been making their mark, the contribution of all other (non-renewable) energy sources has grown from 62% in 2012 to 70% in 2022. This rise underscores the challenge of balancing sustainable energy sources with the nation’s ever-growing power demands. With environmental concerns rising and the push for sustainable development gaining momentum, hydel power is at the heart of the solution. As we delve deeper into Pakistan’s energy scenario, understanding the unparalleled value of hydel power becomes vital. As promising as it sounds, hydropower hasn’t been immune to misconceptions. Addressing these myths and providing a clear, data-driven perspective is essential as the sustainable energy debate intensifies.

One of the most controversial arguments against hydropower is that it is more expensive than alternative technologies. Although the initial expenses of hydropower projects may appear enormous, the long-term economic advantages portray a different picture. Initially, tariffs are designed to cover infrastructure loan repayments, rendering them competitive with other energy sources. During the loan payback period, the average cost per kilowatt-hour for hydropower will be between 20 and 25 Pakistani Rupees. However, after this loan time, hydropower’s economic advantage becomes apparent as the tariff reduces dramatically (PKR 10-12 per kilowatt-hour). In addition, the extended economic life of hydropower plants, which extends beyond the standard 30-year concession, demonstrates the long-term economic sustainability of hydropower, with costs as low as PKR 1 to 2 per kWh during this period. Even the initial year’s cost of generating electricity from hydropower is less than the cost of imported coal and RLNG project fuel.

The second most contentious claim is that hydropower contributes to the capacity trap. Contrary to this notion, hydropower has regularly demonstrated responsiveness, particularly during peak demand. This versatility ensures that hydropower does not create capacity traps but relieves grid demand during critical times. In addition, unlike other renewable energy sources, which might be intermittent owing to varying variables such as sunlight or wind patterns, hydropower provides steady and stable energy output. Significant river basins in Pakistan maintain a regular water flow, making hydropower a pillar of grid stability.

“Hydel – A Friend in Need” is more than simply a catchphrase; it reflects a fundamental fact for a country’s energy destiny. By acknowledging the significance of hydropower and dispelling common misunderstandings, we need to appreciate its role in a sustainable energy future. Significant achievements in sustainable energy, such as hydropower, need patience and vision. Our energy future will be determined by our decisions now. Establishing a hydroelectric project can take seven to ten years and requires extensive planning, environmental assessments, and advanced infrastructure development. We must act now if we want to benefit from hydropower’s clean energy by 2030-32.

Balancing immediate energy demands with long-term sustainable solutions is crucial. Stakeholder’s commitment to hydropower shall align with global trends towards greener alternatives, paving the way for a resilient and sustainable future.

Asim Javed, "Hydropower — a friend in need," Business recorder. 2023-11-05.
Keywords: Economics , Industrial growth , Economics growth , Global trends , Economic , Political , Pakistan , RLNG , PKR

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