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Energy for the poor

During the ongoing debate on Energy Policy little attention has been paid on the role that ordinary people can play in dealing with the energy crisis. Various dimensions of the crisis including circular debt, technical capacity, and administrative failure in recovering the line losses have come under public scrutiny. There has hardly been any debate on the social dimension of the energy policy. Poor have been blamed for stealing energy. It is time to look at the Energy Policy in a holistic way and realize that low income people of Pakistan are an asset not a liability in dealing with the energy shortage. As a nation we have quietly adopted “privatisation of power” policy by encouraging the use of UPSs and power generators by the middle and upper classes and abandoning the poor.

It is important to note at this point that energy should be looked at in a holistic way. We need to first of all review at our energy using habits. There is enormous room for energy conservation if we change energy generation and use patterns at domestic, business and government level. Elements of solving energy crises are already present in the structure of the problem. The only thing missing is a meaningful dialogue between the people, professionals and politicians. In this connection we need to specifically look at our building designs; use of energy in homes, offices and factories; provision of credit by private and public sector lending institutions for use of alternative source of energy; energy metering system regularisation of power connection of low income users who are condemned to grease the palms of line men to access electricity due to unfriendly norms of power companies to grant connections to the poor.

Enormous waste of energy and discomfort at every level has been caused due to blind copying of high energy dependent building designs inspired by “American way of Life” which accompanied American economic assistance in 1960s. You only need to look at the building design of Punjab University Old Campus with Americanised design of Punjab University New Campus built with the US assistance. This building design has made its way to the poorest households in remotest rural areas; created undue pressure for energy consumption and converted almost all our buildings to oven. Compare this with all the “old fashioned” building at the Mall Lahore, inner cities of Multan and Lahore and rural houses in places like Uch Sharif, Tharparkar and Gwadar. These places stay cool even under the scorching heat. Gone with building design are city plans which are much inferior to the city plans of Harappa and Mohenjo Daro. City planning has been reduced to ad hoc, donor-driven exercise in Pakistan. Sparing use of water and energy, recycling of materials of daily use, plantation and protection of plants, trees and forests have all been sacrificed at the altar of “Modernist consumerism”. Only two magic words can reverse the situation: Social Mobilisation. Our Government, NGOs, Business Community and public opinion makers have to play their due role in mobilising this great asset to deal with the crisis.

Key actions needed for this purpose include: creating awareness for improving existing building designs and investing in energy efficient designs for new buildings; encouraging use of alternative energy sources through introducing supportive credit policy; promoting use of energy efficient appliances, machinery and technology; and promoting energy conservation through mass education. The option of using prepaid energy cards to prevent power theft and line losses is also available. This will make people a key partner in solving the energy crisis. Another option is to promote non grid solar, wind and micro-hydel power generating systems to cater to the needs of domestic users and small scale producer at a large scale. We need to guide people what specific steps they need to take at personal, household, community and local government level to overcome energy-related problem. Burning tires and blocking roads should not be their only choice. All this requires mass education and mobilisation. Governments at Federal, Provincial and Local level need to invest in “Social Capital” if they want to solve energy crisis with efficiency, effectiveness, respect and dignity.

It is important to mention here that energy shortage in our grid connected areas is 30%-50% in urban areas and 60%-90% in rural areas. 30% of our population still lives with kerosene lit lanterns. Extent of energy wastage due to use inefficient energy appliances is 40%-80%. Use of inefficient appliance causes 75% waste in case of motors, 50% in case of freezers, 65 % for ceiling fans, 83% for water pumps, 88% for air conditioners and 90% in case of industrial lights. This calls for introducing and enforcing quality standards for energy savings and consumer protection. There is a wide range of solar energy packages available for personal, household and business use in the market. There are numerous low cost packages based on the use of LED lights and solar panels to meet energy needs of low income households- ranging from Rs 15,000-Rs 120,000. Middle class households can purchase packages ranging from Rs 6 to 14 lakhs. If we only convert 1 million tube wells to solar energy, we can save 3,850 megawatts of energy. Investment in solar tube wells can be paid back in2-4 years and the system lasts for 20-25 years. Same is the case for other sources of alternative energy. However, solar energy seems to be the future and we can use it in abundance.

So what is the barrier? Alternative energy sources have much greater benefits and much lower energy bills over the long run. Installation cost is very high and a major barrier to entry for using the alternative energy, especially the solar panels. We need a credit policy which encourages purchase of solar energy packages instead of luxury items. In the word of an expert appropriate financial regulations for promoting use of alternative power is essential because “darkness increases poverty; energy losses cause unemployment, increase birth rate and increase the rate of crime”.


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