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Low power generation levels persist post-blackout

Even two weeks since a nationwide blackout, power generation has yet to be restored to the earlier levels. Sources suggest that this is due primarily to a flawed strategy and imprudent use of available resources.

The biggest challenge being confronted by the federal Ministry of Water and Power, which enjoys the status of the de facto executive authority of the power sector, is enhancing the output of thermal plants by judiciously utilising available fuel options. Presently, about 4,000 MW of thermal plants having ‘dependable’ installed capacity are idle.

The incompetence of officials has resulted in very low output of power generation units, putting extra stress on the electricity transmission system, a phenomenon that knocked down the country’s entire power system on February 24, 2013.

When Nargis Sethi, the previous secretary of Water and Power was removed from office, the power system was already left vulnerable to such crises as monitoring entities such as the Energy Management Committee and Energy Management Cell has been eliminated. More worryingly, no corrective measure is being taken to restore power generation amid rising temperatures in the country. Power generation dipped to 9,600 MW on March 7, 2013, which is below the level of 9,700 MW achieved before the power system collapsed in the last week of February.

The demand for electricity is on the rise and was recorded at 13,600 MW yesterday – 500 MW more than the level registered before the collapse of the electricity system.

Power managers are ignoring the striking difference between the generation capacity of plants in the public and private sectors. Based on 2010-2011 data, the thermal generation efficiency for public sector generation companies (GENCOs) remained 27.5 percent with respect to gas and 30.2 percent with respect to furnace oil.

KESC-operated plants were slightly better off with a gas-based efficiency of 32.5 percent. Independent Power Producers (IPPs) or private thermal plants collectively demonstrated a generation efficiency of 43 percent on gas and 39.4 percent on furnace oil.

This difference between GENCOs and IPPs is due largely to the old technology and equipment installed at GENCOs, improper maintenance, and operational mismanagement coupled problems associated with fuel, including its theft and contamination.

If official figures are to be believed, it is obvious that 1.9 million tons of furnace oil given to IPPs instead of GENCOs in 2010-11 would have resulted in additional generation of 2,000 MW of electricity. In other words, 1.898 million tons of furnace oil given to IPPs instead of GENCOs in 2010-11 would have saved 0.442 million tons of oil for generation.

As per an analysis of power plants, engine or steam turbine power plants are the most efficient users of oil and should be given top priority for furnace oil consumption.

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