After the deluge, blackouts spread

ISLAMABAD -- The devastating floods that swept the whole of this nation damaged or destroyed hundreds of bridges and knocked out several miles of key highways. Much of the nation's cotton and wheat harvest was devastated.

Less appreciated, however, is the severe blow the flooding dealt to Pakistan's electricity supply.

"The power sector in Pakistan was very heavily damaged," said Mehfooz Qazi, a deputy engineering adviser on the power sector at the Ministry of Water and Power. "The majority of the damage has been recorded in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa," previously Northwest Frontier province.

In good times, Pakistan is able to generate a maximum of about 20,000 megawatts of electricity from diesel generators, hydropower projects and nuclear plants. That's still not enough -- data from the Ministry of Water and Power suggest energy demand in Pakistan outstrips supply by 5,000 MW. Scheduled blackouts are felt throughout the country, even in parts of Islamabad, the nation's capital.

That gap was already expected to widen dramatically at historic economic growth rates. Though the government believes it can expand total generating capacity to 90,000 MW by 2030 through a combination of public- and private-sector investments, demand may still outstrip available supply by more than 23,000 MW by that time.


The floods added a huge setback to meeting that growing demand. As the disaster began to subside, Qazi and his team recorded a loss of electricity supply of up to 3,000 MW, or 15 percent of the nation's total capacity.

Some of that capacity has since been restored, but Qazi's office still estimates a shortfall of at least 2,000 MW.

The loss comes not only from damages to turbines at dams that were overwhelmed by rushing floodwaters. Flooding inundated several power plants, as well, forcing many to shut down temporarily. Transformer stations were also badly hit in several areas.

Many power plants were still offline at the time of Qazi's interview with ClimateWire, including a 132 MW station in Madyan that was completely knocked out. Facilities near Sialkot and Gujrat also sustained heavy damage.

In late August, American researchers Michael Hicks at Ball State University and Mark Burton at the University of Tennessee, relying on a methodology used to calculate damages from Hurricane Katrina, delivered an initial estimate of $5 billion to $7 billion in total damage to public and private property, including more than $2 billion in lost trade opportunities.

But the Hicks-Burton study only counted damage to buildings, agriculture and transport infrastructure. Hundreds of millions of dollars more is likely needed to bring power generation back to pre-flood conditions.

The government is pursuing plans to build up to five new hydropower dams in the north. Development of the Munda and Bhasha dams is moving forward, while engineers are putting together designs for two more, the proposed Akhori and Bunji dams. Officials are also hoping to reopen debate on the massive Kalabagh Dam, a project that is ready to go but is now on hold due to previous political opposition.

To temporarily meet demand, the government is considering purchasing emergency diesel thermal plants, an expensive alternative, as international oil prices currently hover at about $80 per barrel.

In the longer term, energy authorities here want to build more dams to generate power.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change warns that global warming will reduce snowfall and shrink glaciers in the Himalayas and Karakoram Mountains, diminishing Pakistan's watershed. But officials at the Ministry of Water and Power say that Pakistan's northern regions still have enough hydropower potential to add another 40,000 MW of capacity to the grid.

"In the long term, we have the hydropower projects like Bhasha Dam, Akhori Dam," said Qazi. "We need to harvest this hydropower."

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