It is hard to believe, but it is a reality that, in spite of being rich in water resources and having tremendous potential of developing hydropower generation, Gilgit-Baltistan with a population of about 2 million, has been experiencing worst kind of power outages like any other part of Pakistan. The residents, primarily the households, brace with massive electricity load-shedding day and night, in summer and in winter, every year, as power outages adversely affect civic and commercial life in the capital city and other major towns known as the popular tourist destination.
Against a total demand of electricity of 200MW in summer and 300MW in winter, total installed power generation capacity, mostly hydropower, is about 128MW, resulting in power shortage of about 80MW across the region that is not connected to the national grid. Currently, Gilgit-Baltistan has in operation 119 small and mini hydropower stations with a cumulative installed capacity of over 121MW, and net available capacity of 100MW in summer to 60MW in winter. The mountainous region is spread over 72,971 square kilometres. Administratively, Gilgit-Baltistan consists of ten districts namely Gilgit, Hunza, Nagar, Skardu, Shigar, Kharmong, Ghanche, Ghizer, Diamer and Astore. There are about 650 towns and villages, widely scattered, with population density of 24 persons per square kilometre.
Shockingly, Pakistan is ranked one of the lowest, 167 among 217 countries of the world, in terms of per capita consumption of electricity. The global data of 2014 shows per capita annual consumption in Pakistan as 438kWh compared to 50kWh yearly consumption of electricity in Gilgit-Baltistan. No one can deny this fact that electricity is crucial for the socio-economic development of the region. This will, raise the living standards of the people of Gilgit-Baltistan who are currently deprived of the basic amenities. But the measures taken by successive governments in this direction leave much to be desired.
Primarily, the electricity is used in Gilgit-Baltistan for lighting households, shops, schools and dispensaries etc. Still, only 65 percent of the population has access to electricity, which is not even available to some of the valleys at all. Nonetheless, the demand is increasing at a faster rate, as tourism, trade and the SMEs develop in major towns. The national grid is at a distance of 350 kilometres from Gilgit, and its extension to Gilgit-Baltistan is neither practical nor justifiable. The electricity network here is, therefore, being operated in isolation, and in many remote areas, even the transmission lines and grid stations do not exist.
It is now planned to establish a 132kV regional grid in Hunza District, providing interconnection of all existing and future hydropower stations of Gilgit-Baltistan to a common grid. In this context it is heartening that, on March 22, the Regional Chief of Industrial Promotion Services (IPS) for Asia, a subsidiary of the Aga Khan Fund for Economic Development (AKFED), visited Gilgit, offered the regional government help in the energy and power-distribution sector, and, reportedly, agreed to allocate $30 million for constructing the power grid. The government needs to materialise the project on priority basis.
Obviously, the major source of power generation in Gilgit-Baltistan is hydropower, which is reliable, clean and affordable, whereas thermal power generation is to the level of few megawatts only. The diesel generators have been installed, mostly in the capital city, to meet the demand of power during peak hours. Although the government plans to install more diesel generators, any further increase in thermal power generation capacity is not feasible due to logistic and financial costs involved in the transportation of diesel.
Gilgit-Baltistan offers enormous hydropower potential from River Indus and its various tributaries with steep gradients, to the level of 44,334MW, and a number of mega and large hydropower projects are being developed by the Pakistan government.
Out of this, hydropower potential in the tributaries and sub-tributaries of the River Indus is estimated at 5,726MW, which can be exploited economically for power generation. The main tributaries are Kharmong River, Shyok River, Shigar River, Skardu River, Gilgit River, Naltar River, Hunza River, Astore River, Ghizer River, Yasin River and Ishkuman River, and their ravines and gorges such as Kargah Nullah, Kilik, Shimshal and Khunjrab rivers.
So far, however, just over 2% of the water resources have been tapped, achieving an installed hydropower generation capacity of 121MW. A network of small- and mini-hydro-power stations, generally in the wide range of 50kW to 4MW, has been constructed. In addition, there are more than 400 micro-hydro-power stations operating in remote localities, developed mostly under community-based and rural support programmes, like the AKRSP and the Sarhad Rural Support Programme.
To cater to the increasing demand of electricity, a broad-based plan for the development of small hydropower generation is being implemented, though, the pace of work is slow. Another 29 hydropower projects are currently at various stages of implementation. Major projects under construction are 26MW Shagharthang at Skardu; 14MW Naltar-V, 16MW Naltar-III in Gilgit; 2MW at Misgar, 1.7MW at Hassanabad in Hunza District; 2MW at Dermadar in Ghizer and 4MW at Thak Nullah in Chilas. Other hydropower projects, currently in design and planning stages, include 20MW at Hanzel, Gilgit; 28MW Basho at Skardu, 20MW at Ghuwari-Shyok and 4MW Hushey, in Ghanche District; 5MW at Hassanabad in Hunza. As many as 200 potential hydropower sites, up to 150MW capacity projects, have been identified and techno-economic feasibility studies are being prepared.
On June 3, the chief minister of Gilgit-Baltistan had stated that by 2020, total installed power generation capacity would reach around 250MW, and the electricity load-shedding would be eliminated by then. However, taking into consideration present demand and its rapid growth, particularly in winter, is much low due to water lean period, no respite from load-shedding is seen in Gilgit-Baltistan in near future.
It is indeed, a daunting task to provide electricity to the region of high mountains and isolated valleys where infrastructure is practically non-existent. Furthermore, the widely varying topography, geology and hydrology, coupled with extreme weather conditions, make the construction of power stations difficult. The reliability of power supply is also impacted in the wake of frequent floods and landslides. Thus, the available power supply is optimal during summer, but the season covers three months only. During the remaining nine months of the year, the net electric supply is reduced to almost half of the installed capacity due to non-availability of water for power generation.
On the other hand, Wapda is also actively involved in contributing towards the addition of power generation capacity in Gilgit-Baltistan. It has constructed Satpara dam along a hydro power station of total 17MW capacity in Skardu, whereas design and engineering are in hand for Basho project of 40MW capacity, which will be connected to Skardu and other upstream valleys through the 66kV transmission line.
Earlier, it has commissioned 4MW Kargah power station in Gilgit. Likewise, Harpo hydro power project of 34.5MW capacity is to be developed in Skardu District. The two projects, Basho and Harpo, are being financed by the European donor agencies. Wapda also plans to construct 80MW hydropower plant at the Phundar Lake in Ghizer District, which is currently at initial stages.
Small-scale hydropower plants are proving to be a crucial in providing power in remote regions, while at the same time helping protect the environment. Development of hydro power projects in Gilgit-Baltistan will be accelerated if Pakistan can build the capacity to manufacture and install small power stations of above 5MW module that can be multiplied at a given site. The same is lacking at present though various items of electrical and mechanical equipment and related materials are being produced locally, and the infrastructure for implementing small hydro power schemes is available. The requisite advanced technology, however, is essentially required for achieving the purpose of creating the indigenous capability for design, engineering and manufacturing of equipment for power plants. The government needs to take initiative in this direction, pursuant to its policies of developing far-flung areas and promotion of renewable energy.
The writer is retired chairman of the State Engineering Corporation
Courtesy: The News