Watt to do?


The problem of loadshedding has eclipsed our national imagination: these days it is everything from small talk fodder to the cause of billions of rupees losses. It has damaged our imagination so, that the government has exhibited a total lack of it in its proposed solutions. The announcements with respect to the crisis have left much to be desired. The adhoc nature of the proposals seems to say that the government doesn’t have a handle on the situation.

It is true that this problem is not entirely of the incumbent government’s making. But it has not exhibited much initiative in dealing with it either. No government could cut this Gordian knot in a matter of months. But the biggest fault of the government has been its bushfire approach to solving the crisis i.e. dealing only with extreme manifestations rather than root causes. An energy summit took place in 2008. Two years later, the metrics of the crisis are worse; energy sector reforms are nowhere in sight and we are rehashing tried-and-tested methods. Take the five-day work week. It’ll save about 300 MW of electricity. A country where Friday is already a virtual day-off and the economy is super-slow, are these 300 MW worth the economic costs? These could be saved by austerity measures such as turning every alternate street light off – and that too without the economic cost. Aside from that, how effective will the measures be if Punjab (the biggest power consumer) and KP are already grumbling about them?

Not only has the crisis been mismanaged, but also the public perceptual framework. What to think of management that has given the public the idea that it can squeeze a little voltage out of the government if it sets a tyre on fire here and there. Moreover, the flip-flopping of the government on some of these steps has disillusioned the public with respect to their efficacy. The fact that these measures for conservation, particularly the five day work-week, have already been implemented and repealed has told the public that they don’t work.

Conservation is important: a watt saved is as good as a watt generated. But conservation will only work if it is part of a comprehensive energy plan which looks at both short- and long-term solutions to the problem. These include alternate energy development, capacity building, energy sector restructuring, expediting work on energy-related international agreements and much more. On their own, however, the proposed steps will achieve little.