Gilgit-Baltistan: Dozens of small hydropower plants can be set up in every province

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The term alternative energy encompasses a variety of power generation sources. Generally, it refers to electrical power derived from renewable resources such as hydro, solar or wind energy, as opposed to one-off resources such as coal or uranium. The most common forms of alternative energy are solar power, wind power and micro-hydro power. The benefits of using renewable energy sources are considerable.

From an environmental standpoint, solar, wind and waterpower are all non-emission power sources.

Unlike coal combustion power plants, no harmful exhaust is produced when using alternative energy generators. There is also no worry about toxic or radioactive waste products, as there is with nuclear power. In addition to the lack of emissions and waste products, no valuable resources are “used up” with renewable resource power generation. If every home on earth were powered with an alternative energy system, it would never cause a shortage of wind, water or sunlight.

Especially for Pakistan where throughout the year energy crisis worse the economic development and now the gap between supply and demand of natural gas has reached nearly one billion cubic feet per day and government forced to cut gas supply for industrial sector of Punjab and CNG sector of Sindh. Increase in oil prices in the international market also generated lots of pressure on the economy. Many now believe that Pakistan needs to initiate a transition towards greater use of alternate and renewable energy as an indigenous, clean and abundant resource.

In terms of the renewable energy, hydropower is certainly the largest and most mature application of renewable and alternative energy technologies. Hydropower accounts for about 17 percent of the world’s total electricity generation and critically important for many countries; it produces more than 50 per cent of electricity for more than 60 countries. Currently 1010 gigawatts of hydropower generation capacity are in operation globally, and in the end of 2010, 30 gigawatts of new capacity were added.

Hydropower potential in Pakistan is over 100,000 MW with identified sites of 55000 MW.

At present, the rated electric power generating capacity in Pakistan is only 19000 MW with the demand growing at 10 per cent annually. The average per capita consumption is only 482 units. Power shortage in the industrial, agricultural and domestic sectors has been evident for the past few years with the shortage assuming critical proportions last year.

When Tarbela and Mangla dams were built about 50 years ago it was expected that a new reservoir of the size of Tarbela would need to be built every ten years to meet the challenge of water and increase the production of hydro power. However, only two minor additions have been made – some additional hydroelectricity capacity at Ghazi Barotha and the recent raising of Mangla dam. For decades a deadly combination of internal dissension and external prevarication precluded the building of new large dams and especially Kalabagh dam.

In all over the world, the need for dams is argued on four main points: more water for irrigation and agriculture; more storage capacity; more flood control; and more hydroelectric power.

Kalabagh dam has also these potential and it’s a need of the time. Every year during super floods, as much as 100 billion cubic meters of water flow downstream of Kotri Barrage, the last man-made barrier on the Indus River, into the Arabian Sea. This flow is termed a waste and, thereby, demonstrates the need for a third storage dam on the Indus. The Kalabagh dam is also considered justified on the grounds that existing dams are fast losing their storage capacity due to the build-up of silt deposits in their reservoirs-which has reduced water supply at a time when demand is increasing. Third, the scale of the emerging water shortage will adversely affect power generation and supply as well. Present energy shortages are about 5,000 megawatts (MW) per year and Kalabagh Dam project has its potential to produce 2400 MW of electric power.

Now, after reviewing the energy crisis, the International lenders have also asked the government to ‘reconsider Kalabagh dam’ as a priority water sector project. According to a report of the water task force of the Friends of Democratic Pakistan, lending agencies and bilateral development partners have also advised the government to impose a surcharge of about one US cent per kwh of electricity and $5 on each irrigated acre to raise $1.7 billion (Rs150 billion) to fund a key component of a host of infrastructure projects for irrigation, flood control and hydropower generation.

Despite knowing the fact that Pakistan wasted 38 MAF (million acres feet) of river water every year into the sea, Kalabagh remains shelved as a pipedream because of internal differences.

Dasu has power potential and hydrology quite comparable with Kalabagh Dam. It will also increase the life of Tarbela for another 20 years. Moreover, it has practically uniform during winter and interestingly it starts rising from February onwards.

Projects like this should have been initiated long back instead of keeping them dormant for so many years just to give an impression that Kalabagh Dam is the only project ready for implementation.

Even small dams could be constructed for developing our economy and small dams projects are much more feasible for Pakistan’s energy needs. These projects do not divert or store water, while they are also said to be environmentally sound. Run-of-the-river projects are quick and cheap to set up as well. However, the amount of power generated depends on the water flowing in the river; decreased flows mean less power. In a situation where every megawatt counts, it is baffling why the authorities have maintained a laissez-faire attitude towards developing small, run-of-the-river hydropower projects.

Dozens of potential small hydropower plants can be set up in every province of Pakistan and especially in Gilgit Baltistan and Azad Jammu and Kashmir, with a production capacity of 2,000 MW. Northern areas possessing about 60,000MW of cheaper hydro resources, including over 25,000MW of simple run-of-the river, stand to gain from the ownership of this huge potential, if translated into reality. One can judge the potential of small dam by this reality that there are over 3000 small dams in Pennsylvania, and over 100,000 throughout the United States.

Small dams had proved beneficial all over the world for the local level poverty alleviation. In Pakistan also, most of these dams fall in either very poor or marginal areas like Awaran and Kharan in Balochistan or poverty-stricken interior Sindh.

The Executive Committee of the National Economic Council has working on almost 12 small dams in Sindh and Baluchistan. These 12 dams would have the capacity to store 2.5 million acre feet of water and produce 20.84MW power. They also had the potential to ensure return of the investment in six to seven years (about Rs82 billion). The stored water would be sufficient to irrigate more than 300,000 acres with traditional flood irrigation. The area could be doubled through sprinkle and drip irrigation.

Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhaw also worked on about more than two dozen small dams projects. After the construction of these dams and irrigation canals, cropping intensity and crop yield have increased. Due to availability of irrigation water there has been a shift of cropping pattern from wheat and forage crops to vegetable crops. Farmers are earning up to $2433 per ha per year. An analysis of inflow-outflow of the dams shows that, if properly managed, the storage is not only sufficient to irrigate all the croplands within the command area, but also increase the capacity of hydropower.

The importance of large and small dams for Pakistan can not be under-estimated, particularly for irrigated agriculture in the country. In Pakistan, irrigated agriculture covers 16.2 million hectare (74 per cent) out of the total cultivated area of 22 million hectare. Irrigated agriculture uses 97 per cent of the available water and provides over 90 per cent of agricultural, produce; it accounts for 25 per cent of GDP, earns 70 per cent of the export revenue and employs 50 per cent of the work-force directly and another 20 per cent indirectly.

Although the share of agriculture in GDP has declined over the years, however, it is still the largest single contributor to GDP. The sustainability of irrigated agriculture is threatened by continuous deterioration of the irrigation infrastructure.

It is estimated that there will be a shortfall in renewable water availability of 108 MAF by 2013. The corresponding shortfall in food grains alone is likely to be 12 million tons. This, it is stated, will put mainly two-fold burden on Pakistan’s meagre foreign exchange resources. First, additional foreign exchange will have to be allocated for the importation of food grains. Second, a drop in the production of export commodities such as rice, cotton, and textiles will mean the loss of foreign exchange earnings.

Large or small reservoirs are ostensibly needed to carry over water from wet months to dry months and from wet years to dry years. In Pakistan, water demand exceeds supply, leading to a crisis like situation almost every year. On an annual basis, the demand for water has led to maximum withdrawals from reservoirs, causing the Mangla and Tarbela dams to reach dead-level every single year. So there is a strong need to build dams not only for hydro purpose but also stop making Pakistan water starve country.

Flooding is a requirement for the fertilization of major areas of the agricultural land of the country, and is differentiated from catastrophic flooding, which causes loss of life and serious damage to agriculture and utilities.

The last year’s devastating floods had caused a loss of $10 billion to the economy and eaten up two per cent of the GDP. Dams and reservoirs can be effectively used to regulate river levels and flooding downstream of the dam by temporarily storing the flood volume and releasing it later.

The dams are operated by specific water control plan for routing floods through the basin without damage. This not only eliminates flooding, but provides other benefits such as water supply, irrigation, and hydropower and water quality. If government construct instead of Kalabagh several small dams in Sindh than flood water can be managed.

Along this, the western Himalayas, the Hindu Kush, Karakorum, and their associated mountain ranges are located in the north and northwest of Pakistan. It is in this area where some of the world’s highest peaks, as well as a concentration of glaciers and snow lakes surpassed only in the Polar Regions, are located, needs to construct small and large dams. Due to climate change the Glaciers in the Himalayas are melting at a rapid rate.

The glaciers of northern areas are an extremely precious resource, for the highlands and the lowlands, and this resource we must understand so that we can preserve it and utilize it in a sustainable way.

The water resources of the Himalayas, if used prudently and effectively, are a rich means of hydroelectric power generation. Dams being built in the Himalayan region can produce energy, sustain agriculture, conserve water, promote fisheries, and sustain communities.

Lastly, India continuously works to construct dams on rivers allocated to Pakistan according to Indus Basin Treaty. India had built about 4,291 dams and planned to build another 695 even on Pakistani rivers of Chenab and Jhelum, making Pakistan water starve country. Just taking the example of Baglihar dam, the treaty ensures a minimum flow of 55,000 cubic feet per second (cusecs) of water in the Chenab River.

In August-September 2008, however, India began to fill the Baglihar Hydroelectric Power Plant reservoir on the Chenab. As a result, river flows declined to 48,000 cusecs on August 25 and to 25,000 cusecs on September 4. Pakistan has lost about 2 MAF of water, and Pakistan’s wheat crop has been adversely affected. The government must save its water resources by constructing either small or large dams.

While dams provide significant benefits to our society, their impacts on the surroundings include resettlement and relocation, socioeconomic impacts, environmental concerns, sedimentation issues and safety aspects.

About 75 per cent of the total electricity consumed in South America is derived from hydropower. Japan, US, Russia and Turkey are the leading countries in the production and consumption of hydroelectric power. Canada, Norway, New Zealand, Switzerland and many other European countries have trapped most of their water sources and harnessed energy to generate electricity.

The availability of energy is essential for the socio-economic development of a nation. It is advantageous to use energy that is clean, efficient, dependable and renewable. Hydropower meets all of these requirements. In countries, where a vast amount of development still lies ahead, good conditions often exist for renewable energy sources. The technically most advanced and economical source of renewable energy is hydropower – Pakistan and Gulf Economist


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