Home > Sisyphean strivings – The Express Tribune

Sisyphean strivings – The Express Tribune

Instea­d of making our canals theft-proof, we waste all our effort­s debati­ng the conten­tious Kalaba­gh Dam

The writer served as Executive Editor of The Express Tribune from 2009 to 2014

The writer served as Executive Editor of The Express Tribune from 2009 to 2014

We have a strange national approach to our national problems. At least 35-50 per cent of irrigation water gets lost, leaked and pilfered from our excellent man-made irrigation canal system. But instead of making these canals and their linked channels leak-proof and theft-proof, we waste all our national efforts on unachievable harebrained solutions like debating the contentious Kalabagh Dam or blaming the upper riparian country of pilfering our portion of river waters without irrefutable technical proof that would stand the scrutiny of international arbitrators.

Similarly, all these years we have been trying to solve our energy crisis by putting the cart before the horse. There is no authentic documented estimate of losses of power produced from costly imported fuel on its way to the end users, which according to various studies, is somewhere between 30-45 per cent of the total generation. But for decades now, instead of trying to save these technical as well as non-technical losses, we have been spending our energies and financial resources on power generation and subsidising the escalating bills of end users.

Not that we don’t need to add to our generation capacity, but it looks like a Sisyphean endeavour in the absence of a national effort to first curtail the huge losses leaking through transmission and distribution systems.

Power generated in power stations, before reaching the end users, passes through large and complex networks like transformers, overhead lines, cables and other equipment. While traversing through this intricate journey, some power gets lost due in part to technical reasons, and in part to theft, pilferage and inefficient management of distribution.

The power lost on the way to the end users is generally known as transmission and distribution loss. However, the financial cost of these losses is more often than not passed on to the end users’ bills because otherwise the generating company would either need to bear the loss or at least suffer a substantial reduction in the margin of profit. If the generating company is in the public sector, the loss is usually covered by a hefty budgetary subsidy to protect consumers’ home budgets.

Technical losses are due to energy dissipated in the conductors, equipment used for transmission lines, transformers, sub-transmission line and distribution line, and magnetic losses. The major amount of losses in the power system is in primary and secondary distribution lines. Therefore, the system that manages these lines must be properly planned to ensure that the resulting losses do not cross the technical limits.

There are a number of reasons for technical losses, such as lengthy distribution lines, inadequate size of conductors of distribution lines, installation of sub-transformers away from load centres, low-power factor of primary and secondary distribution systems, bad workmanship, load factor effect on losses, transformer sizing and selection, balancing three-phase loads and switching off transformers.

According to one study, Pakistan ranks fourteenth among 131 countries sustaining a high rate of power transmission and distribution losses. Another study claims that while such losses amounted to 16.95 per cent in Bangladesh, 14.6 per cent in Sri Lanka, 6.7 per cent in China and 3.8 per cent in Malaysia in 2011, these have been around 23 per cent of the energy generated by state-owned power distribution companies (Discos) and, additionally, about 35 per cent of output of the privatised KESC. The world average is said to be 8.8 per cent, while transmission and distribution losses in the range of 6-8 per cent of energy generated, are considered normal.

Another major problem afflicting the power sector is said to be its inability to adhere to international standards for calculating losses. As a result, we have at least three figures for such losses for the year 2011-12: 19.6 per cent, 16.6 per cent and 22.42 per cent.

So without taking eyes off the generation problem, the focus now should be on overhauling transmission and distribution systems. To start with, let us first agree on an internationally recognised formula for calculating these losses. Next, let us introduce smart pre-paid meters to all end-users to curb theft. Meanwhile, let us also conduct a complete survey of the transmission lines, identify and remove all technical and non-technical faults to reduce losses to at least 10 per cent.

Published in The Express Tribune, October 21st, 2015.

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