Load-shedding: Hiding the inefficiencies – BR Research

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Pakistan once had so much capacity constraints that electricity load shedding was the only way out, a decade ago. Times have changed as the power sector has come a long way from the dreaded days of nationwide load shedding, where governments were ousted on failure to keep promises. Fast forward to today, there is ample capacity in the system to meet demand at most times. Only that load shedding has stayed – and in most cases – unchanged from a decade ago.

Consider this for the gravity of the issue. In the four discos (Quetta, Peshawar, Hyderabad and Sukkur) 72 percent of the 3169 feeders still undergo load shedding. Half of the feeders under load shedding have a daily load shedding of at least 12 hours, going up to 16 hours. A quarter of K-Electric’s 1964 feeders also undergo load shedding, up to 7.5 hours a day.

Improved as it may be from yesteryear, this is by no means satisfactory. All discos and KE have maintained they are simply following the National Energy Policy 2013 guidelines which, as per their interpretation, allowed for commercial load-shedding. The regulator, on the other hand, does not consider this a valid response, and maintains that the rules of the game have no such allowance, and load shedding, if any, needs to be solely based on technical grounds. Nepra, while slapping fines of Rs50 million each on the aforementioned discos and KE, also stated that the National Energy Policy of 2013 stands repealed and is replaced by the 2021 version, which has no provisions for commercial-based load shedding.

Nepra says that the disregard of rules and procedures is akin to discos trying to hide their inefficiencies instead of taking corrective measures to improve losses at feeder level. It must be noted that the regulator allows for different heads in the discos’ PPP determinations on account of O&M funds, as Nepra terms the continuation of commercial-based load shedding a failure of governance improvement on part of discos.

Recall that Nepra had directed KE to start load shedding at PMT level instead of feeder level basis through remote disconnection and reconnection, based on the premise that KE claimed of having installed no less than 50,000 smart meters on its PMTs. In response, KE submitted that these meters cannot be operated directly at distribution transformer levels. Nepra observed that KE is not ready to provide relief to consumers by ensuring PMT-level load shedding despite achieving all commercial benefits of smart meters.

While the merits of arguments on both sides are best left to the concerned forums, it is no secret that Pakistan’s power sector would benefit greatly from higher consumption at this juncture. Merely hiding behind the convenience of commercial-based load shedding masks the inefficiencies. A sizeable chunk of residential electricity demand goes unmet. A sizeable number of honest users are not served because the discos can’t narrow it down from a broader lens.

Mind you, load shedding when there was a supply constraint was still understandable. But load shedding when every incremental unit reduces the overall tariffs is wrong on many counts. Discos cannot forever be allowed to distort the energy equation and get away with a pittance in the name of fines.

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