By Zafar Bhutta
ISLAMABAD: There is now no iota of doubt that Pakistan is increasingly focusing on Central Asian states which are a hub of energy and trade.
It needs to explore this region to give a boost to dwindling exports and meet energy needs. Geographically, Pakistan is close to Central Asia than Europe. Central Asia may also become a gateway to Russia and Europe.
The recent 13th Economic Cooperation Organisation (ECO) summit in Islamabad put greater emphasis on three aspects which included setting up a regional energy network, integrated water management and controlling and coping with impact of climate change. Pakistan is also facing these challenges and can take benefit of relevant initiatives.
The summit was an important gathering where heads of state from Central Asian countries, Afghanistan, Iran and Turkey gave their vital inputs. A new idea emerged that called for setting up regional energy networks and creation of an energy market.
It was floated by Tajikistan President Emomali Rahmon, who while addressing the summit said: ďWe hope that ECO member-states will further contribute to the implementation of projects for connecting and establishing regional energy networks and creation of an energy market.Ē
This concept revives memories of the United Energy System of Central Asia during the Soviet era that provided for exchange of water and energy between five regional states.
Under the arrangement, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan would supply water for irrigation purposes to Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan in summer. In return, Turkmenistan, Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan would supply gas to Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan to meet their heating requirement.
The system, however, began falling apart in 2003 when Turkmenistan declared its exit. With disintegration of the Soviet Union, sharing agreements also collapsed.
Interconnecting grid with China
Apart from Central Asia, the Ministry of Water and Power is working closely with State Grid Corporation of China in an effort to build an interconnecting electricity grid to utilise each otherís energy potential.
So, if the idea floated by Tajikistan president is implemented, China will become a gateway between Pakistan and Central Asia.
Outlining the plan of regional energy networks, the Tajik president pointed out that the Central Asia-South Asia (Casa) 1,000 high-voltage electricity transmission project, which was acknowledged to be the first power bridge between South and Central Asia, was a timely initiative. The Casa-1,000 project was officially launched in Tajikistanís capital Dushanbe in May last year with the participation of heads of state and government of Pakistan, Afghanistan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan, which are part of the project.
He voiced hope that the strategically important project would make it possible to connect energy networks of the two regions and help achieve Sustainable Development Goal 7, which ensures access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all.
Hydel potential
Hydroelectric power plants make up the core of energy mix in Tajikistan, which generates 98% of electricity through renewable energy sources. Tajikistan is among top six countries in terms of green energy generation with huge hydroelectric power resources.
These resources can generate 527 billion kilowatt-hours of environment-friendly electricity. However, Tajikistan currently uses only 5% of this capacity while the wider ECO regionís energy demand is growing continuously.
Tajikistan is consistently taking measures to rehabilitate its existing power assets, construct new energy facilities, use other renewable energy resources on a wider scale and introduce latest energy-saving methods. These initiatives, besides ensuring energy security at the national level, are also of regional importance as they will meet growing demand of close and far-off neighbours.
Water needs
There are two more important aspects that also deserve attention of the ECO member-states.
First, growing population in the region and increasing needs of water resources to ensure food security require new tasks to be undertaken.
In this context, integrated water resources management on a wider scale and effective water consumption should be the basis for cooperation between the ECO member-countries.
Second, climate change has been accelerating because of global warming. ECO countries are unfortunately hit by the negative impact of weather patterns and consequences of water-borne natural disasters.
Extensive rains and floods, mudflows and landslides, high level of snowfall and avalanches cause huge economic losses and create obstacles in the way of sustainable socio-economic development.
Electricity export
Pakistan has been facing energy crisis for a long time, but authorities now hope that the country will produce surplus electricity in coming years. This provides a rare opportunity to Pakistan to export its surplus electricity after the establishment of regional electricity networks to Central Asian countries of the ECO bloc, which face energy deficit during winter months.
This is a welcome sign which will not only strengthen the bloc, but will also help resolve energy challenges faced by the member-states.
Published in The Express Tribune, March 6th, 2017.