Good light

A megawatt saved is a megawatt produced

Good light
Corruption, inefficiency, political bickering, red tape and vested interests are among the factors that don’t let Pakistan grow and prosper. Several good projects that could have changed the country’s lot could not take off due to these factors. This is especially true for Pakistan’s energy sector.

We should have established a network of small dams including the large Kalabagh Dam 30 years ago, but provincial politics did not let us do that. We can go solar today or at least initiate micro hydel power projects, but the vested interests of oil companies don’t permit us to do so.

The PPP government launched an energy saving program in 2009, according to which 30 million Compact Fluorescent Lamps (CLFs) – energy saver bulbs in common parlance – were supposed to be distributed for free among the masses. The objective of this project was to reduce the peak load that starts from sunset and goes on till midnight. Though Pakistan could not have generated electricity through this project, it could have utilized the energy it had more efficiently.

[quote]"An 18-watt energy saver bulb is equivalent to a 100-watt incandescent bulb"[/quote]

“One energy saver bulb of 18 watts is equivalent to 100 watts of incandescent bulbs – the old yellow light bulb used in most houses. It consumes ten times less energy than those bulbs,” said Dr Jamil Masud, an Islamabad-based energy expert. “This was an immediate energy saving concept and it yields an immediate impact. It could have saved Pakistan 1,000 megawatts of electricity which was equivalent to an investment of one billion dollars. It could have provided relief to the dying industry.”

Dr Masud, who is one of the founders of Hagler Bailly, an Islamabad-based consultancy firm working on environment and energy for the last 20 years, said the CFL program was based on the philosophy that a penny saved is a penny earned.

The project could never materialize despite a funding of $40m promised by the Asian Development Bank (ADB). In April 2010, the Pakistani government and the ADB signed a $40m agreement, according to which the government would distribute free CFLs to electricity consumers. The world is already turning to CFLs fast. Europe and America have phased out the use of incandescent bulbs. Under the agreement, Pakistan Electric Power Company (Pepco) was supposed to award a contract to a competent company to produce certified high quality energy savers whose life was at least 10,000 hours or eight years. But Pepco awarded the contract to a controversial Chinese company at a much higher price.

[quote]The plan could have saved Pakistan 1,000 megawatts of electricity, or an investment of $1 billion [/quote]

Transparency International Pakistan (TIP) and the Institution of Engineers Pakistan (IEP) wrote letters to Pepco as well as the then prime minister of Pakistan pointing out irregularities in the procurement procedure. Their apprehensions were valid. The bogus Chinese company failed to meet the strict and transparent criteria of procurement laid down by the ADB. The ADB canceled the tender and the first phase was missed. In the second phase, a company won the contract in July 2012 to supply Pepco 20 million energy savers. It sent its consignments and asked Pepco to send its inspectors for a pre-shipping inspection. Pepco took six months to send its inspectors. We don’t know the status of these 20 million energy savers now, and Pepco and the ADB don’t want to speak about it.

Meanwhile, Pakistan’s Environmental Protection Agency is spearheading a propaganda camoaugn against energy saver bulbs, saying they are hazardous for health. The agency’s chief Asif Shuja Khan says that CFLs contain mercury which is a dangerous substance. When bulbs would be trashed and mercury would be released into the air, it will pollute landfills. Mercury in water and food will be a disaster.

But his critics say his agency should be campaigning for proper disposal of waste, instead of campaigning against CFLs. Expired bulbs can also be recycled.


The project has fortunately been adopted by the PML-N. We see media ads almost every day with a picture of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif that popularize what is now called the Prime Minister’s Energy Savers Program. Under this program, two energy savers will be supplied to each house free of cost against two ordinary bulbs.

But so far, Pepco does not have a single energy saver bulb for free distribution. The people who went to Pepco offices to get energy savers in many cities of Punjab were sent home.

The new government has also failed to address a fundamental problem in ensuring a shift to CFLs – the quality of the available bulbs. The energy saver bulbs that are available cost Rs 200 and last about six months. An incandescent bulb costs Rs 15 and lasts for years. Can a government clerk buy half a dozen energy savers for his house that will not last for more than six months?

The writer is our correspondent in Islamabad.

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Mohammad Shehzad is based in Islamabad. He has been writing for national and foreign publications since 1992. He is the author of The State of Islamic Radicalism in Pakistan (Routledge Taylor & Francis) and Love and Fear: Poems Beyond Time ( He learns tabla and classical vocal music. He is a passionate cook and shares his recipes at Email: