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China helps out energy-starved Pakistan
Publication Date : 08-08-2013
With an ongoing energy shortage affecting nearly every household in Pakistan, several Chinese power companies and institutes are working closely with the nation's government to take advantage of its natural resources and increase electricity production.
The Shanghai Marine Diesel Engine Research Institute recently agreed to help build a power plant in Pakistan to convert the byproduct of processing sugarcane into electricity. The goal is for the plant to provide an annual capacity of 960,000 mWh.
"The plant has the highest productivity among those of the same kind in the world," said Jin Donghan, head of the institute. "Pakistan is a country rich in sugarcane and turning that into electricity is a very cost-effective option for the country to find a way out of its shortage of energy."
According to a May report by The New York Times, lights go out for at least 10 hours a day in major cities in Pakistan and up to 22 hours a day in rural areas. Finding a solution to the nation's energy crisis topped Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif's agenda during his visit to China from July 3 to 8.
Chinese companies in Pakistan have also made strides to improve the nation's production in hydroelectricity.
Xiong Lixin, vice-president of Sinohydro Corp Ltd, served nearly seven years ago as a project manager for the landmark Gomal Zam Dam in northern Pakistan to help build both the dam and a hydroelectric plant at the site.
The dam also serves to help irrigate farmland and control flooding.
Designed and built by Power Construction Corp of China, the plant successfully connected to the national grid on June 26. Xiong said what impressed him most during his time in Pakistan was the intelligence and diligence of the Chinese staff who worked hard to meet construction deadlines on the dam.
With an installed capacity of 17,400 kW, the hydroelectric plant will provide energy to about 25,000 local households, while the dam will help the country avoid annual economic losses of $2.6 million due to flooding.
Xiong said the dam is a symbol of China's leading construction technologies. Pakistani people called the project their national version of the Three Gorges Dam, a mega hydropower generation project along the Yangtze River.
But in building power plants for the country, Chinese companies and contractors have faced numerous difficulties, including concerns about their security.
"The Chinese staff members were brave because the location of the plant was close to Afghanistan and relatively dangerous. That intimidated many other foreign engineers," Xiong said.
In October 2004, work on the dam came to a halt after unidentified militants kidnapped two Chinese engineers working on the project at the northwestern border of Pakistan.
One was saved but the other was killed in rescue efforts. It took two years before work continued on the project.
Xiong said Pakistan sent helicopters to escort him to the construction site in 2006 and also dispatched armed security guards to protect the Chinese staff.
"The security measures would not have worked if there wasn't a firm friendship between the two nations," said Xiong, who left Pakistan in 2011.
Li Shaotong, economic and commercial counselor of the Chinese embassy in Pakistan, recently urged Chinese businesses to "ensure safety measures and take precautions" in the country. Li added that security uncertainties remain even after the Pakistani elections in May.
The searing hot weather also poses another challenge for Chinese projects in the country.
Wang Xiaojun, an engineer at China Nuclear Industry No 5 Construction Co, said temperatures reach above 35 C "for several months a year" at the Chashma Nuclear Power Plant in north Pakistan, which China Nuclear recently helped build.
Having enough manpower was another obstacle. Many Pakistani workers, Wang said, lacked the technical training needed for the project.
"We only had 200 Chinese workers there and we hired more than 1,400 local people," Xiong said.
Chinese people doing business in Pakistan should respect the local religious and social customs and strengthen their sense of social responsibility, Li Shaotong said.
Liu Xiaoxue, a researcher on South Asian studies at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, said Chinese companies and contractors benefit from employing local people in Pakistan.