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The hydrogen revolution: A new development model that starts with the sea, the sun and the wind

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“Once again in history, energy is becoming the protagonist of a breaking phase in capitalism: a great transformation is taking place, matched by the digital technological revolution”.

The subtitle of the interesting book (“Energia. La grande trasformazione“, Laterza) by Valeria Termini, an economist at the Rome University “Roma Tre”,summarises – in a simple and brilliant way – the phase that will accompany the development of our planet for at least the next three decades,A phase starting from the awareness that technological progress and economic growth can no longer neglect environmental protection.

This awareness is now no longer confined to the ideological debates on the defence of the ecosystem based exclusively on limits, bans and prohibitions, on purely cosmetic measures such as the useless ‘Sundays on which vehicles with emissions that cause pollution are banned’, and on initiatives aimed at curbing development – considered harmful to mankind – under the banner of slogans that are as simple as they are full of damaging economic implications, such as the quest for ‘happy degrowth’.

With “degrowth” there is no happiness nor wellbeing, let alone social justice.

China has understood this and, with a view to remedying the environmental damage caused by three decades of relentless economic growth, it has not decided to take steps backwards in industrial production, by going back to the wooden plough typical of the period before the unfortunate “Great Leap Forward” of 1958, but – in its 14thFive-Year Plan (2020- 2025)-it has outlined a strategic project under the banner of “sustainable growth”, thus committing itself to continuing to build a dynamic development model in harmony with the needs of environmental protection, following the direction already taken with its 13th Five-Year Plan, which has enabled the Asian giant to reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 12% over the last five years. This achievement could make China the first country in the world to reach the targets set in the 2012 Paris Climate Agreement, which envisage achieving ‘zero CO2 emissions’ by the end of 2030.

Also as a result of the economic shock caused by the Covid-19 pandemic, Europe and the United States have decided to follow the path marked out by China which, although perceived and described as a “strategic adversary” of the West, can be considered a fellow traveller in the strategy defined by the economy of the third millennium for “turning green”.

The European Union’s ‘Green Deal’ has become an integral part of the ‘Recovery Plan’ designed to help EU Member States to emerge from the production crisis caused by the pandemic.

A substantial share of resources (47 billion euros in the case of Italy) is in fact allocated destined for the “great transformation” of the new development models, under the banner of research and exploitation of energy resources which, unlike traditional “non-renewable sources”, promote economic and industrial growth with the use of new tools capable of operating in conditions of balance with the ecosystem.

The most important of these tools is undoubtedly Hydrogen.

Hydrogen, as an energy source, has been the dream of generations of scientists because, besides being the originator of the ‘table of elements’, it is the most abundant substance on the planet, if not in the entire universe.

Its great limitation is that in order to be ‘separated’ from the oxygen with which it forms water, procedures requiring high electricity consumption are needed. The said energy has traditionally been supplied by fossil – and hence polluting- fuels.

In fact, in order to produce ‘clean’ hydrogen from water, it must be separated from oxygen by electrolysis, a mechanism that requires a large amount of energy.

The fact of using large quantities of electricity produced with traditional -and hence polluting – systems leads to the paradox that, in order to produce ‘clean’ energy from hydrogen, we keep on polluting the environment with ‘dirty’ emissions from non-renewable sources.

This paradox can be overcome with a small new industrial revolution, i.d. producing energy from the sea, the sun and the wind to power the electrolysis process that produces hydrogen.

The revolutionary strategy based on the use of ‘green’ energy to produce adequate quantities of hydrogen at an acceptable cost can be considered the key to a paradigm shift in production that can bring the world out of the pandemic crisis with positive impacts on the environment and on climate.

In the summer of last year, the European Union had already outlined an investment project worth 470 billion euros, called the “Hydrogen Energy Strategy”, aimed at equipping the EU Member States with devices for hydrogen electrolysis from renewable and clean sources, capable of ensuring the production of one million tonnes of “green” hydrogen (i.e. clean because extracted from water) by the end of 2024.

This is an absolutely sustainable target, considering that the International Energy Agency (IEA) estimates that the “total installed wind, marine and solar capacity is set to overtake natural gas by the end 2023 and coal by the end of 2024”.

A study dated February 17, 2021, carried out by the Hydrogen Council and McKinsey & Company, entitled ‘Hydrogen Insights’, shows that many new hydrogen projects are appearing on the market all over the world, at such a pace that ‘the industry cannot keep up with it’.

According to the study, 345 billion dollars will be invested globally in hydrogen research and production by the end of 2030, to which the billion euros allocated by the European Union in the ‘Hydrogen Strategy’ shall be added.

To understand how the momentum and drive for hydrogen seems to be unstoppable, we can note that the Hydrogen Council, which only four years ago had 18 members, has now grown to 109 members, research centres and companies backed by70 billion dollar of public funding provided by enthusiastic governments.

According to the Executive Director of the Hydrogen Council, Daryl Wilson, “hydrogen energy research already accounts for 20% of the success in our pathway to decarbonisation”.

According to the study mentioned above, all European countries are “betting on hydrogen and are planning to allocate billions of euros under the Next Generation EU Recovery Plan for investment in this sector”:

Spain has already earmarked 1.5 billion euros for national hydrogen production over the next two years, while Portugal plans to invest 186 billion euros of the Recovery Plan in projects related to hydrogen energy production.

Italy will have 47 billion euros available for “ecological transition”, an ambitious goal of which the government has understood the importance by deciding to set up a department with a dedicated portfolio.

Italy is well prepared and equipped on a scientific and productive level to face the challenge of ‘producing clean energy using clean energy’.

Not only are we at the forefront in the production of devices for extracting energy from sea waves – such as the Inertial Sea Waves Energy Converter (ISWEC), created thanks to research by the Turin Polytechnic, which occupies only 150 square metres of sea water and produces large quantities of clean energy, and alone reduces CO2 emissions by 68 tonnes a year, or the so-called Pinguino (Penguin), a device placed at a depth of 50 metres which produces energy without damaging the marine ecosystem – but we also have the inventiveness, culture and courage to accompany the strategy for “turning green”.

The International World Group of Rome and Eldor Corporation Spa, located in the Latium Region, have recently signed an agreement to promote projects for energy generation and the production of hydrogen from sea waves and other renewable energy sources, as part of cooperation between Europe and China under the Road and Belt Initiative.

The project will see Italian companies, starting with Eldor, working in close collaboration with the Chinese “National Ocean Technology Centre”, based in Shenzhen, to set up an international research and development centre in the field of ‘green’ hydrogen production using clean energy.

A process that is part of a global strategy which, with the contribution of Italy, its productive forces and its institutions, can help our country, Europe and the rest of the world to recover from a pandemic crisis that, once resolved, together with digital revolution, can trigger a new industrial revolution based no longer on coal or oil, but on hydrogen, which can be turned from the most widespread element in the universe into the growth engine of a new civilisation.

Advisory Board Co-chair Honoris Causa Professor Giancarlo Elia Valori is an eminent Italian economist and businessman. He holds prestigious academic distinctions and national orders. Mr. Valori has lectured on international affairs and economics at the world’s leading universities such as Peking University, the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and the Yeshiva University in New York. He currently chairs “International World Group”, he is also the honorary president of Huawei Italy, economic adviser to the Chinese giant HNA Group. In 1992 he was appointed Officier de la Légion d’Honneur de la République Francaise, with this motivation: “A man who can see across borders to understand the world” and in 2002 he received the title “Honorable” of the Académie des Sciences de l’Institut de France. “

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China, biomarine energy and its players

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In the future, China and Europe will compete and cooperate in the field of ocean energy and green hydrogen energy production. This is why this aspect is crucial in building a bridge of cooperation and friendship between China and Europe.

Wave energy in China is generally low and accounts for only one seventh of wave energy in Europe. Fujian Smart Energy Technology Co., Ltd. has a new patented technology that can increase wave energy in the operating area by over 10 times, causing negligible changes to the environment. It is an environmentally friendly technology that does not affect the free movement of marine life, and can increase wave power generation by over 100 MW. It is certainly innovative, ingenious and daring. It will require strong support from the Ministry of Natural Resources.

The “National Independent Contributions” are non-binding national plans outlining climate actions, including climate-related targets, policies and measures that governments intend to implement in response to climate change and as a contribution to achieving the global goals set out in the Paris Agreement of December 12, 2015.

In these projects China has proposed that carbon dioxide emissions should peak around 2030, striving – as a stakeholder – to achieve this target as soon as possible. In 2030, carbon dioxide emissions per unit of GDP will be reduced by 60-65% compared to 2005 and primary energy consumption will focus on non-fossil energy.

The percentage has reached about 20% and the volume of forest stock has increased by about 4.5 billion cubic metres compared to 2005. Support for this project may enable China to reach this target earlier.

Shenzhen (a sub-provincial centre of the People’s Republic of China belonging to the Guangdong Province) is positioned as a global oceanic central city. China plans to initiate wave hydrogen production projects in Shenzhen and establish headquarters there.

In this regard, the European Union will invest 470 billion euros in clean energy over the next 25 years, with a focus on the hydrogen energy sector. The European Union has already launched its Hydrogen Energy Strategy in summer 2020. By the end of 2024, the European Union will build a batch of renewable hydrogen electrolysis equipment with a single capacity of 100 megawatts and annual production across Europe will exceed one million tonnes.

The aim is to promote this technology in Europe and later in the world through the Belt and Road Initiative, i.e. the New Silk Road called for by President Xi Jinping. There are plans to build one hundred 600-MW wave power plants and one hundred wave hydrogen production projects with an annual output of 100,000 tonnes over the next 15 years.

China’s Roadmap 2.0 for Energy Saving Technology and New Energy Vehicles foresees that by the end of 2035 the number of fuel cell vehicles will amount to one million and the demand for hydrogen will reach two million tonnes. The International World Group’s 600-MW wave power project will produce 103,000 tonnes of green hydrogen per year.

The project can meet China’s hydrogen demand until 2035 and will provide energy from green and renewable hydrogen.

The China Hydrogen Energy Industry Development Report 2020 forecasts that, by the end of 2050, hydrogen energy will account for 10 per cent of final energy consumption, the number of hydrogen fuel cell vehicles will be 30 million and hydrogen demand will be equal to 60 million tonnes.

The International World Group’s project can provide a steady flow of green hydrogen energy for 30 million vehicles. The related Sino-European Strategic Cooperation Agreement for Ocean Energy Development has a first and a second phase. The first will see the establishment of a global ocean energy technology research and development centre and then a Sino-European ocean energy technology research and development centre in Shenzhen.

At the same time, the ocean energy technology will be focused on its generation: from wave motion, from tidal power without dams, from offshore wind systems and also from offshore solar energy.

The cost of producing hydrogen from non-fresh seawater is lower than the cost of producing hydrogen from oceans and pertains to an advanced technology.

Zhisheng Energy currently holds invention patents for 100-MW wave power generation, as well as for environmentally friendly tidal power generation, and 10-MW wind power generation.

On the afternoon of April 16, President Xi Jinping held a video-conference-in Beijing with French President Macron and German Chancellor Merkel. The leaders of the three countries held an in-depth exchange of views on cooperation for tackling climate change, China-EU relations, anti-epidemic cooperation and major international and regional issues.

President Xi Jinping stated that China would strive to achieve peak carbon emissions by 2030 and carbon neutrality by 2060. This means that China, as the largest developing country on the planet, will complete the world’s highest carbon intensity reduction in a shorter timeframe than any third party. This stands in contrast to other powers that in Presidential candidates’ election speeches promise respect for the environment, but in fact do nothing more than confirm old energy production systems.

The President said China decided to accept the Kigali Amendment of October 15, 2016 to the Montreal Protocol of August 26, 1987 to strengthen the control of greenhouse gases other than carbon dioxide such as HFCs (refrigerant gases containing hydrofluorocarbons).

He argued that responding to climate change should be the common cause of all mankind and should not be a bargaining chip for geopolitics, a target to attack other countries or an excuse to erect trade barriers.

During the video-conference the President also said China would adhere to the principles of equity, common responsibilities and responsibilities differentiated by the respective capabilities, as well as promote the implementation of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change of June 4, 1992 and the Paris Agreement and actively carry out South-South cooperation on climate change.

He added he hoped that developed economies would lead by example in reducing emissions and take the lead in meeting their climate financial commitments, so as to provide adequate technical and capacity-building support to developing countries to tackle these epoch-making energy changes.

A few words are now appropriate about Xi Jingping’s most important collaborator on environmental issues: Ministers Lu Hao and Huang Runqiu.

The Minister of Natural Resources, Lu Hao (born in 1967), was the youngest provincial Governor in China, ruling Heilongjiang Province (population: 38,312,224 inhabitants in 2010) from 2013 to 2018. Lu Hao also served as First Secretary of the Communist Youth League and vice-mayor of Beijing. At the age of 20, he was elected Head of the University Students’ Union, becoming the first student union President, elected by popular vote since the Cultural Revolution. He holds a degree in Economics and Business from Peking University.

Lu Hao became Head of the Zhongguancun Administrative Office in 1999, thus beginning his career in the Public Administration. The area is known as China’s Silicon Valley, rich in technology start-ups.

He also served ex officio as President of the China Youth University for Political Sciences. Prior to Lu Hao, several political heavyweights, including former party leaders Hu Yaobang and Hu Jintao, as well as Premier Li Keqiang, had served in that position.

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East Mediterranean Gas Forum and Turkish expansion

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Image source: Greek Environment and Energy Ministry

The East Mediterranean Gas Forum (EMGF) is a unique regional organization in the eastern Mediterranean region. The establishment of the organization was announced when Turkey was seeking to expand in the Mediterranean region, as well as some eastern Mediterranean countries, such as Libya. Libya’s national security is an integral part of Egypt’s national security. In 2020, President Al-Sisi stated that: “Sirte and al-Jafra are a red line.” It is worth noting that Egypt has played an essential role in achieving a ceasefire in Libya. Egypt does not seek to interfere in Libya’s internal affairs but seeks to preserve its national security. Egypt supports the negotiations under the auspices of the United Nations and calls on all the disputing parties in Libya to negotiate and end the dispute in Libya in order to restore Libya’s stability and security. Turkish expansion in the Mediterranean causes concern to both Cyprus and Greece, as Turkey is drilling for gas near the Greek island of Crete, which has led to an escalation of tension between Turkey, Cyprus, and Greece. That led to the international community’s intervention to support Greece against the Turkish expansion, France pledged military aid to Greece, and Germany called on all parties to calm the conflict over gas in the Mediterranean. Turkey began the exploration process in 2019, and Turkey sees that it has many natural resources in the eastern Mediterranean and seeks to exploit it. However, there is still a problem of demarcating borders between Turkey and some eastern Mediterranean countries, which made the exploration process illegal. The demarcation of the borders between Libya and Turkey has led to the intensity of the conflict between Turkey and Greece. It is possible to say that Turkey did so in response to establishing the East Mediterranean Forum.

The East Mediterranean Forum is a regional organization, which includes six countries: Egypt, Greece, Cyprus, Jordan, Italy, and Israel. Its headquarters are located in Cairo, the capital of Egypt. The East Mediterranean Gas Forum organization was a forum. This forum was co-founded by Egypt, Jordan, Greece, Cyprus, Palestine, and Israel. The international community welcomed the idea of the forum. France requested to join the forum, and the United States of America attended the forum meeting as an international observer. Although Palestine is one of the founders of the East Mediterranean Gas Forum in 2019, it didn’t sign the protocol of the organization. Palestinian News and Information Agency reported that Palestine did not participate in the signing ceremony. And as a co-founding country of the forum, it will not retreat from the membership of any international organization that affirms its national and sovereign rights. The transformation of the Gas Forum into an international organization is an important and historic step in the region. It allows the countries of the region to cooperate in the eastern Mediterranean region. It’s worth mentioning that the eastern Mediterranean region includes nine countries, Egypt, Cyprus, Greece, Lebanon, Palestine, Syria, Libya, Turkey, and Israel. And now only four countries from eastern Mediterranean region joined the organization.

The forum is an economic and political organization, which its primary goal is the economic exploitation of natural gas and the interest in strengthening cooperation and developing dialogue between the states of the organization; in addition to that, the organization works to protect the wealth of its members in the eastern Mediterranean region against Turkish expansion and it also puts an end to Turkey’s illegal drilling activities in the region. As we can see, the organization attempts to reshape the balance of power in the region. Although the clear objectives of the organization, there are many challenges face it, including challenges related to the organization as an institution, such as the mechanisms of the institution, decision-making, conflict resolution, and protection of the region’s gas wealth. In addition to that, border problems between some organization members and other countries, such as the problem of borders between Palestine and Israel and the dispute over the demarcation of the maritime borders between Lebanon and Israel.

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Pakistan’s water-and-energy crisis

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The Indus Water Treaty talks between India and Pakistan had been in limbo since India abrogated special status  (Article 370) of the occupied Kashmir and usurped  hereditary rights(Article 35-A) of its permanent citizens. Following peace on the line of control, the two countries, water commissioners of the two countries held a meeting in March 2021 (though supposed to be held in 2019) to resolve outstanding issues. The main focus was on Pakistan’s objections to design of Indian hydropower projects on the Chenab River. India is building the 1,000 MW Pakal Dul Hydro Electric Project on river Marusudar, a tributary of the Chenab. The project is located in Kishtwar district of Jammu & Kashmir. The second project, Lower Kalnai, is being developed on the Chenab River.

The meeting was delayed because of India’s pugnacious attitude (surgical strikes, cartographic aggression on Kashmir, etc.).

The Indus Waters Treaty is a water-sharing treaty between India and Pakistan, facilitated by the World Bank, to use the water available in the Indus River and its tributaries. The treaty allocated the waters of the western rivers that are the Indus, Jhelum, and Chenab to Pakistan and those of the eastern rivers, namely the Ravi, Beas, and Sutlej, to India. According to provisions of the Indus Waters Treaty, all the waters of the Eastern Rivers (Sutlej, Beas, and Ravi), amounting to around 33 million acre feet (MAF) annually, is allocated to India for unrestricted use and the waters of the Western rivers (Indus, Jhelum, and Chenab) amounting to around 135 MAF annually largely to Pakistan. Under the treaty, India has been given the right to generate hydroelectricity through run-of-the-river projects on the western rivers, subject to specific criteria for design and operation.

The treaty also envisaged funding and building of dams, link canals, barrages, and tube wells like the Tarbela Dam on the Indus River and the Mangla Dam on the Jhelum River.

Since time immemorial, the Indus-river system has been used for irrigation in undivided India. However modern irrigation- engineering work was initiated dating 1850s during the British rule. The treaty was necessitated by partition of India into the dominions of India and Pakistan in 1947.

The fruition of the treaty is attributed to David Lilienthal, former head of both the Tennessee Valley Authority and the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission.

After six years of talks, Indian Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru and Pakistani President Mohammad Ayub Khan signed the Indus Waters Treaty in September 1960. The Indus-water treaty required the creation of a Permanent Indus Commission, with a commissioner from each country, to resolve e any difference of opinion on architecture, design, and other aspects of the dams that the two countries may build on the allocated rivers. Aside from bellicose statements to scrap the treaty, the Indus treaty remained intact though the two countries fought many wars.

In 2017, India completed the building of the Kishanganga dam in occupied Kashmir and continued work on the Ratle hydroelectric power station on the Chenab River despite Pakistan’s objections.

In post-Ayub era, Pakistan was not able to make progress on making new dams particularly the Kalabagh Dam. The construction of the dam was delayed owing to frivolous objections raised by the three provinces that are Sindh, Balochistan and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.

Instead of trying to evolve consensus on the vital water projects, Pakistan’s politicians remained engrossed in pettifoggery or machinations to pull down whichever government happened to be in power. 

Necessity of the Kalabagh Dam

This project was approved by the Technical Committee on Water Resources during 2003-2005. However, the feasibility report has not been implemented for over 15 years.  Now three of the four provinces (excluding the Punjab) are at daggers drawn over it. The fact however remains that the inter-provincial committee was composed of eight technical experts, two from each province.

The Committee also looked into all aspects including the effect of dilution of seawater with fresh water, seawater intrusion into the groundwater, riverine irrigation, and forests fisheries (Pala fish, shrimp, kharif and rabi cultivation), besides growth of Mangrove forests. The project had already been  approved by the World Bank Indus Special Study Group in its report titled Development of Water and Power Resources of Pakistan: A Sectoral Analysis (1967). The estimated cost, then, was US$6.12 billion, over six years from 1977 to 1982.

After commissioning of Tarbela Dam in 1976, the dam could have been built in six years by 1982. The cost per unit of 12 billion units, the KBD hydel electricity was Rs1.5 as compared to Rs16.5 per unit from thermal sources.

The dam was to serve as a receptacle to store monsoon flows of the upper reaches of the mighty Indus.

Our power shortage then was 4000-5000 MW. The estimated cost of constructing the dam was US$6.12 billion, over six years from 1977 to 1982. After commissioning of Tarbela Dam in 1976, the dam could have been built in six years by 1982. The cost per unit of 12 billion units the hydel electricity was Rs.1.5 as compared to Rs. 16.5 per unit from thermal sources. We are losing Rs. 180 billion per year due to ten time costlier production (12billion xRs.15 billion). Add to it loss of US$ 6.12 billion per annum from due to the superfluous flow of 30 million Acre Feet at of water from Kotri Barrage into the Arabian Sea (one MAF valued at US$1-1.5 billion).

Our water resources reserves have not risen pari passu with growth in population, 32.4 million in 1948 to 154.6 million in 2005, and 207.8 million in 2017. In  kharif season, rivers flow at 84 percent while only 40 percent during the rabi season. The present water storage capacity in Pakistan is hardly 11.77million acres per feet (MAF) that is about only eight percent of the annual flow.

Factors of water crisis

Three provincial assemblies resolved against building the KBD. A politician alleged the dam would convert Sind into a desert. Apprehensions against the dam could be allayed by reviewing Water Apportionment Accord (as directed by Lahore High Court also vide its Order dated November 29, 2012, case no. WP 8777). No justification to kill the goose that lays the golden eggs.

Losses due to delay

The losses due to the delays in the project have soared up to Rs180 billion a year due to its 10-time costlier construction (1990 estimate).  Added to it is the loss of $6.12 billion per annum due to superfluous flow of 30 million acre feet of water from Kotri Barrage into the Arabian Sea. In mangrove season, rivers flow at 84 per cent while only at 40 per cent during Rabi season. The present water storage capacity in Pakistan is hardly 11.77MAF that is only about eight per cent of the annual flow.

Legislative assemblies of three of our provinces, barring the Punjab province, have been bitterly opposing construction of the Kala Bagh Dam. Are they justified? To answer the question we have to look into various aspects of the construction of the dam, particularly feasibility and repercussions of constructing the dam. After enactment of the Eighteenth amendment, building of dams is now a provincial subject. The fact however remains that water security is more a national subject than a provincial one.

Debate about pros and cons

 The construction of Kalabagh dam is predicted to supply over 4 million acre-feet additional water to Sindh. While explaining benefits of Kalabagh Dam, WAPDA engineer Shamsul Mulk stated that China would be generating around 30,000 megawatts of electricity from dams. “Even India has more than 4,000 dams,” he said. “We lose billions due to the non-construction of dams.”

Concluding remarks

The opposition to the Kalabagh Dam is whimsical rooted in political rhetoric. According to the United Nations’ forecast, water scarcity would be Pakistan’s greatest problem in current century.

The country has been in the grip of a severe energy crisis for several years. No one even talks about Kalabagh Dam. Towards the end of the 1980s, Pakistan met 70 percent of its energy needs from hydel (hydroelectric) power and 30 percent from thermal energy. By 2012-13, Pakistan became dependent on thermal energy generated from costly furnace oil and diesel by up to 44 percent, with the remaining 56 percent being generated from other, mainly thermal, sources. This change had a cascading effect on prices and the consumers’ bills skyrocketed.

Hydel energy remains largely neglected, despite its low production cost. Many public sector electricity generation plants have outlived their utility. Without cheaper electricity, circular debt will continue to mount. Circular debt, accumulated in the power sector, is a handy excuse for the energy crisis. This debt piles up when downstream customers fail to pay their bills to upstream suppliers (or producers) in time. Who are the defaulters? They include not only ordinary citizens, but also the provinces, the public sector, influential corporations and powerful individuals (including political tycoons). To continue supplying power, the thermal producer has to borrow (and later pay interest charges and repay the contracted loan) and find alternative financial sources, unless the government makes the bounteous payment. The solution is simple: power distribution companies should promptly pay their dues to the generation companies.

However, circular debt is only the tip of the iceberg. There are many other factors blighting the energy scenario. The government needs to evolve a policy in which the power sector is prioritized.

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