China and Pakistan held a ceremony beginning construction for the planned Karot hydropower plant on January 10, marking the start of one more energy project on the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor. The $1.65 billion hydropower plant, spearheaded by China’s Three Gorges Corporation, was the first project to receive funding from China’s Silk Road Fund. Upon completion (scheduled for 2020), the Karot plant will provide 720 MW of energy harnessed from the Jhelum River.
The Karot plant is part of the broader China-Pakistan Economic Corridor, or CPEC, which itself is part of China’s “Belt and Road” initiative to link China with Europe (and all the regions in between). Though the CPEC is often understood solely in terms of transportation infrastructure – developing the Chinese-controlled port at Gwadar and linking it to China via rail and road – that’s not the only aspect of the project. Under the “1+4” cooperation framework unveiled during Chinese President Xi Jinping’s April 2015 visit to Pakistan, the CPEC is the “1,” with the “4” representing key areas of the larger strategy. Energy is one of those four areas, along with Gwadar Port, transport infrastructure, and industrial cooperation. In fact, China and Pakistan officially broke ground on five new energy projects, all of them considered part of the CPEC, during Xi’s visit to Pakistan last year.
Along with the Karot hydropower project, the CPEC also includes Chinese construction of the world’s largest solar plant in Punjab Province. The first section began providing electricity in August 2015; the second portion is currently under construction by Chinese firm Zonergy. When completed by the end of this year, the entire solar plant is expected to produce up to 1,000 MW of power.
Another project is a coal power plant at Port Qasim, which was in fact the first energy project included under the CPEC framework. According to China Daily, the plant, being constructed by Powerchina Resources Ltd., will cost $2 billion and should be finished by the end of 2017. The project will consist of two 660 MW coal plants, for a total energy generation of 1320 MW.
Of course, Chinese investment in Pakistan’s energy sector predate the CPEC — just look at perhaps the most famous joint project, the $10 billion expansion of the Karachi nuclear power plant. But the scale of the CPEC energy projects are mind-boggling.
All told, 14 Chinese-constructed energy projects in Pakistan tied to the CPEC are supposed to provide an additional 10,400 MW of electricity by March 2018 – more than enough to make up for Pakistan’s 2015 energy shortfall of 4,500 MW. And that’s only part of the story. According to China Daily, there are a total of 21 planned energy projects in the works under the CPEC framework. Altogether, these projects should eventually produce 16,400 MW of power, roughly the same as Pakistan’s current capacity.
As they say, the best-laid plans often go awry, so it’s likely not every project will be completed on schedule (or even at all). But the sheer scale of China’s energy plans for the CPEC ensures that it has a chance to be a game-changer for Pakistan, where rolling blackouts are common due to energy shortages.