I am attaching below an interesting article on Pakistan’s attempts to push for renewable energy. The article says all the right things about the potential of renewable energy, but I think it gives too much credit to the government on being fully alert to the energy crisis, and having a real plan to utilize renewable and distributed energy production as the way forward. Those criticizing renewable energy in the article only need to pull their head out of the sand and smell the air. They are, unfortunately, still living in the previous century.
This summer has brought terrible news regarding energy availability and access to ordinary Pakistanis. While most Pakistanis have been aware for a while that their country faces long term energy shortages, they had not expected the problem to be as acute and severe as it demonstrated itself to be this summer.
There is a severe energy shortage in Pakistan, esp in the urban areas, and most parts of the country are experiencing heavy load sheddings, i.e. periods with no electric power, designed to distribute load and conserve energy. Karachi, the major port city and industrial hub, is experiencing nearly 110 degree weather with 10-12 hours of load shedding a day in some parts. The situation has turned bleak, and even the more skeptical are re-assessing their opinion on renewable, distributed, and localized energy generation for Pakistan major population centers.
When it comes to Pakistan, an entire gambut of renewable energy sources can be considered plausible. Solar (PV and concentrator PV/thermal) and (onshore-off-shore) wind appear to make most sense, primarily given the geography and climatic conditions as well as the maturity of the technology worldwide, but biofuels, coal-to-gas and coal-to-liquid fuels, fischer-tropsch synthesis of fuels from converting biomass and biowaste to syn-gas, tidal power, small hydro, and thermoelectrics are all valid technologies to be researched and looked into. The biggest impediments, of course, remain rather similar to many other developing countries: lack of technological resources, lack of government incentives and support, mistrust of the financial sector for long term financing, inadequate infrastructure (grid quality, transportation, service & maintenance), and a centralized – somewhat corrupt – system of ownership of utilities. It is no wonder that even when utility industry was deregulated, the only thing the population learned about the process was how contracts were awarded to foreign firms without proper financial due diligence. Today, despite the utmost need for entrepreneurial activity in this critical sector for the country, people are scared to enter it fearing the corporate and political behemoths that roam the territories.
Anyhow, I am well aware that the Government of Pakistan has formulated, and distributed, a National Renewable Energy Policy document. One of these days I may actually highlight some of its key recommendations here, but for now I still keep looking for the economically feasible opportunities that could be easiest to adopt in Pakistan’s unique setting. We can probably learn a lot from across the border (India) and China. India is fast gaining serious experience in renewable energy production – not only for domestic consumption but also to become an international player in this area. Not only are rural electrification companies such as Selco have installed more than 35,000 solar PV systems, but they have also figured out a creative way to finance such projects with small-sized loans from development organizations. Another Indian company, Suzlon, is now the 5th largest wind turbine manufacturing company in the world. India today has an installed capacity of over 6.27 GW of wind power. No wonder that last year’s annual World Wind Conference took place in Delhi, India.
As renewable energy technologies are getting better traction in the world (many US states now mandate nearly 10-20% of all energy to be derived from renewable sources), prices per KwH are coming down. Wind energy is now almost competitive with natural gas derived electricity, and solar is not that far behind as well. Germany and Spain have made huge inroads in both these sectors. But Pakistan will be left behind if it does not quickly start climbing the experience curve. Technologies for renewable energy industry, from wind turbines to solar panels to power electronics and enzymes for cellulosic biofuel synthesis are being researched at and implemented at pilot scale in countries whose problems are not too dissimilar to ours. While renewables will not provide the full answer to Pakistan’s energy crisis in the short term, a strong and committed push (and not just lip service to appear enlightened and informed about the direction world is taking) will set the right foot forward for the country’s future. There is no reason why we cannot derive as much or more energy from solar concentrators, tidal waves, and wind farms than we already do from natural gas power plants and large hydro-electric dams.
There are certainly individuals and organizations, researchers, policy-analysts, and entrepreneurs that are very interested in participating in the energy future of Pakistan. But the government will need to systematically remove blockages that have kept the real geniuses away from this industry. Financing/investing, funding, tax/rebate incentives, infrastructure upgrade, and energy buy-back contracts from independent energy providers on the national grid are among some of the things that government can do to promote energy entrepreneurship. The government, having managed energy in the country for so long via a centralized organization (WAPDA), must understand that energy production is a long-term play and any changes to the energy policy can have major ramifications for the investors who may put up their money (and time) into building out an infrastructure. Only recently I heard from some one that her family’s installation of a private natural gas powered plant stayed idle for several years until this year because the government reneged on its promise to buy the generated electricity. Who can have their investment collect dust like this? truth be told, policy-makers AND politicians will have to come to some agreement on how to deal with this issue at a national level before sustained commitments will be obtained from those truly looking to innovate their way to an answer. Unless that is done, the heavy bets and huge risks will only be taken by large multi-nationals who may be less interested in long term energy infrastructure development, and more with short term import/export contracts.
Just to show the kind of problems and potential, I highlight a segment from a news article that ran in NawaiWaqt on August 16, 2006:
LAHORE – The wind energy projects in Pakistan have been run into snags and delays for more than a year following the government’s apathy in providing the assured subsidies to the higher tariff against the conventional gas/oil-fired power plants, a root cause hampering physical progress.
Sources told The Nation that the government had assured for providing subsidy in tariff of the wind energy costs compared favourably with conventional fossil-fuelled power plants, and it continues to decline steadily and substantially by the improvement in technology. They said that in the USA, wind power generation cost had lowered to an average of 2.5 Cents per Kwh, whereas India claims wind power generation cost between 2 to 2.5 Indian Rupees depending upon site conditions.
However, the sources said that Pakistan had estimated energy cost through its planned projects as 7 cents per Kwh, which is considered on the higher side.
Sources said that around 28 LoIs (Letters of Interest), for projects of about 50 mw each, had been issued by the Alternate Energy Development Board to prospective investors for setting up windmill farms in the coastal areas. They said that companies from Germany, Holland and China plan to invest in Pakistan in wind energy projects, of a total capacity of above 1,000 mw. It is encouraging that the donor agencies and developing countries are also willing to extend financial and technical assistance to Pakistan for the promotion of renewable energy.
Sources said that an initiative had been taken by the government to install 180 solar lights in Balakot and another 120 numbers in the AJK, in the first phase. A friendly country gifts over 100 solar cottages, having two-bed waterproof and earthquake resistant accommodation, which are being duplicated by the local authorities at a cost of Rs 150,000 each.
The government had approved, in July 2003, a comprehensive plan to develop remote areas with the help of alternate energy resources. The fast-track schemes included 2,000 solar homes, 10,000 solar cooker and 6,000 geyser, though only 400 solar homes have been completed so far and a small number of solar cookers installed. Likewise, progress has impeded implementation of schemes for installing 140 micro wind turbines at various sites in Sindh to provide electricity and pumping water.
Wind power projects of total 100 mw capacity are being established, on BOOT (Build, Own, Operate and Transfer) basis, at Keti Bandar and Gharo in Sindh.
Giving the details the sources said that, the German government agreed to support a three-year programme in Pakistan in October 2005 for enhancing the scope of renewable energy and energy efficiency, which was to be undertaken by GTZ, the well-known German energy consultants. Likewise, American and Canadian companies had also shown interest to set up wind energy farms under technology transfer arrangements. Also, the World Bank has committed recently a loan of $200 million for the electrification of rural and far-flung areas, mostly devastated now as a result of the earthquake.
On the basis of its long-term wind energy development programmes, Pakistan is considered the fourth largest wind energy market in Asia in the near future. Pakistan’s coastal line is endowed with a sizeable wind potential.
indh Coastal Development Authority has recently launched the electrification of 1,400 village houses in the coastal areas at a cost of about Rs 15 million, which was being projected to be completed by 2006. Based on available data on wind speed/velocity in these areas, the experts estimate a potential to generate electricity up to 3,000 mw. In fact, wind power is unlimited and it is up to us to exploit the resources optimally.
The electricity crisis in Karachi, and the rise in the demand of gas-fuel electric generators has shown that the people are fed up with the system as it is is, and are willing to put their money where the mouth (need) is. They might even be willing to pay a premium for uninterrupted supply from a local or regional power generation source so they do not have to hear some grid station hundreds of miles away tripped and caused the blackout. The storm that swept Karachi this past week and left 50-200 dead had wind speeds greater than 50 mph. Just imagine how much energy was there to capture? I believe that while there is such tremendous consumer interest and need, the government is best advised to take advantage and promote distributed energy generation. I, for one, am not holding my breath that the panacea may lie in major civil works projects like dams or nuclear power plants. We need some major innovation projects.
Powering up: Pakistan’s push for renewable energy
Syed Fareed Hussain
6 June 2007
Despite Pakistan’s stance that mainstreaming renewable energy should be a priority, much remains to be done, reports Syed Fareed Hussain.
Pakistan has recently indicated its commitment to renewable energy sources, but realising these in practice could still be a long way off.
Strong support for renewables came on 13 March this year. At a scientific conference in Lahore the president of Pakistan, General Pervez Musharraf, announced that the government would use all alternative energy sources — particularly solar and wind energy — to increase electricity generation by 10–12 per cent annually to meet growing energy demands. He was also in favour of the peaceful use of nuclear power for producing more electricity to help fill the gap.
At the meeting, Musharraf said that the gap between the country’s power supply and demand was an obstacle to economic and social growth. With a population of over 150 million and a rapidly growing economy, Pakistan’s energy requirements are huge and its energy needs are becoming acute.
Tapping into the goldmine
Pakistan is blessed with an abundance of renewable energy potential, but so far this remains unharnessed except for a few large hydroelectric projects.
The country, historically an energy importer, is facing serious energy shortages while global fossil fuel prices continue their upward spiral. The effects on the economy are marked: interruptions in energy supply to industry, for instance, have hit the country’s exports hard.
Many now believe that Pakistan needs to initiate a transition towards greater use of renewable energy as an indigenous, clean and abundant resource.
Pakistan’s prime minister, Shaukat Aziz, says energy is now a key policy issue for Pakistan.
Prime minister, Shaukat Aziz,
inaugurates an energy project
Aziz told SciDev.Net, “The government’s focus is on diversifying energy resources, which include hydropower, natural gas, coal and nuclear energy, besides the alternatives such as solar, wind and biomass energy.”
Last year, the Pakistani government published an energy report, ‘Policy for the Development of Renewable Energy for Power Generation – 2006’. The report proposes mainstreaming renewable energy in Pakistan by incorporating small hydropower, wind and solar technologies into development plans.
The policy report outlines three phases in implementing Pakistan’s renewables strategy — short term, medium term and long term. The long-term goal is for renewables to contribute ten percent of Pakistan’s energy by 2015. The short term covers more specific action for the period up to June 2008, during which the private sector will be invited to invest in various power projects.
Small renewable energy projects will be able to decide how much to charge consumers for the electricity, without deferring to Pakistan’s national energy authority. Wind and solar projects, irrespective of size of the plant will be dealt with by the Alternate Energy Development Board — created by the government in 2003 to facilitate and promote development of renewable energy in Pakistan.
According to an official statement by the Ministry of Science and Technology these policies, proposed in 2006, are in line with the government’s open-door policy for inviting private investment into the country.
Alternative energy departments are now being set up as state-owned entities to facilitate electricity generation, transmission and distribution in Pakistan.
Difference of opinion
But the government drive for renewables has its critics.
Mirza Arshad Ali Beg, former head of the Pakistan Council of Scientific and Industrial Research and now president of the Pakistan Environmental Assessment Association, says the policy does not have the capacity to address all energy problems.
The problem, says Beg, is that the alternative energy initiatives have been offered at a stage when the damage has already been done to the economy.
“The gap between demand and supply of power has been allowed to grow by not addressing the interrupted supply to the domestic and agriculture sector as much as the industrial sector,” he said. As a result, the cost of energy and energy production has already made Pakistan’s products uncompetitive compared with those of India.
Beg suggests that all the country’s power plants should be coal-fired, and all industries that need fuel for heating purposes, such as cement factories, should use coal, a suggestion he justifies on the basis of the huge reserves of coal in the provinces of Sindh and Punjab. “Some [of these] have already been explored by the Chinese organisations working there,” says Beg. “The quality is good and this coal can be a better substitute than high-priced oil imported from the Middle East.”
A mini solar power plant near
Lahore in Pakistan
The government’s policy, he says, will not encourage Pakistan to become self-reliant. “For solar power we will depend on imported photovoltaic cells, for windmills we shall have to depend on an investor to bring in the necessary technology, equipment and parts, and we will see similar scenarios with biogas or energy from solid waste, or even nuclear energy.”
Ali Zulqarnain, an engineering professor and alternative energy researcher at NED University of Engineering & Technology in Karachi, says the government’s policy has some deficiencies.
“One centres on who will guarantee the continuity of this policy, considering the existing political circumstances,” says Zulgarnain. “The other is the policy’s need to be balanced by including the voices of Pakistan’s eminent science activists.”
But Zulqarnain does think renewables are the way forward. He has identified key areas where efforts can be made to further refine Pakistan’s policy on alternative energy resources. For instance, Zulqarnain says there are areas in and around Karachi suitable for installing both solar and wind energy plants to produce cheap electricity. Many science activists also advocate the use of hydropower, since Pakistan is a water-abundant country.
But some say Pakistan is wasting its potential.
Shaista Tabassum, who teaches South Asian water resources and politics at the University of Karachi, says that despite having the world’s best water resources, the production of hydropower has been sidelined by the government.
He says that if the government had properly exploited hydropower, the country could now be enjoying a 5,000 megawatt power supply from the Kunhar-Neelum-Jhelum river system in Azad, Kashmir, adding that more hydropower projects would also reduce the cost of electricity.
In 2001, the Water and Power Development Authority of Pakistan identified 22 sites for launching hydropower projects to meet the ever-increasing demand for cheap power. It indicated that about 15,074 megawatts could be generated on the completion of these projects, which would also meet the water irrigation requirements for the growing agriculture sector.
“It is high time for us to make a move in that direction,” says Tabassum.
The objectives for renewables in Pakistan, as outlined in the government report, are wide-ranging.
Among the economic benefits, the policy promotes renewables as a cheap form of energy, and therefore economically competitive with conventional supplies. This holds particularly true for remote, underdeveloped areas, where renewable energy can also have the greatest impact because the cost of conventional energy supplies is significant.
Renewable energy could therefore supplement the pool of national energy supply options in Pakistan, accelerating economic progress, improving productivity and enhancing income-generating opportunities, especially for people who are marginalised at present.
A growing renewable energy industry would offer new prospects for employment and business opportunities among local manufacturers and service providers.
In terms of social equity, renewable energy could also raise Pakistan’s present low per-capita consumption of energy and improve access to modern energy supplies, helping to alleviate poverty and reduce the burden on rural women, who collect biomass for fuel.
In the future, Pakistan may adopt other technologies for generating power from renewable energy sources, such as municipal waste and landfill methane geothermal recovery, anaerobic biomass gasification, biological fuels, fuel cells and ocean waves.
The opportunity is there to make use of renewables, and Pakistan has made its first moves toward grasping it.
Related SciDev.Net articles:
Indian loan project gives solar energy to rural poor
Nepal to subsidise clean energy projects
Development versus climate change in India
Alternate Energy Development Board (AEDB), Government of Pakistan
Federal Ministry of Water and Power, Government of Pakistan
Photo Credit: AEDB