Renewable energy potential in Pakistan

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Renewable energy, often referred to as clean energy, comes from natural sources or processes that are constantly replenished. For example, sunlight or wind keep shining and blowing, even if their availability depends on time and weather. While renewable energy is often thought of as a new technology, harnessing nature’s power has long been used for heating, transportation, lighting, and more. Wind has powered boats to sail the seas and windmills to grind grain. The sun has provided warmth during the day and helped kindle fires to last into the evening. But over the past 500 years or so, humans increasingly turned to cheaper, dirtier energy sources such as coal and fracked gas.

Pakistan’s energy sector remains one of the main obstacles to economic growth. Like other developing countries in the region, Pakistan is facing acute energy deficit. It generates its power from an energy mix that includes oil, gas, coal, renewable sources, nuclear, and biomass. Pakistan’s 64% of energy comes from thermal, 27% from hydro and 9% from renewable and nuclear. Country’s current demand and supply gap stands approximately 2000 MW in peak season as country’s demand has grown at an annual consumption growth rate of under 7 percent. In the current scenario, renewable energy resources can play an important role in closing the deficit. With current government’s tilt towards renewable energy, new energy policy for the next 25 years is in the making. It is envisioned that renewable energy will have 20% – 30% share in the total energy mix, by 2030.

The government of Pakistan, in its efforts to diversify country’s energy mix and utilize untapped generation resources, is prioritizing development of Pakistan’s Alternative Renewable Energy. Pakistan has considerable potential for using wind energy in the coastal belt of Sindh and Baluchistan. The government has developed a wind power energy corridor along the southern coastal regions of Sindh and Baluchistan. Pakistan produces a large amount of municipal waste, animal waste, and agricultural waste in the form of solid waste, livestock dung, cotton sticks, and rice husk. Converting this waste into energy can generate up to 5,000MW of power. Besides large hydro, there are certain prospects of development of small-mini-micro hydro power. Small Hydropower is considered as one of the lucrative options for generation of electricity.

Pakistan has an average of nine and a half hours of sunlight daily. Opportunities are unlimited in this sector but there are challenges. The biggest challenge to an on-grid solution is the unsolidified renewable energy policy and its implementation through an autonomous energy authority. An unpredictable Feed-in-Tariff and challenges to getting an LOI dampens enthusiasm for investment in this sector. However, scalable and off-grid solutions have huge potential. There have been some efforts to install and expand the use of solar energy at the national level. Quaid-e-Azam Solar Park a photovoltaic power station was established in 2016 with a designed capacity to generate 1000 MW.

With the rising costs of electricity in Pakistan and an unreliable grid supply, more industries and commercial organizations are turning to captive solar solutions. There has been a strong surge in domestic installation of rooftop photovoltaic panels in larger cities. For projects under 1 MW, net metering regulations came into effect in September 2015. This sector is trending toward significant growth soon as the GOP is targeting at least 1 million customers and adding approximately 3000 MW of solar power through net metering. Millions of tons of biomass, consisting of bagasse, cotton and wheat stalks, rice husk, jute waste, other crop residues, and cow dung, are produced in Pakistan annually.

This resource is not being fully utilized. Most of the biomass is used in rural areas as cooking fuel. The use of biomass in the rural sector is also very inefficient because of ineffective cook stoves. Studies are being undertaken to generate biomass-based electric power, primarily from thermal combustion and from biogas digesters. In particular, it has been identified that the bagasse available from sugar mills can be used to generate up to 2,000 MW of electricity. Renewable energy including wind, solar, hydroelectric and biomass provides substantial benefits for our climate, our health, and our economy.

 

Author is the President, Center of Pakistan and International Relations (COPAIR) and Editor-in-Chief of ‘Mélange int’l Magazine’ and ‘ The Asian Telegraph’

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