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Basking in the rays

November 17, 2013

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Certain things in life are immutable. Where there is cause, there will be effect, and where there is a demand, someone will always step in with a supply. And with Pakistan’s perennial power problems showing no signs of abating, some are seeing an opportunity where others see only a crisis.

“It’s really a matter of simple economics: demand and supply,” says Saquib Ahmed of Solar Plexus, one of the emerging businesses that focus on alternative energy. “With a massive energy shortfall and high energy prices, it makes a lot of sense to think of alternative energy sources.”

For the common man — and businesses — this is certainly good news, since they can now hope for a more regular power supply. Fortunately, Pakistan is abundant in clean renewable energy resources, solar, wind, biogas, biomass and hydro being the biggest of these. And when it comes to solar power, Pakistan is among the top 10 countries that have the largest resource of sunlight in the world, averaging 282 days of sunlight/year.

We already see a lot of solar products in use, ranging from cellphone chargers to tube wells. “Solar is obviously the best option as it’s free, sustainable, reliable, efficient, green, and an unlimited resource that brings value,” adds Ahmed. “It is estimated that utility costs will treble in the next 15 years, which is where the true value of solar power steps in. It’s a long-term strategic option, since it brings unprecedented savings in money, energy and benefits the environment in a huge manner.”

In many developed countries, using alternative energy on a daily basis for various purposes is business as usual. In Pakistan, implementing renewable energy solutions at the micro level requires effort since the public has yet to get acclimatised with the idea.

Zubair Kazmi of Dawood Hercules Corporation — which is working towards solar, wind and biogas technologies — puts forward three basic elements needed to make the process more viable and acceptable.

“First, well-engineered solutions that deliver the energy the consumer wants with regularity and with minimal breakdowns through certified companies, registered with a proper regulatory authority. Second, there should be a strong support network particularly for after-sales technical support and, third, proper leasing and financing mechanism so that the up-front cost of clean energy solutions can be broken up into instalments and make it viable to the end user,” he suggests.

Unfortunately, lack of consumer knowledge and confidence pose a setback towards progress. Duped by unqualified and unscrupulous companies, an average consumer is now wary of trusting this technology. Plus, given little or even incorrect exposure, the public perceives renewable energy as expensive alternatives to traditional sources.

In such a scenario, the best way forward is to create awareness among the public on the long-term benefits of renewable energy. According to Ahmed, these will include free electricity, huge cost savings with no hidden costs, huge deductions in utility bills for 30 years, increased productivity for commercial and industrial enterprises, and lower costs of production.

“The greatest challenge is to reset people’s negative perceptions towards a more positive outlook. As more organised players enter the market, consumers will get better choices,” adds Kazmi, “Individuals will gradually learn that renewable energy and energy efficient practices go hand-in-hand.”

But perhaps the biggest incentive to use renewable energy is that it is inexpensive, easy to use and lasting, as has been proved in other parts of the world. With more organisations stepping in with innovative technologies, hopefully it won’t be long before consumers will look towards the mighty sun and the flighty wind, among other sources, to substitute their energy needs.