The agriculture sector is set to benefit immensely from the use of green energy as a slew of solar, wind and biomass power projects are coming up, promising improved farm production and cost efficiency.
Several initiatives including development of 100MW solar power station in Punjab and establishment of wind power corridor in Sindh are in progress. And, in order to provide a national perspective to these efforts, a renewable energy mapping programme has also begun with the World Bank’s support.
The $22.5m five-year Energy Sector Management Assistance Programme will measure Pakistan’s potential for solar, wind and biomass energy, using ground-based data collection, GIS analysis and geo-spatial planning.
Under this programme, a high-precision solar measuring station is being set up at the site of 100MW Quaid-e-Azam Solar park near Bahawalpur, Punjab.
The Chinese company involved in the construction of this solar park has brought in 100MW PV modules, the installation of which is underway, and power generation is expected to begin within a few months.
Officials, involved with the project, say once 100MW of electricity is obtained from this $131m project, the output can be raised ten-folds within a few years. They say that power produced here will help reduce energy woes of not only households but of crop growers and livestock breeders as well.
In addition to this, the Punjab government plans to set up 49 separate smaller solar power plants across the province, of 1-50MW each, with a projected cumulative capacity of 215MW. Relevant officials of the provincial government say project sites have already been selected.
The Sindh government says more than 40 companies are pursuing wind power projects of a combined capacity of 3,000MW in the province
In Sindh, two private companies HydroChina and Dawood Power are working on $130m joint venture of 50MW wind power project near Gharo. The provincial government has already allocated 1720 acres of land for this project which is scheduled to begin power production from July 2016. Another 50MW wind power project of China, by the Three Gorges Company, has already started operations.
Officials of the Sindh government say that more than 40 companies are pursuing wind power projects of a combined capacity of 3000MW in the province adding that every year a few 100MWs of wind power is expected to be added to the electricity grid.
Apart from these, large-scale solar and wind power projects in Punjab and Sindh which are sure to provide energy relief to the surrounding rural population and agriculture due to project locations, the use of solar-powered tube-wells is growing in all four provinces.
All the four provincial governments are either subsidising solar-power tube-wells or facilitating private sector’s investment in installation of solar power panels on farms.
The federal government has recently exempted import duty on solar power panels which is sure to give further impetus to the use of green energy across Pakistan.
In addition to solar and wind power, bagasse-fired electricity generation by sugar mills has also increased over the past few years. According to Nepra, bagasse-fired power projects were selling no less than 120MW of electricity to the national grid by the end of last fiscal year, after meeting the energy requirements of the sugar mills that own them.
Recently more than half a dozen sugar mills have applied for licences to produce electricity using bagasse as a fuel. Nepra officials say sales of electricity produced by bagasse-fired projects will increase substantially by the end of the current fiscal year.
Though the policy focus on generation of green energy has increased in recent years accelerating execution of projects in this area, two things still need more attention. First, the government has not been able to promote small scale local manufacturing of solar panels and wind turbines. Second, very little has been done to exploit sources of biomass energy except for bagasse.
While announcing its recent decision of making solar panel imports duty-free, the government explained that it won’t hurt the local business as organised solar panel manufacturing has not yet begun in Pakistan.
Businessmen say small scale solar panel production could have begun years ago, had the government prioritised it instead of focusing on development of solar power parks with foreign investment.
They also point out that, whereas licences for setting up wind power projects are being issued with speed, there is no move in sight to promote local manufacturing of wind turbines. Similarly, while a legal and operational framework has been put in place for bagasse-fired power projects, nothing of the sort has been done to promote biomass energy production from cheap sources like cow dung, food waste and agricultural residues like, rice husk and cotton gin trash.
Sizeable local investment in green energy can be attracted if legal and operational frameworks are introduced for these and other possible sources of power production. This will help localised power production at small scale within the vicinity where raw materials are available in abundance, thus cutting the cost of transmission and distribution from a certain point to other places.
According to campus reports, some young NED engineers, toying with the idea of running small power generators with wind energy left abroad a couple of years ago, after they had failed to generate funds to manufacture specially-designed small wind turbines.
It is imperative that such innovative projects that hold promise for use of newly developed technology in agriculture and other sectors in future are supported by the government and the private sector alike. n
Published in Dawn, Economic & Business, December 22th , 2014