KARACHI has been abundantly endowed with one of nature’s riches — wind. Located on the Arabian Sea coast, the city cannot complain of being stifled by desultory stillness. Before the city’s horizon changed drastically with the emergence of high-rise buildings, Karachiites had always enjoyed the luxury of cool breezes during summer evenings. The breeze is still there, but has been trapped by concrete and steel structures. Now the breeze has been left only in poetic idiom to give us solace. Faiz Ahmed Faiz captured its beauty in this line, “Jaise seheraon mein haule se chale baad-i-naseem...” (Like the morning breeze in the desert)
However, the wind that greeted me at Eaglesham Moor (Scotland) was by no means as gentle or pleasant as the baad-i-naseem eulogised by Faiz. It was blisteringly cold — 12 degrees Celsius — at a height of 300 metres above sea level at the Whitelee Windfarm. It was nagging concern and healthy curiosity that led me to the wind farm at Eaglesham, a 20-minute drive from Glasgow. The concern is about Pakistan’s energy crisis that is pushing the country into the abyss. The curiosity relates to our government’s choices in the energy sector.
What I saw was fascinating. With 215 turbines dotting the land in their stately elegance, Whitelee generates 539MW of electricity that is equal to what is needed to light and heat 300,000 homes. The capital investment amounted to £500 million.
Why not tap the potential of a renewable source of power?
Whitelee is the largest wind farm of the 200 currently operational in the UK. This is what is called ‘green and clean and renewable energy’. It has proved to be so feasible that 450 new wind farms are at various stages of construction in Britain. Whitelee was opened to the public in 2009, two years after work started on it. It was extended in 2013.
After visiting Whitelee, I have been wondering why we have not given serious thought to wind as a source of electricity. It needs capital, land and wind. We have the last two in abundance, and in terms of capital cost wind power is cheaper than the hydropower and nuclear energy we hanker after. Wind power is also cheaper to generate than the thermal power we produce by importing oil. Most importantly, wind power is renewable and less messy.
Whitelee is spread over 57 square kilometres, whereas in Pakistan the meteorological department has identified a wind corridor in Sindh covering an area of about 9,700 square kilometres with gross wind power potential of 43,000MW. According to the MIT’s Technology Review, various constraints notwithstanding, at least 11,000MW of electricity can be generated in Sindh.
Is Pakistan using wind power optimally? It is said to be using 150MW or so from two farms in Gharo and Jhimpir. We are told this amounts to 0.5pc of our energy mix. How does this stand? Currently, we generate about 22,000MW of electricity, with thermal power being 65pc, hydropower 31pc, nuclear 3pc, and the remainder from solar and wind sources.
The government realises that thermal power is a constant drain on our resources. But the two alternatives the government seeks are politically and ecologically explosive, and so not a wise choice.
One is our relentless quest for hydropower by building big dams across our erratic and water-starved rivers. The bigger the dams the greater is their appeal for our rulers, even though big dams are now out of favour worldwide. They are costly to build and require a pretty long gestation period. They invariably upset the ecology of rivers and lead to bitter feuds with lower riparians. Then there is the massive human misery caused by the displacement of thousands of families. Take the case of the infamous Kalabagh dam. Just to mention it is enough to lead to vitriolic outpourings.
The other source of energy that is the darling of our establishment is the nuclear power plant. Even before we became the much-vaunted, though ill-advised, nuclear power, we have had to face trouble from our patrons without whose aid the country cannot survive. Now that we are a self-proclaimed nuclear power we have placed our credibility at risk by declaring for decades that Kahuta was for peaceful purposes only.
There were reports that Pakistan could generate some 1,300MW of electricity from a nuclear plant in Karachi and four at Chashma. Karachi will be the site for yet another nuclear plant being set up with China’s help. Its potential hazards for this city of 20 million should not be ignored. Unsurprisingly, the controversial Kanupp-2 has drawn much fire from citizens.
We are defying world trends as stated in the World Nuclear Industry Status Report 2016. In the post Chernobyl and Fukushima age, the trend has been towards reducing dependence on nuclear energy, early closure of nuclear plants, fewer opening of new plants and more investment in renewable energy. China is the sole exception.
Published in Dawn, October 28th, 2016