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Going solar

Published Mar 20, 2017 01:24am


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THE development of elaborate solar maps of Pakistan by the World Bank and the Alternate Energy Development Board is a step in the right direction. However, what is the likelihood of this making any significant impact on Pakistan’s solar and renewable energy landscape?

Solar energy has been making headlines across the world for the last few years. Between 2005 and 2010, the global installed capacity of solar photovoltaic (PV), also termed solar cells, has grown from 5GW to 227GW. Since 1977, the price of PV has dropped from $76/watt to $0.03/watt. This phenomenal success owes to wide-ranging factors; most importantly, conducive policies, technological advancements and economy of scale. Solar PV is now becoming financially competitive with conventional forms of power generation. Dubai, for example, is currently developing an 800MW PV project with a power purchase agreement signed at less than three US cents per kW hour.

Solar radiation, or level of sunshine, is the resource or fuel for solar energy systems. Accurate measurement and analysis of this resource are fundamental to achieving the anticipated performance. However, there are other important parameters that also need to be taken into account to predict and evaluate a system’s performance and this is often where mistakes are made.

The scope for solar energy in Pakistan is huge.

The layman’s perception is that hot climates are best for solar PV. Here we have two distinct but interrelated parameters — sunshine and temperature. These are two opposite factors when it comes to their impact on the performance of solar cells. The output from solar cells is directly proportional to the sunshine level, while it is adversely affected by temperature. It also heavily depends upon clarity of atmosphere. Factors like atmospheric dust, pollution, humidity and wind speed take a toll on the output. Careful selection of a site for solar systems, especially in the case of large-scale projects, is therefore critical; any lapses in evaluating the solar resource and other relevant climatic parameters can result in significant impact on a project’s viability.

While renewable energy is making an important contribution to the energy and environmental landscapes of many countries both in the developed and developing world, Pakistan has been extremely slow in capitalising on it. Even other South Asian countries have made tremendous progress in renewable energy.

For example, while India is amongst the leading countries in the world in terms of both solar and wind power, Bangladesh has over two million systems installed in the residential sector alone. At the small-scale level, there have been wide-ranging business models dealing with technologies like solar home systems, communal solar systems, biogas plants and improved cooking stoves. These accomplishments have been fostered by strong public- and private-sector patronage and institutional development.

In recent years, solar systems have found some acceptance in domestic and commercial sectors. Aside from the renewable energy policy development and tax exemptions on solar PV gear, there have been many public-sector initiatives, the most hyped being the Quaid-i-Azam Solar Park. However, their effectiveness especially in terms of business, levelised cost of electricity and sustainability is not clear. The fate of solar street lights, for example, has been disappointing, with most becoming dysfunctional within the first year of installation.

Pakistan is recognised as having enormous potential for solar energy, and the newly developed maps would provide better insight into the resource base. Besides solar PV, there is huge scope for solar water heating and solar thermal power generation. Given the prevalent electricity shortfall and reliance on imported oil and gas to meet national energy requirements, solar energy as an indigenous resource can greatly help address this energy insecurity. There is, however, need for a coherent and strategic approach in the form of supportive policies, innovative business models, local and international financial and technical partnerships — and motivation.

Solar systems have strengths and weaknesses. Each stage of their development — from feasibility studies to system design, equipment selection to installation, commissioning to operation and maintenance — must be worked out to deliver value-engineered projects. Solar systems are fast evolving, ie new and more efficient types of cells and storage solutions are being developed — and one must keep an eye on them to develop optimum solutions. Whatever the project, it must be based on a strong business case. Given the fact that a large proportion of the population in Pakistan lacks access to the national grid, it would be a better option to focus on small- to medium-scale and distributed generation projects. This would help avoid burdening the already fragile T&D network, curb losses and electrify remote communities.

The writer is the author of Energy Crisis in Pakistan: Origins, Challenges and Sustainable Solutions.

Published in Dawn, March 20th, 2017


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The views expressed by this writer and commenters below do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the Dawn Media Group.

Comments (33) Closed

Alba Mar 20, 2017 03:24am

If the MQM is worth their salt they will rig all of Karachi with storage batteries and solar panels, block by block and neighborhood by neighborhood. US companies are working with China on solar power. Why aren't Pakistani companies working with China on solar power?

AKB Mar 20, 2017 03:47am

Good effort, very informative and an interesting article.

Roy Meddock Mar 20, 2017 07:01am

Go for solar. In the US, Solar economy is growing 12 times faster than the rest of the economy. Solar is leading in job creation in the US. Pakistan could create a lot of new jobs, provide much needed electricity and this would also benefit the environment. Many countries such as; Iceland, Costa Rica, Uruguay, Paraguay, Albania, Norway and many others are already getting 100% of their energy from renewable energy.

Los Angeles, California, USA

ENIGMA Mar 20, 2017 08:18am

For the past four decades, the solar industry has been subjected to cyclical supply and demand - depending upon various government incentives and investments. Over a decade ago a few American solar companies declared bankruptcy when various State and Federal agencies eliminated tax incentives and government grants for residential and business usage.

Once these incentives were regenerated by the Obama administration, solar manufacturing costs in the USA decreased as a result of increasing demand and improved, less costly solar manufacturing technology.

The Pakistan government should use such tax incentives to middle and lower income households to make solar energy more accessible for the majority of the population. Add to this domestic solar manufacturing plants and the average Pakistani will have a win-win solar energy program.

adnan Mar 20, 2017 10:05am

Dear 95import to Pakistan is B or c grade panels ,so we are wasting our money on junk,gov't should ensure allow only a grade panlels.coz b grade panels get out of order with in 3to 4years

vin Mar 20, 2017 10:16am

There can be a big solar park made under CPEC

Fakem All Mar 20, 2017 10:16am

Pakistan is still only talking of solar power. Someday a contract will be given to some Chinese company for installing some small solar plants and that will be it. India on the other hand has surged ahead as a world leader and is producing over 10 Giga watts (10,000 MW) and growing exponentially.

Adnan Latif Mar 20, 2017 11:05am

Good article.

Fakem All Mar 20, 2017 11:11am

Solar power is wishful thinking.. Ain't gonna happen in Pakistan..

Khwarizmi Mar 20, 2017 11:18am

Capitalising this and that. Huge potential in this and that. Same old mantra. I feel Pakistan is the country which can do lots of good things but where, in the end of the day, nothing happens as usual.

Guest67 Mar 20, 2017 11:59am

The Scope of Every thing is Huge in Pakistan , so goes the slogan since August 1947 and where does it takes us ? , 24 years later the Scope was so immense that more than Half of Pakistanis Broke ranks from the PAKISTAN DREAM and setup another scope abundance state ( 45 years have revealed that some how they got it right ) .... So What will This New Huge Scope in Solar Energy bring to the country , My Guess is Absolutely Big Zilch , so keep Dreaming about the HUGE SCOPE OF PAKISTANI DREAM for another 70 Years ....

amir_indian Mar 20, 2017 12:04pm

Solar power in India is a fast-growing industry. As of 31 December 2016, the country's solar grid had a cumulative capacity of 9,012.66 megawatts (MW) or 9.01 gigawatts (GW). the Indian government expanded its solar plans, targeting US$100 billion of investment[3] and 100 GW of solar capacity,including 40 GW's directly from rooftop solar, by 2022

amir_indian Mar 20, 2017 12:05pm

India quadrupled its solar power generation capacity from 2,650 MW on 26 May 2014 to 10,000 MW on 10 March 2017. The country added 4 GW of solar power capacity in 2016, the highest of any year.

amir_indian Mar 20, 2017 12:09pm

In 2015, only 55% of all rural households had access to electricity, and 85% of rural households depended on solid fuel for cooking.[9] Solar products have increasingly helped to meet rural needs, and by the end of 2015, a cumulative total of just under 1 million solar lanterns had been sold in the country, reducing the need for expensive kerosene

amir_indian Mar 20, 2017 12:10pm

In January 2016, the Prime Minister of India, Narendra Modi, and the President of France, Mr. François Hollande laid the foundation stone for the headquarters of the International Solar Alliance (ISA) in Gwalpahari, Gurgaon. The ISA will focus on promoting and developing solar energy and solar products for countries lying wholly or partially between the Tropic of Cancer and the Tropic of Capricorn. The alliance of over 120 countries was announced at the Paris COP21 climate summit.One of the hopes of the ISA is that wider deployment will reduce production and development costs, and thus facilitate increased deployment of solar technologies, including in poor and remote regions.

amir_indian Mar 20, 2017 12:11pm

On 16 May 2011, India’s first solar power project (with a capacity of 5 MW) was registered under the Clean Development Mechanism. The project is in Sivagangai Village, Sivaganga district, Tamil Nadu

amir_indian Mar 20, 2017 12:11pm

Solar Radiation Resource Assessment stations (51 nos) have been installed across India by the Ministry of New and Renewable Energy (MNRE) to create a database of solar energy potential. Data is collected and reported to the Centre for Wind Energy Technology (C-WET),

amir_indian Mar 20, 2017 12:12pm

The government of India is promoting the use of solar energy through various strategies. In the latest budget for FY2010-11, the government has announced an allocation of ₹1,000 crore (US$150 million) towards the Jawaharlal Nehru National Solar Mission and the establishment of a clean energy fund

JPG Mar 20, 2017 12:23pm

In the latest bids, India companies are able to provide solar power at 0.04$ per unit using chinese solar panels. Pakistan should be able to get it much cheaper given its special relation with China.

In states like Gujarat, solar panels have been setup on the water canals. This decreases use of additional land and also increases power production by decreasing the temperature.

Fudayl Z. Ahmad Mar 20, 2017 12:39pm

Excellent article. A lot of materials available on the web suggest that because of zero capacity credit for solar PV (100% back up thermal power needed), grids are currently facing huge challenges to integrate large solar PV plants in a manner that means cost efficiency for the grid's clients (consumers). Because of this factor, the Capacity Utilization of large solar plants (approx 18% in Pakistan) is very costly for the grid to manage. Solar PV seems fine for off grid solutions, with or without electricity storages, if laying of transmission lines to connect the grid is expensive. This is what Pakistan needs at this point in time.

Ch. K. A. Nye Mar 20, 2017 01:03pm

Our Government only wants mega coal plants regardless of the consequences of pollution and the lack of infrastructure in the country.

Every progressive and forward thinking country is going for solar and wind power.


Ch. K. A. Nye Mar 20, 2017 01:04pm

@ENIGMA ... what's tax?

Ch. K. A. Nye Mar 20, 2017 01:07pm

@adnan ... how will the Government differentiate between A,B and C grade panels? How will the consumer know? The importers fleece the consumers! In China, you get what you pay for. There is A Grade available but we won't pay up.

Just Someone Mar 20, 2017 02:06pm

It would be better to connect rural communities to stand alone solar systems rather than the main grid. However, as the prices of solar PV panels continue to fall, we will start seeing solar installations through private initiatives.

Ijaz Mar 20, 2017 04:15pm

There is a very good reason why solar energy will not take off in Pakistan, and 'off-grid' solar power especially will be discouraged: there is little scope for corrupt officials to take their cut.

That is why when the whole world is encouraging domestic solar power, Pakistan has slapped a 32% tax on panels installed in homes.

The issue is not power supply it is governance and corruption

Ahmad zubair Mar 20, 2017 05:05pm

Go Solar and have Energy Storage

Kolsat Mar 20, 2017 06:39pm

While establishing solar electricity farms it is necessary to remember to protect existing electrical system otherwise there will be a problem as happened in South Australia in November 2016.

Indian friend Mar 20, 2017 08:44pm

Well done pakistan.Just visit India and see how Modi has popularised the solar power energy in very small domestic to big industry.Both countries should work jointly in this n love like brothers.

VIkAS Mar 20, 2017 08:49pm

To my Indian friends here, there's no chest thumping required here, Pakistan needs to do something about this and this article is a step in right direction. We should motivate and encourage this further instead of simply naming what we've achieved.

dr. qamar uz zaman chaudhry Mar 20, 2017 11:15pm

Thanks Mr. Asif for this very informative article. I hope concerned policy makers would be able to take full advantage of this very usefull information.

Sunil Mar 21, 2017 11:24am

Pakistan should tap the solar energy and not only become self-sufficient but also sell electricity to neighbouring India. With a population of 1.25 billion and economy growing at 7%+, India will be power hungry for a foreseeable period to come. It will be win-win for both countries. I would say forget Kashmir, but you don't even have to forget Kashmir to do thing that benefit both countries. We can still fight over Kashmir later. But my guess is when both countries become prosperous, neither will want a war with the other.

Kamal Gupta Mar 21, 2017 03:18pm

Pakistan needs both energy generation and energy conservation. India is on a mission mode on both. On conservation, the govt is distributing LED lamps to homes, charging consumers $0.14 a month for each lamp for seven months. Consumers save more than this is electric consumption. The target is to distribute a billion lamps at least.

Offices, hospitals, hotels, malls, airports, rail & bus stations, city streets and all are converting to this, aided by funding based on pay-as-you-save.

Air-conditioners are next. There is already an add-on device costing $80 that cuts power consumption by 40% in window and split ACs. India also has developed geothermal HVAC systems that slash power use by 20% and water by 75%.

Arshad, Canada Mar 21, 2017 05:34pm

@Guest67 , I think you have not been to Pakistan since August 14,1947. Despite all the internal or external problems, Pakistan is moving along well. It could do much better but it is still better than most countries in the world. I am not sure you know or remember how many industries or plants Pakistan had in 1947? Please go check it out and compare it to Todays reality. Go check our stock market for the last Four to five years, best in Asia and 5th best in The World( according to Forbs and Bloomberg ). We had Tv before India, we had color Tv before India we had Cell phone industry way before India. I can go on and on.