THE world runs on energy and as Vaclav Smil, doyen of energy studies, in his book Energy and Civilization remarks, it is the only true universal currency. Whether you are moving from one place to another, driving a car, or manufacturing laptops, energy is the essence of all these activities. The sun and the resultant process of photosynthesis provide humans with the foundation for “all higher life on earth”. However, interestingly, only a meagre 0.05 per cent of energy coming from the sun is harnessed.

With the debate around renewable systems, human beings have now started to think about how to utilise both the sun and wind energy to benefit humanity in the wake of rising Greenhouse Gas (GHG) emissions now at a level that threatens the longevity of our planet.

Arguably, one of the most important policy debates — the one around renewable energy — is as relevant in Pakistan as it is anywhere in the world. According to a World Bank report (2018), up to 50 million people lack excess grid electricity, and 90m consumers are facing power shortages. The report further cites that one-fifth of the electricity is lost due to theft and poor infrastructure, while other efficiency issues may be costing Pakistan about $4.5 billion per annum.

According to a World Bank report, one-fifth of electricity is lost due to theft and poor infrastructure while other efficiency issues may be costing Pakistan about $4.5 billion per annum

Furthermore, one-third of our energy demand is import dependant which naturally translates into a hefty bill — a whopping $14.4bn in 2018, compared to $10.9bn in the previous year. The recent fall in the import bill recorded in March 2020 occurred as the economy shrunk by 1.5pc and demand from refineries was slashed. All in all, better, efficient, and cheap energy will be immensely useful not only for the industry but the consumers as well. A good energy policy can fuel much political mileage.

In Pakistan, as is in other developing countries, economic growth and energy consumption still goes hand in hand. Being a developing country, our energy consumption will continue to increase inevitably (Abdul Salam et al, 2020).

However, according to a paper by Fatima et al (2018), Pakistan’s power sector alone contributes 50pc to the country’s carbon dioxide emissions. Our region as a whole (South Asia), while a major contributor to global energy consumption, lacks a focused and practical renewable policy.

With the governments of the world signing up and committing to reduce their carbon emissions by 2050 through Paris Agreement (2015), it is incumbent for Pakistan and the policy-makers therein to initiate efforts for it too. Pakistan stands at the 97th position (out of 115) in the World Economic Forum’s Energy Transition Index, and while energy generation capacity saw an uptick, other issues remain. According to an estimate, fossil fuels contribute 64pc to Pakistan’s energy mix while hydropower has a 27pc share.

Notwithstanding the possibility of rich renewable energy potential (mainly solar and wind), the share of it stood at a paltry 4pc (2019). In addition, our power generation mix is expensive as well with 8pc of imported coal and 23pc of Regasified liquefied natural gas (RLNG).

However, a recently released report shares the government’s vision of working on the renewable front. Indicative Generation Capacity Expansion Plan 2047 (IGCEP 2047) outlines the direction of the power sector in Pakistan. One of the focal points in IGCEP 2047 is to check our energy imports and enhance domestic production with local coal reaching 25pc and renewable to 16pc along with imported coal and RLNG to 5pc and 6pc respectively. Some progress has already been made, such as the completion of 5 wind-powered projects supplying 246.6 megawatts to the national grid.

The potential for renewable energy in Pakistan has been equally highlighted by the World Bank as they identify favourable conditions for low carbon energy systems in the country. A renewable energy system, unlike fossil fuels, is dependent on many factors such as the presence of sunlight, winds and land space (this refers to the issue of spatiality). According to the World Bank, Pakistan has “wind corridors” and if we only use 0.071pc of our land, it can fulfil the contemporary demand for electricity.

However, the IGCEP 2047 has many points that need to be reconsidered. According to experts, it has errors and most of the recommendations made didn’t consider the end consumers who eventually pay the greatest cost. Also, the fact that coal is still being used in a future scenario speaks to the dilemma that has already been identified and it is one of the most important points that the policymakers and climate scientists need to think about. Moreover, it is important to analyse Alternative Renewable Energy Policy (ARE) 2019 and the recent Variable Renewable Energy Integration and Planning Study in order to truly grasp the extent and scope of this issue in Pakistan’s context.

A sustainable energy policy, as aforesaid, is not only beneficial for the local industry and other commercial activity but also contributes to the improvement of living standards amongst the general population, providing the incumbent and upcoming political parties much required political support. Therefore, prioritising energy policy should be the most important task of our politicians, researchers and policymakers.

The writer is an Energy Analyst at Primary Vision Network — a US-based global market intelligence and consultancy firm

Published in Dawn, The Business and Finance Weekly, August 1st, 2021

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