White Star
White Star

Global concerns over climate change, greenhouse gas emissions and renewable energy have yet to find space in conversations here despite the government’s efforts to shed some light on the issue. While some middle-class and upward households have adopted renewable solar energy over the last decade, their reasons for the move vary and the numbers are too low to create an impact. Whether this shift is led by concerns about environmental degradation is yet to be known, but a host of other issues has driven their approach, including rising electricity costs.

Consumers and industry stakeholders say a lot more needs to be done for this trend to catch up on a mass scale – raising awareness about the need for switching from grid-provided energy, reducing cost of the facility and government facilitation to providing easy access to the technology.

Nonetheless, households are increasingly switching to clean sustainable energy and some housing schemes, too, are encouraging their residents to go solar. Model Town is one such locality where the society that runs its affairs has sent out letters to push locals to avail themselves of the renewable power option. While officials deny reaching out to residents, a few locals claimed to have received notices.

“We can’t ask anyone to do anything; people install solar panels themselves and then apply with us after which we conduct an inquiry whether they’re the rightful owners of a house or are defaulting. We have not sent out letters or put up banners asking residents to do so,” Mr Dawood Barry, the Model Town Society president, told Dawn.

However, a resident, who wished not to be named, said the society had been sending out letters to residents encouraging the implementation of solar power units. He believes they’re doing this because right now the society is buying electricity in bulk from Wapda, which costs them considerably.

“Once solar panels are installed in most of the households, the need for electricity will reduce, decreasing the society’s overall costs, eventually working in their favour,” he remarked.

When asked if he’s planning to switch to solar power, he said he would despite the fact that even the cheapest system is expensive. “It’s a huge investment, but an ‘investment’ nonetheless as the implementation costs will be covered in a couple of years and with the rising prices of electricity in the country, it will eventually make a considerable difference in the overall utilities expense for the household,” the elderly resident said.

A report by Islamabad’s Rural Development Policy Institute (RDPI) also acknowledges that technologies such as solar and wind are capital intensive. Financing plays a key role to its wide-scale deployment, wherein easy access and user-friendly direct financing for solar panels from financial institutions are seen as crucial to increased responsiveness from potential borrowers, it states.

Though people had started switching to solar energy in the mid-2000s amid extended power cuts, the reach was extremely slow owing to the high prices. In the mid-2010s, more and more industrial, commercial and domestic consumers moved to solar power as the government pushed for on- and off-grid renewable energy.

This little push came after the government introduced net-metering and made the regulatory process for approval of its licences easier and quicker. Net-metering allows solar capacity purchasers to sell surplus power they generate back to the national grid, saving on operational costs.

The State Bank of Pakistan (SBP) had introduced a financing scheme for solar and wind technology, called SBP Financing Scheme for Renewable Energy, providing loans at very low interest rate and easy terms. However, the RDPI stated, solar financing still remains in its infancy and is characterised by several demand-side and supply-side barriers.

A consumer says despite all measures the technology remains out of reach of a majority of people. Prices for solar equipment for households could drop if and when government policies encourage local manufacturing of panels or the technology’s prices drop globally from where most of it is imported, he suggests.

Dr Qasim Gara, a resident of Gulberg who has been using solar power at home for years, strongly advocates the technology for the long-term benefits it offers despite the high initial cost, which he says is eventually recovered in a couple of years through much lower electricity bills. “It’s not difficult at all to get started as the entire equipment is readily available here. A house of three rooms can power its lights and fans with a basic solar system costing around Rs50,000. This will generate zero electricity bill and is easy to install also.”

For relying completely on solar power, one would have to go for a bigger system; the bigger the equipment, the higher will be its cost. That will lead to a respite from loadshedding or any power-related glitches.

Moreover, he explains, there’s an option for a hybrid set-up also wherein electrical equipment such as iron, washing machine, an air conditioner etc meant for brief usage are converted to Wapda, and the rest consumes solar energy; this option reduces the monthly bill by at least 30 per cent. “The advantages of solar power system are clean energy consumption, no shutdowns or outages during the day (in a hybrid system), and easily available equipment,” Dr Gara adds.

Meanwhile, solar service providers want the government to assist them as well as the potential consumers by offering financing schemes and tax exemptions to encourage expansion of the user base.

Daniyal Siddiqui, the CEO of DS Group of Companies that offers solar and wind energy solutions, comments: “The government introduced a refinancing scheme on 6pc interest for houses, but we’ve heard the facility may end soon. The sales tax exemption on solar panels has also been withdrawn under the recently announced mini budget that will affect the domestic market. So the authorities must make sure these continue,” he stresses.

Admitting that solar system is still a high-end product, he suggests that besides finance schemes, the government must also focus on easing approvals for net-metering and considering installing assembly or manufacturing plants here. “The current loans offered are difficult to avail, so they should be made easy. Net-metering approvals are also cumbersome as Discos take a long time. Since 99 per cent of the technology used is imported from China, the government should look at establishing assembly or manufacturing plant here.”

Published in Dawn, December 26th, 2021

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