The sun is ultimate source of energy. The 40-minute daylight released on Earth is equal to the amount of energy consumed by the entire population of the planet in a year.

The daily average of solar energy is more than the total amount the planet's 6 billion inhabitants would consume in 27 years.

Currently we harness even less than one per cent of it. The most widespread thermal use has been for heating water. Solar water heating systems have been commercialized at many places.

Its technical feasibility has long been established. In the last two decades large-scale applications of solar water heaters around the world have proven their financial viability too.

This system has three distinctive advantages over conventional water heating. Once installed it provides free of cost energy. It is economical as the payback period is 3-4 years.

Thirdly, it is environmentally clean as there are no greenhouse gases or polluting elements released into atmosphere during the water heating process. The overall efficiency and the payback period of solar water- heaters largely depend on design, availability of solar radiation and ambient conditions.

There is a huge market for solar water-heating in Pakistan. Not only domestic sector where hot water is an essential requirement, industrial and services sectors also have huge potential for this technology.

In domestic applications water heating is a definite requirement and it can account for as much as 15-25 per cent of the energy consumed in a home. While in industrial sector, water heating may account for a significantly higher share of energy. Other likely applications for solar water heating are in the areas of food and processing industries, beverage industry and hotel industry.

Soaring electricity and gas bills are not only affecting the household budgets of the vast majority of population in Pakistan but are also stressing the industrial and commercial sectors.

Energy cost is one of the three most important factors for any manufacturing or commercial organization, the other two being labour cost and taxation policies. Solar water heating therefore can be a big relief in all sectors.

In hotel industry, a large amount of hot water is required for a number of purposes such as bathing or swimming pool, kitchen and laundry. Similarly, in textile sector, of all the energy used, 60 to 65 per cent is used in wet processing, including dyeing, finishing, drying and curing.

Solar water heating can share 60-70 per cent of this energy load. Another significant advantage of solar water heating in textile industry could be in the form a reduction in environmental impacts.

It must be noted that environmental impacts are the cause of real concern for textile industry in Pakistan. Majority of units are fossil fuel run i.e., smaller units have gas-fired boilers, while relatively larger textile units have their own furnace oil-run power plants. In either case toxic emissions into the air and ground water are major environmental concerns.

Presently there are not any effective steps being undertaken to tackle this problem. In coming years textile industries would have to cut down their environmental impacts in order to comply with the relevant international standards. Solar water heating can be a real boost in cutting down environmental impacts.

The other dimension that necessitates the exploitation of solar water heating is the growing energy crises. Energy demands in the country are growing at a much faster rate than increase in generation capacity.

As a result the gap between demand and supply is growing, affecting the country's overall economic structure. Industrial sector has to imperatively suffer the consequences, which could be inadequate availability of energy, higher cost, and other hidden/indirect impacts.

It is, therefore, the need of hour to adopt such technologies that not only decrease the reliance on the state energy equation but also provide cheap and environmentally friendly energy.

Solar water heating is becoming increasingly popular not only in developed but also in developing countries. The market for solar water heaters is growing rapidly across the world. It is estimated that around 10 million solar thermal water-heaters are installed in developing countries.

In terms of collector area, China alone represents almost two thirds of the installations in 2001. Millions of Chinese households are served with solar hot water. In India, around one million square meter area of solar collector has been installed so far.

In Egypt and Turkey, hundreds of thousands of households are served with solar water heaters. Other emerging markets are found in Botswana, Kenya, Lesotho, Mauritius, Morocco, Namibia, Papua New Guinea, South Africa, Tanzania, Thailand, Tunisia and Zimbabwe. In Thailand solar water heaters have a share of 15 per cent on the water heater market.

Pakistan is ideally located in the sunny belt to take advantage of solar energy technologies, and hence has a much greater potential for exploitation of solar water heating than most of the above-referred countries. Unfortunately, Pakistan, at a time when other developing nations, having lesser resources, are taking substantial advantage from this technology, has yet to make a start.

In order to promote it, both the government and the private sector have to play their role; the government must subsidies this technology by giving tax redemptions and industrial sector should take this technology on board.

With the fact that the technology is simple, and easy to manufacture, install and bring into operation, there is great hope that over next few years' solar water heating will flourish as a major industry in Pakistan.

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