Pakistan has been a late starter in renewable energy, and is way behind many countries. For example, having realised the importance of renewable energy, India took timely initiatives a couple of decades ago and now has become a major exporter of renewable energy technologies, such as wind turbines and solar photovoltaic.
Pakistan`s serious interest in renewable energy technologies began with the setting up of Alternate Energy Development Board (AEDB) in 2003.
Placing wind power at its forefront, AEDB targeted to install 100MW wind turbines during 2005. The medium to long-term plans included setting up 700 MW by the year 2010 and 9700 MW by the year 2030. The developments on ground however do not correspond to the set targets. As of October 2008, there has not been even a single-MW wind turbine in place feeding electricity to national grid.
Anyone closely following the renewable energy developments over the years, can recall the media reports from 2005 showing the then President claim that his government was producing electricity from wind. Three years later, one still does not find visible signs of wind-generated electricity.
Over the last five years, since Pakistan has been in pursuit of wind power, countries across the world have made substantial progress. Spain, for example, from nowhere has become the third largest country in the world in terms of installed capacity (reaching over 16GW).
Similarly, India has doubled its installed capacity, reaching to over 8,000MW. Energy experts in Pakistan on the other hand, have often been expressing dissatisfaction over the below-par progress of wind power. Media reports suggest that for the very reason the AEDB chairman was sacked earlier this year.
Firing the chairman, however, does not necessarily resolve all the problems. It needs to be determined if there were any genuine issues i.e. technical, economical or political constraints that have hindered the work or it is just a case of bad policies and incompetence. For a real change appropriate remedial measures have to be taken in the light of a thorough review of the state of affairs.
In the late 19th century, hybrid wind power systems were in place in Denmark when there were no high-tech scientific and technological gadgets. If Pakistan were to make effective and sustainable progress, it should have prioritised the indigenous production of wind turbines.
Like other forms of energy, wind power is also an expensive technology costing around $2 million per MW. To achieve its mid-term targets of 700MW within next two years, apart from totally relying on imports of wind turbines Pakistan also inevitably requires huge co-operation of foreign investors/donors.
With the country`s turbulent situation in terms of internal security and regional geopolitics, it is becoming increasingly difficult that investment and technology transfer would be offered to Pakistan.
Another critical issue not to be missed here is that wind power like other renewable technologies is extremely sought after with leading manufactures having a lead time of several years. The fact that a few years ago technology transfer was a lot easier than is the case now makes many believe that Pakistan has wasted some precious time.
Interestingly, the key behind the success of Spain and India, is their indigenous production. Consequently, the countries are not only meeting their own rapidly growing demands but are also busily exporting wind turbines all over the world. Pakistan could also have been in a comfortable zone by now had a similar strategy been adopted.
Unfortunately, with the initial 100MW project being already late by years, the mid-term target of 700MW also looks extremely unlikely to be achievable. Given the challenges and opportunities, the optimum strategy for the policy makers is to seek technology transfer and to go for indigenous production. The best choice would be to go for relatively less sophisticated and small-scale turbines.
Nevertheless, it would enable Pakistan produce highly competitive turbines of MW-scale within a period of 5-7 years. Unless indigenous production of wind turbines is undertaken, one of the main objectives of wind power, `energy independence`, will remain elusive.