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Wasting our energy

Published Jan 22, 2013 12:31pm


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While there are many murky conspiracy theories floating around to explain Tahirul Qadri’s long march, one thing that came across loud and clear was the voice of the ordinary people on the streets of Islamabad, demanding an end to the load-shedding of electricity and gas. Perhaps it will be a wake up call for the government – if people do not get basics like energy to light their homes and run their stoves, they will come out on the streets. In fact, with increasing global oil prices, the buzz all over the world now is about “energy security”. Other countries in the region are all scrambling ahead to become self sufficient in meeting their own energy needs.

Can technology fix Pakistan’s energy problems? I recently met an energy expert who visited Pakistan this week, Carl Pope (former executive director of the Sierra Club, an American environmental organisation), who feels that yes, technology can be our salvation. “Pakistan has two very serious energy problems; energy reliability and energy access”, he explained. “For half of Pakistan’s population, renewable energy is the only power they are ever going to get and for the rest renewables can replace the shortfall”.

In his view, the solution to our energy woes is renewable energy wherever possible in the form of small hydro projects, solar water pumps and water geysers to ease the load of electricity and gas, rooftop solar units for homes (which could also replace diesel generators and UPS) and large wind farms on Pakistan’s extensive coastal wind corridor. In addition, there can be smaller initiatives like the sugar mills producing electricity from biomass to feed the grid, garbage companies converting sorted trash into energy and smaller biogas units across farms in rural areas where dung is readily available. Other possible solutions can be run of the river (or canals) turbines to produce electricity locally and extracting methane from our vast low-grade coal supplies in the Thar Desert (an old technology used in the US).

Solar panel powers energy for a mosque in Sindh. -Photo by author
Solar panel powers energy for a mosque in Sindh. -Photo by author

“Every little bit is going to help... The technology for doing all this is readily available”, he points out. All the Government of Pakistan has to do is set the policy right, which in his view, is the fairly easy part. The rest will be done by business. “You don’t have to start from scratch, you can learn from other developing countries like South Africa, Kenya and to some extent India”. If we set out on this path, he says, the “current energy shortage can improve dramatically”. Several companies in Lahore and Karachi are already offering solar technology. What are urgently needed, however, are trusted brand names that can distribute solar products like solar panels, solar geysers, solar pumps, solar streetlights etc. Along with the right distributors, we also need banks to provide the finance to scale all this up.

Community installed wind turbine in Keti Bunder. -Photo by author
Community installed wind turbine in Keti Bunder. -Photo by author

We definitely have huge potential for wind, which after hydro is the second cheapest form of energy – particularly on the Makran Coast. Unfortunately, aside from a few small pilot projects set up by different NGOs on the coast, we only have one big 50 MW wind energy project that was recently set up by the Fauji Fertiliser Company. The government does claim, however, that the next year will see at least 10 more wind projects which will be the beginning of exploiting the wind potential of the Gharo-Keti Bandar Wind Corridor – an area that alone has 50,000 MW power generation potential. With the city of Karachi located nearby, distribution costs will not be high.

Given all our rivers and extensive canal systems, we also have great potential for small-scale hydro projects, including run of the river hydro systems. There are also lots of appropriate sites for medium sized dams in the country. These can be developed fast, don’t displace people and don’t tie up our money. So perhaps, it is time to finally bury the controversial Kalabagh Dam project and explore smaller, hydropower projects.

Biogas plants are also a good option in the rural areas of Pakistan, their only problem, according to Carl Pope, is that “they fall apart when you make them too big”. Many NGOs across the country have introduced small biogas units in their project areas and they are working efficiently and effectively. They seem to work best when you only have a few households sharing the load and feedstock.

stove lit up by bio-gas in Murree. -Photo by author.
Stove lit up by bio-gas in Murree. -Photo by author.

Producing biogas out of crushed sugarcane is also a good option for Pakistan given the number of sugar mills in the country. So far, only around seven sugar mills are doing so and selling their surplus power to the national grid. There is however, the potential of producing 2000 MW through the 82 sugar mills in the country.

There are so many feasible and affordable options for Pakistan, if only we started thinking that small is beautiful and not go for potential expensive scams like “Rental Power Projects”. If we go for the renewable options, experts say we could solve our energy problems within five years. If we stick to “business as usual” the problem will only become worse and we can expect to see an increasing number of people coming out onto the streets in protest.


The writer is an award-winning environmental journalist based in Islamabad, who also covers climate change and health issues. She can be reached at


The views expressed by this blogger and in the following reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the Dawn Media Group.


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The writer is an award-winning environmental journalist based in Islamabad, who also covers climate change and health issues.

She can be reached at

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

Comments (29) Closed

Kamran Jan 22, 2013 02:09pm
A good piece i must say, ( needance is the mother of all the invention). The other issue is we have a habit of realising things very late which leaves us nowhere. Sometime back i visited some villages on my way to quetta, was very surprised by the baloch locals adapting the technology , have setted in solar panels to feed their requirements. Seeing a tradtional baloch and the shape of the mustache, was one thing adding no litracy, but the contrast was very clear, awareness is the key and the willingness to adapt which can benefit to all.
aabdul Jan 23, 2013 06:06am
Pakistanis must look deeply in the Quran for scientific answers to solve energy crisis.
Khawar Khyam Jan 22, 2013 01:57pm
I am unable to understand why people of Pakistan are not exploiting the solar energy. Why our experts are going to other countries and doing miracles in foreign land. I think investors in Pakistan should invest in ready made solution of day to day energy needs. What about developing a small air conditioner for coming summer season or at least run couple of fans on solar panel. Why our Government is not giving some incentive to those investors in solar panel areas. At least there should be a solar panel manufacturing plant in Pakistan. I am not ready to accept that our engineers are less knowledge able than any one in this world. There should a better co ordination between our universities and investors like it is in advanced countries, where big corporations send there small problems to be solved by the students.
Wolf Jan 23, 2013 10:51am
I agree. Use a electron Microscope.
Condemned Jan 22, 2013 12:54pm
I have given up all the hope in Pakistan ever being able to solve its energy and terrorism problem: the first due to disinterest on part of the elected government and the second due to lust for money of the armed forces.
Leftist Jan 23, 2013 08:13am
Sir, please show us the way !
Muhammad Muslim Sanjrani Jan 23, 2013 08:12am
The answer to Pakistan's energy crisis lies in the decentralization of entities like Wapda and Pepco. Let the burden of energy crisis be transferred to the provincial level where every province will be responsible for generating energy according to their requirements. That would enable the provincial governments to consume their natural resources for the production for their respective province only. Additionally; Any provincial government with a surplus energy (if any) can export it to any other province in need of more energy for their consumption on Federal Govt. regulated rates. Sindh can use the options of Coal, Wind Energy, Solar Energy, Tidal Wave Energy; Baluchistan can use Wind, Solar and Tidal Wave Energy; Punjab can use Wind, Solar Energy alongwith limited production of Hydro Electric Power whereas Khyber Pakhtunkhwa can use the same options as of punjab as well. The structure should be as Sindh Water & Power Authority / Punjab Water & Power Authority / Baluchistan Water & Power Authority / Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Water & Power Authority / Northern Areas Water & Power Authority. As for the Tidal Wave Technology acquisition; when we can acquire second hand outdated F-16 Fighter jets from the US worth millions of dollars; we can surely arrange a private deal with the mentors of Tidal Wave Energy at The University of Florida, US to get this Project started.
Gulbaz Mushtaq Jan 22, 2013 12:43pm
Very interesting. Nice Work.
Adil Jan 22, 2013 05:11pm
Inshallah slow and steady we will be energy sufficient, after dark days there will be light. May Allah bless our nation with the best knowledge of deen and world so that we can benefit our selves and others.
g.a shirazi Jan 22, 2013 06:28pm
While this is good for power generation--now let us talk about coservation. I heard they still play cricket in the night time wasting energy.
KHURAM Jan 24, 2013 10:14am
Dear Arif, I am an HEC scholar undertaking PhD in sustainable energy systems from London South Bank University in the UK. I selected this field by choice when I was granted MSc leading to PhD scholarship. Alhamdolillah after achieving Distinction in MSc I am now due to finish PhD in July 2013. Insha Allah I shall come back to Pakistan and will play my role. Now to your second point, I completely agree with you. Pakistani universities should play role to address this issue. Unfortunately no one seems interested there. In 2010, before my visit to Pakistan, I emailed a number of highly ranked persons in different UETs and I requested them to allow me to deliver voluntary lectures on how the UK is addressing their energy challenges. But no one replied. Anyway, Insha Allah we will take Pakistan to the heights it deserves.
Tahir Jan 22, 2013 10:46pm
Pakistan's energy and sectarian terrorism problems will never end.The former because of exploding population and demands for more energy.The latter because this nation is producing more Mullahs and talibans and less educated technology savy people.If you educate 10 people,100 or a thousand more are born that are not educated and skilled.It is a losing game. Invest more in education,technology and industry and less on foreign imported F16s,submarines and Atomic bombs.These will not solve your energy problems,neither they will educate your people or feed them.
naveed mahmood Jan 23, 2013 07:40am
It is very unfortunate that despite of all resources available with Pakistan we are still lurching in darkness. What is needed is to have clear vision of our energy requirements and to make solid policy for next 50 years.This is the time to wake up not for political long marches but to save energy.
Eeeraj Jan 23, 2013 09:24am
for your information sir ..the entities like WAPDA and PEPCO are already decentralised and are dissociated in separate independent companies like Distribution companies , NTDC,GENCOs,PPIB,AEDB...also there exists the provision for provinces to generate power by their own sources upto 50 MW or slightly above.....
Nasir Jan 23, 2013 08:54am
Neither technology nor its potential use in Pakistan can solve this problem. they are deeply rooted
Eeeraj Jan 23, 2013 09:20am
the writer quoted a very important point that the dominant aspect in our energy is reliability....and with this she is quoting that renewables should be harnessed in an amount reaching to base load....well from technical point of view this is contradictory...renewables either as wind or solar are not reliable to deliver energy 24/7... plus the major issue of them lies in the interconnection with national grid as they pose serious reliability issues, problems in reactive power (voltage dip) and many others...our system right now is not that potent to absorb renewables at such a large scale (though efforts are on way to strenghten it) ... they can best work (and are working) in standalone condition or in isolated mode--- the answer to the question in article that if there is so much potential then why arent we harnessing it....
Virkaul Jan 23, 2013 03:02am
There is enough potential to generate energy through renewable sources. The author may also add ocean waves to the list. The largest single solar power plant in India was commissioned in Rajasthan br Reliance power (40 MW), which in a couple of years is slated to be expanded to 300 MW. The plan is to have 20,000 MW capacity by 2022. This can be easily done in vast areas of Sindh and Balochistan. The good thing is that they are all non-polluting. India has good work in wind power generation and has an installed capacity of 18,500 MW. Coal bed methane and underground gassification of coal are relatively newer technologies but have good potential for future.
malik1010 Jan 23, 2013 03:28am
How does deen and Allah come in between producing energy?
A Shah Jan 23, 2013 12:00pm
Is this comment supposed to be a joke? lol
shaffiq Jan 23, 2013 12:54pm
There is no energy shortfall in Pakistan - just circular debt, line losses and electricity theft. Even with new technologies, these problems must be addressed.
Happens Jan 23, 2013 03:50pm
Why do you drag Allah always in every matter ? He is not going to help you unless and until you help yourself . This is all about science , no supernatural power .
Tariq Jan 23, 2013 04:13pm
Pakistani nation is very resourceful and hard working but they need be "shown" how to tap into these simple low tech DIY (do it yourself) projects like build your own - wind generator; biogas generator;Solar gyser; solar panel water heater or even a small hydro generator. There needs to be a dedicated TV channel show to teach the ordinary layman "how to build" these projects. I guarantee you it will be a hit with the public!
Thinker (@aisikithaisi) Jan 23, 2013 04:22pm
We are a nation of conspiracy theories and can always invent one where there is not the remotest possbility
Tariq Jan 23, 2013 04:25pm
Allah helps those who help themselves. Therefore, people have to do the hard work and Allah will Inshallah belss their hard work!
Arif Jan 23, 2013 04:34pm
It is interesting to know that what can be done. However, in my opinion what Pakistan lacks is the expertise in this field. In the past HEC has been granting scholarships to students in different fields to go join foreign universities for Phd degrees. However, they never announced specific scholarships for this field. The conclusion of what I want to say is to stress the point that we need to develop local expertise in the renewable energy field. HEC can play a very important role in this regard by announcing scholarships to students specifically in this field. When these researchers return to Pakistan they will definitely address the problem in a better manner. Furthermore, Pakistani universities need to develop research units in the renewable energy field. However, this is only possible if the universities are equipped with the required human resources and technological resources.
chump Jan 23, 2013 10:36pm
chump Jan 23, 2013 10:42pm
Thats to save energy in future by reducing rise of population. Night cricket is the best family planner.
chump Jan 23, 2013 10:48pm
Polio got rejected, lets hope the best for solar panels( too magrebi). Biogas may somehow be sensitive to some strict religious people.
KHURAM Jan 24, 2013 06:05am
I appreciate Rina's effort to highlight the tehnological benifits of different renewable technologies. However I do agree that Rina has missed couple of important points. There is no doubt that renewable technologies are cabable of energy generation, but to what extent? Technically these technologies might be feasible but what about the economic feasibility of these? Cost / generated kWh for solar and wind turbines are higher in countries like Pakistan where there exist no incentives for such technologies. Rina also hasn't mentioned about minimising the energy wastage. Everytime we speak, its all about energy generation. Why nobody speaks about improving the baseline energy consumption which is being wasted due to poor energy mangement and a limping infrastructure. Unless there is a proper national energy policy with clearly stated energy reduction + generation targets and a team who is capable of delivering, all these hopes will remain hope.