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Developing cost-effective wind farms

January 25, 2013

RECENTLY a 50-MW wind-energy project was inaugurated near Jhampir. It is the first phase of a 105-W project. It marks Pakistan’s entry into the world of wind-based energy and it is the first step towards meeting a 2,500-MW gap between demand and supply.

It demonstrates to the policy makers in Islamabad the minimal operating cost with which these plants can be operated, and, hopefully, lead to a policy decision of completely disallowing power generation based on either oil or gas or imported LNG.

Wind farms in Pakistan can be built on free federal land. Its cost can be trimmed down to almost $0.03/KWh. The only power generation with a lower production cost is hydroelectric. But its capital is high and its construction can take a long time.

Wind-energy farms can be built in about a year and its construction cost per KWh is about the same as that of gas-based power plants. Cumulative savings due to the lower operating cost of these units can be huge over a 40-year life of these projects.

The newer larger-capacity turbines, up to 650 KW, significantly reduce the farm footprint and its construction cost.

A single 630KW turbine can probably provide enough electricity to around 300 homes on an average-capacity basis, something that make these a suitable candidate for rural development projects, especially for villages in the wind-generating corridors.

Wind energy is renewable and clean. Besides, it does not produce greenhouse gases like fossil-fuel plants. This means that the generating resource will never run out.

Wind turbines can be set up in rural areas to serve people who may be difficult to serve through traditional means (that are off the grid).

Wind energy can also co-exist with other activities on the same land. For example, farming or grazing cattle. This is a huge economic advantage to the land owner.

Also, wind farms have relatively little impact on the environment compared to fossil-fuel power-plants except for the noise produced by its rotor blades, its visual impact on the natural surroundings and birds being killed by flying into the rotors.

However, these concerns can be mitigated through technology and by properly locating the wind farms.

SHAHID MUMTAZ Houston, US