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Small is beautiful

By Mansoor Raza

In a recently held Youth National Energy Conference organised by the Sindh Youth Affairs Department, a recommendation was made to create wind, solar, alternative energy development and manufacturing authority with an initial fund of Rs 500 million. The necessity of such a recommendation is an outcome of the ongoing energy crisis that need not be detailed here as it would be mere repetition of otherwise commonly known facts. Nevertheless, it is important to mention some striking specifics here:

(1) In the first 10 months of FY12 all power companies across the country produced 74 trillion units and sold 72 trillion units. The gap of two trillion units is on account of technical losses and theft.

(2) From July to May (2011-2012) all power companies in Pakistan billed consumers Rs 895.3 billion while collection remained at only Rs 400.8 billion, which is 47 percent of total billing.

(3) The identified potential of power generation from wind is about 43,000 MW, and from solar energy it is more that 100,000 MW. However, other sources place it at 2.4 million MW.

(4) A four acre piece of land is required to produce one MW of electricity through solar energy.

(5) In Karachi, the KESC has 2,341 MW of installed fleet capacity as well as power purchase agreements for 1,021 MW of power in the form of IPPs and imports.

Recently conducted research by noted social scientist and urban planner, Arif Hasan, seeks to understand the acceptability of alternative energy sources to commercial markets in Karachi. Urdu Bazaar is a much frequented book market in the central business district of Karachi. According to the survey, it has over 400 shops.

Like other markets in the city, it is subject to long periods of load shedding with the result that shopkeepers have opted for alternatives of generators and Uninterrupted Power Supply (UPS) units. Generators are expensive to buy (average cost Rs 37,500 and per year average for five years comes out to Rs 7,500) and expensive to operate, at an average of Rs 5,882 per month and an annual cost of Rs 70,560. The noise and air pollution they cause is damaging to health and visitors do not like coming into the shop when they are operative.

The UPS on the other hand is cheaper at Rs 20,000 for five years and per year average comes out to 4,000 but with an average running and maintenance cost of Rs 12,240. Moreover, it has a running cost of Rs 1,000 per month.

However, it does not store enough energy to meet the long hours of load shedding and also consumes a considerable amount of energy from the grid. In addition, its acid batteries cause immense air pollution which is difficult to tolerate for a long period of time. Ninety percent of the shopkeepers surveyed are willing to adopt a solar energy option because they understand its environmental and sustainability advantages.

Shopkeepers expressed their concerns as well. Interestingly, they believe that the constraints in providing alternative energy to Urdu Bazaar are not of a financial or technical nature but have more to do with governance issues.

Solar energy providing companies, when contacted, presented their technical and financial proposals. The cheapest offer was Rs 78,000 for two energy savers, one fan and one telephone charging outlet. For two fans, four energy savers and one telephone point, the cost came up to Rs 115,000. One would have thought that these high costs would not be acceptable to the shopkeepers. However, they were willing to pay these costs and some of them were willing to pay more for better service. Shopkeepers insisted that before committing they would like the solar company to put up a demonstration unit. The solar company is willing to do this.

Essential components of solar products are solar photovoltaic systems for converting sunlight into electricity; solar battery for storing electrical energy into the batteries for later on use; and solar inverters to convert the solar generated D.C. electricity into alternating current for running household appliances.

Although solar panels (the key component) now enjoy tariff incentives such as exemption from duties and sales tax, the venture is costly because the cost of importing a complete solar panel is quite high.

Points of action as discussed with solar energy experts and suppliers are:

(1) The state should provide a subsidy on the import of silica based glass solar panels.

(2) Vocational training for the assembly and the maintenance of solar panels/products should be provided.

(3) Awareness raising programmes that could establish a trade-off between conventional sources and solar energy need to be initiated.

(4) In rural areas the use of solar products could be achieved through an existing micro-finance programme.

Solar is doable and its application would reiterate the earlier proven fact that small is beautiful.

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