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Alternative Energy: Plan B?

If you start late, move slowly and are accountable to no one, the result would be “no progress at all”. That was my personal conclusion after I produced a four-part documentary series for Dawn News in 2008.

The title of the series was “Plan-B”, and it was aimed at analysing the potential and progress of alternative energy in Pakistan. I met the authorities involved, visited key places and tried to figure out whether alternative energy will solve our energy issues. Five years later, I am set to revisit the story.

In the late twentieth century, the world started to realise that global temperature is changing at an alarming rate and if not controlled, global warming is likely to affect millions of people through decrease in crop yields, increased coastal flooding, reduced water supplies, and increased health problems. Since the major reason of this negative temperature effect was the burning of fossil fuels in order to produce electricity, alternative energy was considered to be the saviour of the world.

However, Pakistan, with its own array of problems, had to worry more about electricity production rather than global warming. This compelled the government to conduct many organisational experiments. The National Institute of Silicon Technology (NIST) was founded for research and development in the field of solar energy in 1981. The Pakistan Council for Appropriate Technology (PCAT) was also established four years later. It aimed to promote hydropower, biogas and small-scale wind energy technologies.

The two institutions were merged into one, forming the Pakistan Council of Renewable Energy Technology (PCRET) in 2001 . The goal of PCRET was to organise, coordinate and promote research and development efforts within the field of renewable energy.

Finally, the Alternative Energy Development Board (AEDB) was established in 2003. The objective of this institution was to develop renewable energy policies for the promotion of wind, solar, bio-fuels and small-scale hydro-power projects. Since its inception, AEDB has been the focal organisation working on alternative energy technologies, but has it achieved any success in its decade-long existence?

Wind power

Pakistan, with its thousand kilometre coastline, is blessed to have high wind speeds in many parts of the country. These areas, identified as wind corridors, are present in all provinces and have wind speeds between 6 to 7.5 metres per second. It has a theoretical potential of producing more than 200,000 megawatts of electricity. In the wind corridors of Sindh and Balochistan, adequate wind energy exists to power every coastal village of the country. The Gharo-Keti Bandar wind corridor alone has a potential to produce upto 50,000 megawatts of electricity. Even if a quarter of the total wind energy potential is tapped practically, we will have enough energy to fulfil our current demand of approximately 15,000MW, and surplus that can be exported.

Keeping in view the huge potential (potential estimates range from 150,000 MWs to 350,000 MWs), the government has set some targets. It was decided that 500MW to 700MW would be added to the national grid through wind power by the year 2014. Initial success came when the first wind turbines were erected in the Gharo-Keti Bandar wind corridor in 2008 and 6MW electricity was added to the national grid.

By the end of 2011, Pakistan’s wind energy output remained at 6MWs. With such (lack of) progress, Naveed Qamar, the ambitious Federal Minister for Water and Power in 2012, announced that the country has revised its renewable energy targets and now 1,500 MWs will be generated by the end of the year 2013.

Today, the former-Minister and the target that he set have both vanished somewhere. The installed capacity has now increased to 106MW while the national grid receives just 50MWs.

India, where the initial electricity production using wind energy started in 1986 , currently has an installed capacity of more than 18,000 megawatts and stands at 5th position in the world . Pakistan, 43rd (44th according to some sources) in terms of installed capacity, has demonstrated poor performance in comparison with countries that started at about the same time.

Mexico started electricity production through wind in 2004, and now produces 1300MWs. Romania started in 2005 and now produces 1905 MWs. Even Cyprus, which started in 2010, now has an installed capacity of 147MWs.

With 106MWs in hand, the present government has again set an over-ambitious target when it announced that 2500 MWs electricity will be produced using wind energy by the end of 2015.

Solar power

Narian Khorian is a small village situated at a distance of about 40 kilometres from Islamabad. Before June 2005, it was just another village, but on the June 19, 2005 the then Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz, inaugurated the “Hundred Solar Homes Program”. Each of the hundred households of this village was gifted an 88-Watt solar panel, four LED lights, a 12-Volt DC fan and a TV socket.

In addition, a solar Geyser and a solar Cooker were also given. With this initiative, the government of Pakistan wanted to display its seriousness in tapping the huge solar energy potential of the country. Several other villages from each of the provinces were selected for this initiative.

Research studies conducted by national and international organisations in Pakistan clearly indicate that since the country is exceptionally sunny with around nine hours of sunlight per day, there is a potential of producing more than a million megawatts of electricity through solar energy. If only 0.25 percent of Balochistan was covered with solar panels with an efficiency of 20 percent, enough electricity would be generated to cover the demand from all over Pakistan. But again, there is a difference between theoretical potential and the actual realisation of that potential.

Solar panels installed in most of the villages, including Narian Khorian, have decayed due to lack of maintenance, leaving the villages without power again. Having gained nothing from this sort-lived experiment, Pakistan’s then Minister for Water and Power Raja Pervaiz Ashraf announced in July 2009 that 7,000 villages would be provided electricity using solar energy by 2014. Raja’s oh-so successful track record in managing the nation’s power crisis is known to all.

Except for selected villages, a few government offices, some street lights in the whole country and a large number of unimplemented MoUs, this domain has nothing for Pakistan to be proud of. The newly elected government of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif is eying Chinese partnership in exploiting the solar energy sector. It remains to be seen how fruitful these ventures would be for Pakistan’s energy sector.

Bio-diesel

Pakistan’s petroleum products import has continued to rise in recent years. In the period July 2012 to February 2013, the import totalled 9.936 billion US dollars. For a country where majority of the population lives below the poverty line, these billions of dollars can be consumed for something better.

In order to reduce the petroleum products import bill, an option to move towards bio-diesel does exist. The country has about 80 million hectares of total land, out of which around 27 percent is currently under cultivation. On the other hand, 21 million hectares is considered marginal and arid. Such land can be used for the cultivation of Jatropha, Pongamia and other non-edible plants, which are a source of bio-diesel.

The National Bio-diesel program was launched and a Bio-diesel blending target of five percent of the total diesel consumption was set for the year 2015. The share is to be increased to 10% by 2025. It is estimated that if just 10 percent diesel is replaced with bio-diesel, Pakistan would save about one billion dollars per annum.

Unfortunately, having plans and executing said plans are two very different things. Pakistan State Oil processed and tested different Bio-diesel blends on their vehicles, but the project did not see commercial light. AEDB started to work on a feasibility study to set up 10,000 tons per annum Bio-diesel production facility, but the funding for this project was never released.

Bio-gas

Pakistan is a rich country in many aspects. As mentioned earlier, it has ample wind, sunlight and cultivable land for bio-diesel crops. Interestingly enough, it is also rich in producing waste.

According to estimates of 2010-2011, our livestock population is around 150 million and counting. If we assume that one medium-sized animal produces 15 kilograms of dung in a day, then these 150 million animals would produce approximately 2.4 million tons of dung. Generally, 50 kilograms of cow dung is required to produce a 100 cubic feet of biogas. This amount of gas is enough to fulfil the daily requirements of a family of four members. If used for electricity production, this 100 cubic feet gas can produce around 3 KWh of electricity. With the above figures, one can easily calculate the power that can be generated if we just convert 25 percent of the waste produced on a daily basis.

To tap this huge wasted potential, Pakistan has been working since more than three decades now. But except for a few hundred biogas plants in a few villages, we have not been able to make any substantial progress in this area. The reasons are too many to mention here, but lack of interest, lack of infrastructure and lack of funding top the list. We are indeed very rich in producing waste.

With more than 10 hours of daily load-shedding in most parts of the country, rising petroleum prices and imports, and no plan in the near future to capitalise on hydel or coal resources, Pakistan’s Plan-B for energy was to work on alternatives. But with the progress that we have had in this area, it seems that our Plan-B needs a Plan-B itself.

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