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Farming energy

There is need to work on macro and micro green energy generation and consumption in Pakistan. Besides the development of mega green energy projects, we need a popular culture of off-grid community energy farming at household levels across the country.

To begin with we would have to acknowledge the fact that solar energy is still an alien concept that is considered expensive, complicated, partially productive and unreliable, especially when it comes to household generation and consumption.

First-hand experience at household levels across the country is essential to end this mass misperception and build people’s confidence in solar energy, particularly when the new government has acknowledged that loadshedding will continue for years to come. Thus, people will still need an alternative source of power to deal with the shortage.

The government may consider the formation of a community energy farming board to develop a culture of solar energy farming and consumption in communities in the country. Practical incentives would have to be offered for this based on the idea of creating at least some source of respite from loadshedding. That minimum source could come in two ways: one is a solar energy system and the other is household appliances that are run on solar energy.

In recent years, the price of solar panels has declined remarkably. The cost of importing one watt of photovoltaic power generation capacity fell to $1 in 2012 from $2 in 2011 (it was $4 in 2008).

Solar power systems generally consist of solar panels, batteries, a charge controller and an inverter. A modest system – including solar panels, controllers, battery packs to power four energy savers of 11 watts each and two to three fans for six to ten hours a day with a lifespan of around 15 years – costs around Rs75,000. An even smaller system of 75 WP (watts peak) capable of running a ceiling fan and an energy saver with an eight to ten hour backup, working on the basis of ten hours of sunshine costs around Rs30,000. While solar table fan sets, with a lifespan of around five years, cost an average of Rs7000.

The proposed community energy farming board could provide solar power systems and appliances such as fans on 50 percent immediate payment, with the remaining amount to be paid in six equal instalments.

The community energy farming board would have to target communities, especially in rural areas. Providing solar systems and appliances to communities of ten to 20 (or more) households would be more feasible and cost-effective than providing one or two households in an area. The proposed board could contact such communities through their elected representatives, NGOs or via direct surveys and contacts.

Further incentives would be needed to make this scheme more attractive to larger numbers. First of all, the government would have to play a big role to make this initiative feasible for the public. It would have to bear 50 percent of the instalments with every household; meaning it would be paying 25 percent of the price of every solar system or appliance.

Second, the proposed board would have to bring banks and manufacturers of the solar system and other products under the same umbrella. Let’s say the banks paid the other 50 percent of the instalments (25 percent of the price) to the companies – a 25-percent share in the profit based at the wholesale level of the prices of the solar systems and appliances to be given to the households at a zero percent interest rate. In case of non-payment by the households, the solar systems and appliances could be confiscated, besides levying of penalties.

The new provincial governments would be improving the lives of the population of their provinces by supporting the solar power energy scheme. It is hoped that Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif, known to encourage innovative ideas that help improve the lives of people of his province, will support this idea. If he could allocate the same kind of funds that he did for the sasti roti scheme to provide solar energy to every part of Punjab, we could see the culture of household community solar energy farming expand.

Similarly, the PTI government in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa has both the commitment and the will to implement people-friendly schemes. And, with Dr Abdul Malik Baloch elected as chief minister of Balochistan, we can hope for serious efforts on his part as well to help the people of his province. The solar energy scheme would be ideal to provide electricity to the far-flung areas of Balochistan.

Cultivating community energy farming would have manifold benefits for multiple segments of the economy; it would provide respite to households from power outages, build general awareness and confidence in alternative energy at the grassroots levels, generate economic activities and help cut down atmospheric pollution.

A modest solar power system or appliance would be the first step in us entering the future world of energy production and consumption. Community energy farming could help transform our greater socio-economic culture dependent on traditional energy solutions into a modern world of green energy.

Email: moazzamhai@yahoo.com

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