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Renewable energy resources and socio-economic development – II

Solar energy has been practiced for long time; however, after exhaustive research and investment, scientists have not yet been fully capable to utilize the enormous potential of solar energy. Nevertheless, solar based projects may be used for small scale electricity requirements. Large scale power generation from solar energy is still pending and needs further research.

Nuclear energy is the other very important source of power generation and many countries such as the USA, China, Japan, France, India and many countries in the European Union are using nuclear plants on a large scale for electricity generation. In USA, energy extracted from nuclear plants constitutes almost 7% of the total energy use. Other countries such as Lithuania, France, Belgium, Slovakia, Ukraine, Sweden, Bulgaria, Hungary, Slovenia and South Korea uses a high percentage (78% for Lithuania and 39% for South Korea) of nuclear electricity as percentage of the total electricity. It clearly indicates that nuclear energy is a massive source of power generation and is practiced in countries mentioned above. However, there are some serious challenges to overcome before nuclear energy is utilized for electricity generation. Establishment of nuclear plants is always an expensive and technologically difficult task. A pre-requisite is to ensure a full proof safety, command and control system over the activities of nuclear plants. There are some serious concerns over the installation of nuclear plants and their usage for energy generation. These concerns are based on probabilities and past precedents. Radioactivity leakage, due to tectonic activity or any other incident may cause havoc and a human catastrophe. We have living examples of Chernobyl, Three Mile Island and Fukushima nuclear accidents that affected millions of people.

The first two accidents happened, were mainly due to the use of old style reactors and poor safety standards particularly in the Chernobyl case. In addition, going the nuclear installations into wrong hands and illegal use by rogue states may have put barriers to the nuclear proliferation and its transfer among countries for the purpose of energy generation.

Pakistan is a highly responsible nuclear state with the world’s top class command and control system that shoulders responsibility of the tight security of the nuclear installations. As a responsible nuclear capable nation, we have the right to use nuclear energy for electricity generation. Unfortunately, despite being the world’s 7th nuclear state, we lag behind many other countries to fully exploit the true potential of nuclear energy. Currently, with Chinese technical and financial assistance, we have three nuclear reactors, one at Karachi (KANUPP) and two at Chashma, Punjab (Chasma-1 and Chashma-2), working to produce electricity around 725 MW, a very small amount compared to electricity generation from other sources. Another two reactors, Chashma-3 and Chashma-4 with a total capacity of 680 MW are in the construction phase and will be operational at the end of 2016. Despite the above projects and some other in the pipeline, there is a lot of room in this sector and we can expand the number of reactors across the country. This is a fact that Pakistan is not party to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) and is largely excluded from trade in nuclear plant or materials that hinders development and expansion of its civilian nuclear energy program. However, like our neighbour India, we should try our utmost to sign civilian nuclear technology transfer agreements with USA, China, Canada, Australia and EU countries, so that we can assure energy security in the future. This can be achieved through formulating a comprehensive foreign policy, based on active and effective diplomacy, lobbying and persuading the world regarding the present and future energy crisis, Pakistan is confronted with. China is our all time tested friend that extended every possible assistance in the field of energy sector in Pakistan and even now thousands of Chinese workers are engaged in several ongoing projects. During the recent visit of Chinese prime minister to Pakistan, Mr. Nawaz Sharif requested his Chinese counterpart, an expansion in the nuclear assistance for electricity generation through the civilian nuclear technology transfer agreement. That was a positive and timely demand of the current democratically elected government from a true friend and this should be materialized with sincere efforts. During the reciprocal visit of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif to China, many significant agreements including those of energy such as cola power generation and assistance in solar and wind energy were signed. It is also anticipated that the two sides might have also finalized an agreement on Sino-Pak civilian nuclear deal.

In addition to the above, a very useful and renewable source of energy is the conversion of biomass or biofeed stocks to bio-energy. As a renewable, cheap and environmental friendly means of energy, the bio-energy sector has attracted most of the ongoing research activities in the developed world with billions of dollars investment. In some countries, bio-energy such as ethanol production from agricultural biomass is contributing a fairly large share in the total energy production. So far, the bio-energy production has been practiced from agricultural crops such as maize, barley, legumes and sugarcane. A drawback of using grains or syrup of agricultural crops for ethanol production is diverting the edible crops from human consumption towards energy generation. This may pose a challenge to food security and may hamper the efforts for growing more food to feed the hunger stricken people in poor regions of Asia and Sub Saharan Africa.

However, an alternative to the starchy grains is the use of cellulosic or vegetative part of the bio-feed stocks for bio-energy production, which is otherwise used as animal feed. These days, the bio-energy production has entered into a new phase with the utilization of second generation cellulosic biofeed stocks for bio-energy production.

These second generation biofeed stocks are mainly comprised of non-agricultural perennial grasses able to grow in diverse agro-climatic conditions without planned irrigation and soil preparation. Apart from a rich source of energy, the use of biofeed stocks for energy production has a positive environmental effect with reduced emission of green house gasses and the resultant reduction in the global warming. On the contrary, the prolonged use of fossil fuel has continuously added increased CO2 levels and greenhouse effect that challenged the world with the global warming phenomenon. The repercussions are difficult to imagine such as the melting of glaciers in the arctic, massive floods, irregularities in the global weather patterns and increasing land and water salinization and desertification. To overcome these challenges, we have to focus our future planning on renewable energy resources especially bio-energy production from cellulosic biofeed stocks. In the field of bioenergy, Pakistan should seek help from the developed countries where this sector is flourishing. In this connection, we should strengthen our biotechnology sector with enhanced foreign technical and research collaboration, engagement of national and international donors and investors to play an active role in the product-oriented biotechnology establishment in order to contribute in the socio-economic development of the country.

In the light of the above discussion, it is need of the hour to design a multi-pronged strategy based on short and long term planning for creation of new energy resources that ensure our future energy security.

As a short term strategy, the government should take immediate steps towards power generation through establishment of wind mills in the mountainous areas of FATA, Swat and Chitral in the KPK and coastal areas in Sindh and Balochistan. Our neighbors, India and China are currently producing very large amount of electricity from wind mills; China, 62,000 MW and India, 11,000 MW. Pakistan should seek technical assistance from both India and China in the field of wind energy. The government should also pursue and materialize the Pak-Iran gas pipeline project without bothering pressure from the USA or any other country, as this project is vital for our present and future energy needs. In addition, we should also try to approach the central Asian countries and get access to their huge energy resources at the expense of providing trade corridor through the Gwadar Port.

However, this should be a long term strategy as it is tightly connected with establishing peace and security in the overall region including our tribal belt bordering Afghanistan. On the nuclear side, serious efforts are required to seek international assistance on obtaining civilian nuclear technology through effective foreign policy.

One way to achieve this is to further expand the current technical and financial assistance, we are extracting from China in the field of civilian nuclear technology. In this regard, other countries such as the European countries should also be approached for such agreements. In addition, work on the ongoing and future small dams construction with Chinese technical and financial assistance should be accelerated to bride the current deficit between power production and consumption. Most importantly, future energy planning should target bio-energy production from agricultural biofeed stocks. The world has so far excelled and accomplished significant achievements in the field of bio-energy production. For this purpose, the biotechnology sector should be strengthened to achieve targets including quality research, and fast development and commercialization of transgenic plants with high capacity bio-fuel production, important for future energy security and socio-economic development of the country.

In addition to the discussed points, it is highly important to restructure and make WAPDA an effective and efficient organization through reducing line losses, curbing electricity theft, efficient recoveries and formulation and implementation of strict laws to bring the culprits to justice. Electricity theft is a common practice, especially in our rural areas, where writ of the government is comparatively difficult to establish.

On the parallels, electricity saving in houses, offices and other places using energy savers and need based technology should be practiced, which is already in place in the developed countries.

Sayyar Khan Kazi

Writer is Assistant Professor at The University of Agriculture, Peshawar, sayyary2k@hotmail.com.

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