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Why renewable energy is important to Pakistan?

Energy challenges are among the greatest world has to face in the coming decade. This is due to the fact that economic competitiveness fully depends on a reliable, safe, secure and sustainable energy supply that is linked with not only to the strategic economic growth but also to the improvement of the social infrastructure of the world. If the world economy expands to meet the aspirations of countries around the globe, energy demand is likely to increase even if strenuous efforts are made to increase the efficiency of energy use. Given adequate support, renewable energy technologies can meet much of the growing demand at prices lower than those usually forecast for conventional energy. Renewable energy technologies (i.e., Solar, Wind, Bio, Hydro, Ocean and Hydrogen and Fuel) are clean sources of energy that have a much lower environmental impact than conventional energy technologies. Furthermore, renewable energy makes the world stronger and provides necessary support to get rid of our over-dependence on oil, while strengthens our economy and defense capability. Contrary to more traditional sources of energy that are finite and will someday to come be depleted, renewable energy will not run out over an indefinite period of time. For countries like Pakistan (rich in natural resources and with a population of over 180 millions), the importance of renewable energy becomes even more critical due to the fact of limited hydro potential and conflicting mindset of our feudal elite from the point of view of water resource management. Furthermore a growing disparity between energy demands and supply in Pakistan over a period of time, further poses threat to our long term survivability and existence as a just nation. With this in mind, it’s a time to rethink and chalk out a visionary strategy (with prompt action before our national demise) defining a roadmap of energy supply for ourselves, for our next generations and for the sake of country national stability and security. A rich natural potential of renewable energy resource is already there, the question only lies how to actualize this in practice. Considering geographical and climatic conditions, Pakistan is well placed for more plausible but technological matured renewable energy source like Wind (both onshore and offshore wind energy), Photovoltaic (PV) technology and Biomass.

Only wind energy source in fact has capacity to collectively produce over 150,000 MW of electricity in Pakistan (even 140,000 MW is possible in Sindh) according to recent USAID report. Pre-requisite for producing and utilizing wind energy is the availability of necessary wind speed. An average acceptable wind speed in most parts of the world lies from 6.2 – 6.9 m/s (fair category) and 7.0 – 7.4 m/s (good category). Interestingly, wind speed in some parts of Pakistan (e.g., Sindh corridor, Baluchistan and some northern areas) touches even excellent category of wind speed (i.e. more than 7.4 m/s). While the first 50 MW wind project is just inaugurated (but not operational yet) in Jhimpir, several such micro projects are needed to fully exploit the true potential of our wind energy generation capacity. Due to more favorable climatic conditions in Pakistan, solar PV possesses almost infinite potential on the other hand to generate electricity in Pakistan. Leveled cost of electricity generation from different sources of energy as of today (From “US Department of Energy Estimates 2012” published in annual Energy Outlook) are 9.96 for conventional coal, 6.87 for natural gas, 11.2 for nuclear, 9.96 for geothermal, 9.0 for biomass, 9.6 for onshore wind, 15.6 for solar PV, and 8.9 for hydro in Cents/kWh. An ongoing current dramatic price reductions (due to overcapacity of Silicon in 2011-2012) in the Photovoltaic (PV) industry have been causing a number of other power sources to become less interesting and hence strengthening belief that PV is the fastest growing source of power in the world. Prices for solar modules (which contribute 40 % of total PV system installed cost) the part of solar panels that produce electricity will continue to fall in line with the long-term trend since 1980 thus offering far more competitiveness than it is today. The experts forecast a large expansion of the amount of installed solar power, increasing more than 10 times over the decade from 2010 to 2020, an expansion that will continue at a similar rate until 2025. Third potential source of important energy is the Biomass: power plants across the country that burn wood and agricultural waste to generate electricity for industries and residents. The cost of energy produced from biomass depends on the type of biomass being utilized, the type of energy being produced (heat, electricity or fuel), the technology used and the size of the plant. Power plants that burn biomass directly can generate electricity at a cost of 7 to 9 cents per kilowatt-hour.

These rich sources of electricity generation potentially available in the country need special attention and incentives from Government in order to comply with growing energy demands of the country. Some measures need to be taken from the Government side in the form of tax discount, subsidies, lucrative incentives, investor confidence and management support so as to encourage people to invest in these areas in order to meet the energy demands by themselves. Equally important is the introduction of a culture of awareness (through media) of these energy sources to invest in these two areas at micro level (small villages or towns) so as to meet energy demands through installing small wind forms (kW size) and medium solar parks by themselves. Fortunately, there is a lot of availability of empty land in the country side in Pakistan where such initiatives are potentially, economically and technologically feasible. Above all, a unified private-public partnership is needed to actualize renewable energy sources available in the country. What is needed now on urgent basis is the reversal of previous energy policies and better energy resource management in order to boost industrial growth (by providing clean and green energy) that is limited now a days due to depleting oil and gas reserves and price hike.

With a spirit of national interest, author hopes that the new Government will take necessary measures to think and define the visionary roadmap for renewable energy sources in the country particularly when new Prime Minister has prioritized this issue at the top.

Dr. Muhammad Nawaz

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