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Harnessing the Sun: The Solar Revolution Sweeping Pakistan

The current solar energy contribution to the country's total production capacity stands at 1120 MW, surpassing one percent of the total production.
by Muhammad Fahim - 26 Feb, 2024 1711
harnessing-the-sun-the-solar-revolution-sweeping-pakistan

Muhammad Fahim

Nabi Jan, a resident of 'Musafar Kaly' in the suburbs of Peshawar, walks with the aid of crutches due to a semi-disability in both legs. Despite this, he harbors a strong desire and determination to acquire a solar panel and a solar fan for his home. His goal is to ensure a comfortable environment, especially when guests visit, by having a reliable source of fan-powered ventilation.

On the other hand, David Jani in Charsadda is delighted to have installed a 3KV solar system in his house. His decision stems from shared experiences with Nabi Jan, both having endured the scorching heat and prolonged electricity outages last year. The distressing situation etched in David's memory prompted him to take control of his energy needs.

Unlike Nabi Jan, David is well aware of the alarming environmental changes. Experts, including those from the UN, have declared 2023 as the hottest year on record. The fear lingers that 2024 might surpass the heat records set in 2023. David attributes this intensifying heat to the overarching issue of climate change.

Also Read: Lakki Marwat’s Tajori Elders Declare Polio Vaccine Boycott Amidst Electricity Woes

Furthermore, David expresses his satisfaction at having fulfilled a long-standing goal during the winter. He invested approximately four and a half to five lakh rupees in a 3KV solar system. The cost breakdown reveals a price of Rs 57 per KV, with a high-quality 560 KV panel amounting to Rs 31,920. David recalls that in the summer of the previous year, the market rate was Rs 75 per kilovolt, making the panel cost around Rs 42,000.

Delving into the specifics, David emphasizes that he didn't compromise on the quality of the equipment he procured. This includes six panels worth Rs.191,520, two stands costing about sixteen or seventeen thousand each, an inverter valued between one hundred and thirty thousand to one hundred and fifty thousand, two tubular batteries priced at one hundred and five or one hundred and ten thousand rupees, and additional components like breakers and wiring amounting to Rs. 30,000.

In the realm of environmental journalism, Muhammad Daud Khan sheds light on the energy challenges Pakistan faces. The country grapples with a high demand for electricity and a scarcity in supply. Line losses exacerbate the issue, as the government provides more electricity than it receives payment for due to theft and inefficient billing. While areas like Upper Chitral, Upper Dir, and Upper Swat lack the rivers necessary for micro-hydropower projects, regions such as Peshawar, Mardan, Malakand Divisions, Bannu, and DI Khan, bask in abundant sunlight, presenting ample opportunities for solar energy adoption.

Khan observes a positive trend in the increasing adoption of solar energy by individuals. He notes the prevalence of solar systems on almost every house along the Peshawar ring road. Despite the enthusiasm for solar energy, financial constraints hinder many from transitioning to solar plants. Wealthier individuals, however, take the lead in installing solar plants, either in their existing homes or during the construction of new ones.

Daud Khan underscores the global trend toward green energy, noting that many countries have halted new dam constructions. In contrast, Pakistan continues to build dams for power generation and agricultural needs, using methods like damming rivers or diverting them, as seen in projects like Neelam Jhelum and Bhasha dams. He highlights the severe environmental consequences of these practices, including disruptions to the natural river flow, ecosystem destruction, aquatic life impact, and agricultural consequences, such as a decline in the water table.

Advocating for a shift to micro-hydro projects in Pakistan, Daud Khan emphasizes the ample sunlight in regions like Balochistan, Sindh, Punjab, and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. He urges the establishment of local solar panel manufacturing plants to reduce costs, making 3KV or 5KV solar systems accessible to everyone.

Currently, high prices, exacerbated by the importation of solar panels from Europe or China, make it challenging for most people to afford more than one or two panels, along with a battery for basic lighting and ventilation. Individuals with larger budgets can opt for 3KV, 5KV, or 10KV systems to power heavier loads like refrigerators or air conditioners.

Asif, an environmentalist, aligns with Daud Khan's perspective, declaring Pakistan, especially Balochistan, as ideal for solar energy. He calls for tax reductions and discouragement of low-quality panels to curb future waste issues. Asif advocates for subsidies to promote solarization, emphasizing the need to simplify and promote net metering. He also suggests a review of subsidies on 'peak hour rates' to further encourage solar adoption.

An Afghan importer, dealing in solar panels and essential goods from China, sheds light on financial challenges due to high tariffs on essential goods and the closure of the Torkham border. Despite the government imposing no duties on solar panels, economic conditions make it difficult for a significant majority to afford a complete solar system.

Notably, there are currently nine commissioned solar projects totaling 630 MW in different areas of Punjab and Sindh. Additionally, six more projects of 192 MW are set to commence soon.

Similarly, five projects of 203.50 MW are in progress in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, including two in the Kolachi area of DI Khan (50 MW each), one project of 3.5 MW, one project of 50 MW in Nowshera, and a 50 MW project in the Lachi area of Kohat. Work has already commenced on some of these projects, while others are slated to begin soon, contributing to the growing solar energy landscape in Pakistan.

The Indicative Generation Capacity Expansion Plan (IGCEP) from the National Transmission and Dispatch Company (NTDC) is outlined in the following table:

Technology      Installed Capacity (2023) (MW)     Installed Capacity (2031) (MW)

Thermal (Coal +RLNG +RFO+Gas)         25409                        21260

Nuclear                                                 3620                         3620

Cross border                                             0                            1000

Hydel                                                     10847                       22701

Solar                                                       1120                        12926

Wind                                                      1840                          6767

Bagasse                                                   362                           394

Total                                                        43198                       68,668

 

This data showcases the current and proposed capacities for various energy technologies in Pakistan.

The current solar energy contribution to the country's total production capacity stands at 1120 MW, surpassing one percent of the total production. However, the target set in the Indicative Generation Capacity Expansion Plan (IGCEP) is an ambitious 12926 MW. Experts caution against hasty implementation, emphasizing the need to navigate potential obstacles and difficulties to avoid undesirable outcomes.

An anonymous senior official from WAPDA acknowledges that solar power is well-suited for the peak hours of summer, from 11 am to 5 pm, when sunlight is intense. However, he outlines significant challenges hindering its widespread adoption in Pakistan. The high capital cost for installation, the necessity for substantial space, sensitivity to sun position and weather conditions, the impact of dirt accumulation on panels, and the expense of solar energy storage through batteries are key hurdles. While China introduces modern batteries, their affordability is limited to wealthy countries, leaving Pakistan in a financially constrained position. Moreover, the recurrent need to import panels and materials adds to the overall cost.

The official suggests that while solar energy is crucial for temporary usage, hydel power remains the most viable long-term option. The Indus River alone holds immense potential to not only meet but exceed the country's power requirements.

A senior official from the Ministry of Water and Power aligns with this perspective, drawing on the negative experience of imported coal plants. He proposes shifting the responsibility for solar projects and contracts to the private sector (IPPs) in Pakistan, ensuring local production of solar panels and accessories. Making it mandatory to establish solar panel plants, he underscores the importance of genuine reforms to address power theft. While acknowledging the move towards solarization, he emphasizes that this alone is not a permanent solution, advocating for the establishment of local solar and micro-turbine industries to overcome the energy crisis permanently.

Note: The story is produced under the supervision of Mr. Tayyeb Afridi and in collaboration with Report for the World.