As the world wakes up to the reality of climate change and expanding energy demand, electricity will increasingly have to come from renewable sources such as wind and solar. To follow the course to a greener energy future, Pakistan is in a good position to exploit these alternatives because it has abundant wind and sun.
Societies across the globe are developing technologically advanced and have become increasingly dependent on external energy sources for domestic cooking, transportation, the production of many manufactured goods, and the delivery of services. This energy allows people who can afford the cost to live under otherwise unfavourable climatic conditions through the use of heating, ventilation, and/or air conditioning. As a consequence, energy demand has tremendously increased over a period of time.
The growing production and consumption of energy places a wide range of pressures on the environment and public health. Energy security, energy efficiency and environmental sustainability are currently the buzzwords extensively being highlighted in the debates related to energy and environment. Renewable energy provides sustainable solution to all these issues.
Renewable energy is energy which comes from natural resources such as sunlight, wind, rain, water, biomass and geothermal heat, which are renewable (naturally replenished). Renewable energy is an alternative to fossil fuels and nuclear power. It is also termed as alternative energy.
Pakistan is meeting its energy needs derived from five main sources i.e. oil (36%), natural gas (27%), hydroelectricity (32%), coal & nuclear power (5%). Energy consumption pattern shows that industrial sector consumes large part of the energy followed by the transport; domestic & commercial; and agriculture sectors. The country currently acquires most of the electricity from private power plants that mainly depend on fossil fuels (oil & gas). In view of depleting oil and gas reserves and rising international oil market prices, there has been price hike and a huge gap between demand and supply of the electricity. As a consequence, consumers are facing burden of the power load-shedding and they are also paying huge bills.
Renewable energy in Pakistan is a relatively underdeveloped sector. Most of the renewable energy in Pakistan comes from hydroelectricity. In recent years, there has been some interest by environmentalist groups and from the authorities to explore new renewable energy resources for energy production, in light of the on-going energy crises and power shortages affecting the country.
There have been some efforts to install and expand the use of solar energy in Pakistan. The Alternate Energy Development Board (AEDB) completed projects whereby villagers that received solar panels were also given solar cookers. AEDB reports that during the project, deforestation decreased by 80% near the villages and the cookers were also made in Pakistan, which generated local economic growth. In all provinces the AEDB has created 100 solar homes in order to exploit solar energy.
Given the surplus potential in wind energy, Pakistan has been engaged in wind related projects as well. In recent years, the government has completed several wind energy projects and the success in this regard demonstrates that wind energy is viable in the country. In Mirpur Sakro, 85 micro turbines have been installed to power 356 homes. In Kund Malir, 40 turbines have been installed, which power 111 homes. The AEDB has also acquired 18,000 acres for the installation of more wind turbines. The government is also developing wind power plants in Jhimpir, Gharo, Keti Bandar and Bin Qasim in Sindh.
It is obviously evident that Pakistan is a suitable country for the renewable energy. Hence, alternate energy options should be exploited on war-footing. Apart from on-going programmes and projects by the government, a substantial investment and policy support is needed for a successful energy transition to renewables. Private sector must be engaged and transition target should be achieved through private-public partnerships. On top of it all, the success very much depends on political will of the country’s leadership and coordinated efforts that are primary requisites in this context.
Now, while the generating capacity for additional hydroelectricity is limiting, coal power is being promoted since Pakistan has the fifth largest coal deposits in the world. However, the negative impacts of coal on local community and environment have been well documented. When power is produced from coal, sulphur dioxide and nitrous oxides are produced as well, which cause an increase in smog, ozone depletion and acid rain. Nitrous oxide is also a very powerful greenhouse gas. Even before the power is produced, the transportation of coal also impacts health due to the coal dust and the emissions from the vehicles. Lastly, the heavy metals from coal mine waste can seep into groundwater and rivers, of which there are many in use Pakistan. Due to these valid concerns, investing for coal energy is not recommended.
Pakistan also has some deposits of natural gas in the Pothowar Plateau region and near the border between Baluchistan and Sindh, but these are likely to disappear within 20 years and the country may not rely on this source of energy.
Renewable energy is thus the only cheap, environment friendly and viable option available for Pakistan for its secure and greener energy future.
Some countries, for instance Germany, have gone into a huge process of energy transition towards renewables. If we dig deep into queries like how does these models worked? What were the success-stories? What challenges they faced? Are these replicable? I’m sure we would have lots of vital lessens to learn from these models and devise a sustainable renewable energy strategy for Pakistan.
Solar energy makes much sense for Pakistan for several reasons. Pakistan is an exceptionally sunny country where the average amount of daily sunlight is nine and a half hours and there are a few cloudy days even in the wettest regions. According to a report, if 0.25% of Baluchistan was covered with solar panels with an efficiency of 20%, enough electricity would be generated to cover all of Pakistani demand.
Pakistan does have vast prospects for wind energy as well. Pakistan is fortunate to have high wind speeds near major metropolitan centres. Near Islamabad, for instance, the wind speed is anywhere from 6.2 to 7.4 metres per second (between 13.8 and 16.5 miles per hour) and near Karachi, the range is between 6.2 and 6.9 (between 13.8 and 15.4 miles per hour). In addition to Karachi and Islamabad, there are other areas in Pakistan that receive a significant amount of wind.
Only in the Baluchistan and Sindh provinces, sufficient wind exists to power every coastal village in the country. There also exists a corridor between Gharo and Keti Bandar that alone, as per reports, could produce between 40,000 and 50,000 megawatts of electricity.
In addition to wind and solar energy options, there could be some other renewable energy options available. Waste to energy development is one of these that have great potential in Pakistan. Every year, million tonnes of municipal solid waste and billion litters of sewage are generated in the urban areas of Pakistan. In addition, large quantities of solid and liquid wastes are generated by industries. The problems caused by solid and liquid wastes can be significantly mitigated through the adoption of environment-friendly waste-to-energy technologies that will allow treatment and processing of wastes before their disposal. These measures would reduce the quantity of wastes, generate a substantial quantity of energy from them, and greatly reduce environmental pollution.
The cost of waste to energy is somewhat higher than other renewable sources; it is still an attractive option especially for metropolitan cities, as it serves a dual role of waste disposal and energy production.
Energy efficiency and conservation is also an area where institutional as well as promotional efforts are needed to be done so as to motivate people towards saving energy. Replacing the normal incandescent light with energy saving fluorescence light, for instance, can reduce energy consumption by up to 60%.
In many Pakistani villages, firewood and animal dung is used for cooking fuel; however, this is causing widespread deforestation. Women are also forced to walk for many miles each day to gather wood. Then, their health suffers from the smoke emitted from cooking on wood fires. This trend of extracting fuel energy from traditional biomass (dry plants & firewood) for cooking/heating purposes also needs to be rationalized in view of depleting forests and the vegetative cover. Apart from solar and wind energy options, use of biogas energy and fuel efficient stoves should be promoted to conserve energy and the environment.
The government has set a target of 10% of energy to come from renewables by 2015. If it does follow through with aggressive capacity enhancements, Pakistan could be an Asian leader in renewable energy given its strategic endowments.
Author: Tahir Hasnain is a veteran researcher, writer and development practitioner serving the non-government development sector since two decades. Currently he works with Shirkat Gah as Programme Manager, Environment & Livelihood. He can be contacted at – firstname.lastname@example.org