With the world working towards an effort to limit global greenhouse gas emissions to prevent irrevocable damage from an increase in global temperatures by 2 degrees centigrade, expansion in renewable energy has become all the more crucial. However, the need for renewable energy is no longer singularly linked with climate change and clean air, but it is linked to; 1) economic prosperity, 2) preventing structural violence against the least well off, 3) prevention of conflict, and 4) a solution to energy shortages in a world of finite resources. It is considered likely that the world will begin to experience significant shortages of conventional petroleum by the second and third decade of the 21st century.

Pakistan is one low-income country suffering from huge energy deficits that are not being met even with its primary source – oil and gas. 80% of its electricity is produced through fossil fuel combustion. A country that has foreign debts, a declining economy, and is riddled with economic, structural and physical violence and state terrorism, the added lack of energy in the country further fuels the conflagration. Tempers rage and frustrations rise, feeding crime and even more violence. It also exacerbates the provincial divide in the nation when the illustrious Punjab remains the most prestigious, favoured and prosperous province when compared to the rest of the nation.

The country lost 7% of its GDP (approximately $13 million) in 2015 due to constant power outages and load-shedding. 500,000 households are facing the problem of unemployment as businesses have been forcefully shutdown. $286 million is the approximate expenditure on Uninterruptable Power Supplies (UPS) and battery chargers alone. Gas and oil reserves are estimated to only last another 10 and 9 years, respectively in the country. Currently, the rural areas (with an estimated 70% of the total population) still depend upon biomass for cooking and heating purposes such as dung cakes, agricultural residue, kerosene lamps, crop roots and wood to cater to household needs. This further worsens the problem of deforestation and ecological damage, as well as proves the existence of an unequal societal structure. The World Bank has also found that 45 percent of households in rural areas still use kerosene as a primary or secondary source of lighting.

Demand is increasing 10% annually with shortfalls also increasing every year. This increase in demand is attributed largely to the domestic sector which has grown 9%. According to the World Bank, some 44% of households in Pakistan are not even connected to the national grid. These communities spend an estimated $2.3 billion per year on items such as candles and kerosene.

Electricity theft, as a result of consistent power outages, has also seen a rise (including in wealthy areas of the country). Individuals have unlicensed access to electricity lines and do not pay bills, adding to the problem of circular debt, which accumulated to $8 billion in 2012. Changes in the international oil market also projects constant pressure on the economy of the country, as wavering prices fluctuates the per unit cost of electricity.

Pakistan is a country that could truly benefit from solar renewable energy as it is considered to have one of the highest solar insulation on Earth. Studies have indicated that the nation experiences up to 200 W/m2 of solar radiation in most parts of its territory, except for the northern most and coastal regions. Day lengths average 12-14 hours in summer with 8-10 hours in winter. On average, daytime lasts about 10 hours with an average solar radiation intensity ranging from 1500W/m2/day to 2750W/m2/day, with maximum radiation coming from Southern Punjab, Sindh and Balochistan. In an area of 100 m2, 45 MW to 83 MW power per month can potentially be generated in these regions. The total potential for renewable energy in Pakistan is about 167700 MW which is over 8 times more than the total electricity demand of 19000 MW of the country.

A study conducted by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL), USA reported that there exists in the nation a solar energy potential of 2.9 million MW. Solar energy market stands to grow from $79.7 billion to $123.7 billion and with Germany setting massive precedents worldwide in renewable energy . Pakistan could truly take advantage of this growing field. Comparatively, solar energy is also the only renewable energy option that can be constructed in the shortest time period without excessive investment such as for geo-thermal or hydal power.

People should be encouraged to delve into individual or community (shared) energy stations. Empowered with the know-how on solar energy establishment, whole communities could come together and share in investments and expenses to lessen the load. For individually powered homes, the net energy produced (i.e the surplus to their household requirement) could be sold to neighbours or solar panels could be leased to them. Public private partnerships could benefit one another through this net metering as well, such as an industry selling surplus energy to nearby communities or vice versa. Alternatively, surplus energy could also be transferred back to the national grid. This should immediately send signals to government and utility agencies on the moves they should be making. As witnessed in Germany, energy utility companies may have to face solar competitiveness as individual/independent solar PVS are on the rise.

The time to do this now couldn’t be better when the private solar market in Pakistan has steadily begun to grow – the private sector has imported 350 MW of solar panels in 2013. For projects under 1 MW, net metering (surplus energy production) regulations came into effect in 2015. The private sector is targeting 1 million customers and adding an estimated 3000 MW of solar power via net metering. Investor interests have increased since 2014 and recent tariff determinations by the National Electric Power Regulatory Authority (NEPRA) means more projects are expected. There exists a tax exemption on the import of PhotoVoltaic (PV) modules given by the Alternative Energy Development Board (AEDB) which has resulted in a sharp rise in the imports of solar panels in the country. Our friend and neighbour, China (currently making the biggest global move toward renewable energy itself) has begun making the cheapest solar PV panels in the world. The previous Rate of Return (RoI) on solar investment took 7 years, but with breakthroughs in solar technology, now it may take less than 3.

Individual households in Pakistan should be taking advantage of this situation, and should install solar panels to cater to their needs. In doing so utility bills will go down, UPS and generator costs can be bid adieu and ultimately reduce the load on the national grid. This could give room to utility agencies and the government to work toward ending the circular debt and clamp down on energy thieves. Approximately, 67% of domestic energy consumption stems from inefficient appliances such as lights and fans. Consequently, it is estimated that, 39% of load-shedding can be reduced by simply making use of energy efficient fans and 47% by the use of energy efficient bulbs. A simple fan working at night in the heat of the summer, would ensure a decent night’s sleep that would then ensure better productivity of the individual and, by extension, the nation.

 

The writer is a graduate student at New York University (NYU).