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Exploring solar energy option

Published on 22nd Dec, Edition 51, 2014


There can’t be two opinions regarding changing energy mix of Pakistan, presently heavily skewed towards fossil oil. However, it is yet to be decided which of the alternatives is cost efficient and economically viable. One of the much talked about option is solar power option. On the face value and keeping in view Pakistan’s climatic conditions the option looks attractive.

The other benefits are: 1) installation in far flung areas which are still not connected to national grid and construction of transmission and distribution lines is too capital intensive, 2) capital cost may be high but running cost is very low, 3) photovoltaic (PV) cells could be imported at modest cost and 3) local production can also be undertaken by forming joint ventures and entering into technology transfer arrangement.

It is often said that in Pakistan one still find some ‘islands of excellence’ and often foreign investors have more confidence in the country as compared to the local investors. In this regards one could cite two examples pertaining to deployment of solar power as workable option. These are installation of a solar plant at Pakistan Secretariat and at a private school.

Islands of excellence

On May 29, 2012 Pakistan has stepped ahead by inaugurating the first-ever solar power on-grid power plant in Islamabad. The project titled “Introduction of Clean Energy by Solar Electricity Generation System” is a special grant aid project of Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) under Cool Earth Partnership. This project includes the installation of 178.08 kW Photovoltaic (PV) Solar Systems each at the premises of Planning Commission and Pakistan Engineering Council, Islamabad, which would cater to the needs of both, the Planning Commission and Pakistan Engineering Council Buildings. Combining the generation capacity of both the PV systems, a total of 356.16 kW of electricity can be generated by the entire setup.

This is the first on-grid solar PV project, which has the arrangement of net-metering thereby allowing the beneficiaries to sell the surplus electricity to Islamabad Electric Supply Company (IESCO), the electricity distribution company of Islamabad Division. The Project is executed with the grant assistance worth 480 million yen (approx. Rs553.63 million) in three years of time commencing from 2010.

Another big achievement was Beaconhouse installed the first-ever high quality, integrated solar energy system with a 10 KW power generation capacity capable of grid tie-in at Beaconhouse Canal Side Campus, Lahore. It was a pilot project for BSS, based upon feasibility by the US Trade and Development Agency (USTDA) and designed by the US Consultants.

Available technology

In fact Pakistan will not be the first to exploit solar energy potential. Many industrialized nations have installed significant solar power capacity into their grids to supplement or provide an alternative to conventional energy sources. Long distance transmission allows remote renewable energy resources to displace fossil fuel consumption. Solar power plants use one of two technologies: 1) Photovoltaic systems use solar panels, either on rooftops or as ground-mounted PV power stations, converting sunlight directly into DC power and 2) concentrated solar power plants use solar thermal energy to make steam that is thereafter converted into electricity by a turbine.

Worldwide growth of photovoltaic is extremely dynamic and varies strongly by country. In 2013, China, followed by Japan and the United States, has been the leader of new PV installations and ranks now second behind world leader Germany. The worldwide photovoltaic capacity grew by 38 percent to a total of 139 GW.


Experience of others

The development of solar power by any country depends on national economic incentives rather than available sun light. In this regard on can look at the growing deployment of solar energy in India, which has almost similar climatic conditions that of Pakistan.

India is densely populated and has bright sunshine, offering an ideal combination for using solar power in the country. In the solar energy sector, some large projects have been proposed, and a 35,000 km2 area of the Thar Desert has been set aside for solar power projects, sufficient to generate 700 GW to 2,100 GW.

In July 2009, India unveiled a US$19 billion plan to produce 20 GW of solar power by 2020. Under the plan, the use of solar-powered equipment and applications would be made compulsory in all government buildings, as well as hospitals and hotels. On 18 November, 2009, it was reported that India was ready to launch its National Solar Mission under the National Action Plan on Climate Change, with plans to generate 1,000 MW of power by 2013.

According to a 2011 report India is facing a perfect storm of factors that would drive solar photovoltaic (PV) adoption at a “furious pace over the next five years and beyond”. The falling prices of PV panels, mostly from China but also from the US have coincided with the growing cost of grid power in India. Government support and ample solar resources have also helped to increase solar adoption, but perhaps the biggest factor has been need. India, as a growing economy with a surging middle class, is now facing a severe electricity deficit that often runs between 10 and 13 percent of daily need. Current total grid connected solar capacity in India stood at 2,632 MW as on March 31, 2014.

It is encouraging to note that Pakistan is setting up a solar power park, funded by the Chinese company TBEA, in the Cholistan desert near Yazman, about 30 kilometers from the eastern city of Bahawalpur. The solar project, which is to be set up on 5,000 acres, would produce 1,000 MW when completed. The first phase would be the development of eight projects of 50 Megawatts each. There are opportunities as the country suffers from twin problem high cost of thermal generation and resistance against construction of mega size hydel power plants.


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