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Solar power option

Published on 22nd Dec, Edition 51, 2014

 

Although sufficiently provided with natural resources like water, coal and sunshine, our energy issues remain unresolved even after 67 years of the creation of Pakistan. This has been one of the major failings of our leadership. We have failed to draw a line between pressing national needs and trivial political issues. Leaving the decision of making dams in the hands of divided political leadership is nothing short of suicidal. And suicide we have already committed.

We have rivers capable of producing 50,000 MW of cheap electricity, but end up with hardly 10 percent capacity utilization. We have 185 billion tons of coal but are still far from deciding on the utility level of this natural wealth. Conflicting claims on the efficacy and quality of this reserve is what we come across time and again. We have gone nuclear but are still unable to produce optimum quantity of nuclear civil energy. Wind and sunshine, the nature’s bountiful gifts go waste in the absence of scientifically purposeful utilization. On the green and renewable energy side, solar power remains a neglected option.

The $60 million Chinese funded, 1.8 MW solar power project to lighten (rather enlighten) Islamabad parliament should be a trend-setting development. The government having saved on its future energy bills, should now think of passing the benefits of solar option on to its people by extending the use of solar power to the off-grid household users which comprise 44% of the total population. There are a number of programs on paper to substantially add alternative renewable energy to the grid combined with the tapering down of fossil fuel energy production. By 2030, Pakistan is supposed to produce 10,000 MW of renewable energy. A sizeable portion of this planned addition to the grid should go to solar power. In the existing power mix, the contribution of wind and solar energy is almost negligible.

Table showing Pakistan’s existing power-mix capacity
INSTALLED CAPACITY: 22,800 MW; AVERAGE DEMAND: 17,000 MW; SHORTAGE: 4,000 TO 7,000 MW
ELECTRICITY PRODUCTION BASECAPACITY IN MW%
Fossil Fuel14,63564.2
Hydro6,61129
Nuclear1,3225.8
Others2321

While Japan, China, Iran, India and Central Asian countries have been willing to improve Pakistan’s energy supply position, our governance style hardly allows us to give attention to such “mundane” affairs that incidentally are linked to our economic and social uplift. High-pitched political promises made during election campaign are erased from the memory once the entry to power corridors is secured. While Pakistan is naturally suited to wind and solar power projects, little has been done to encourage private sector investment in this promising field of economy.

 

Solar power is an emerging energy option for the world’s leading industrialized countries with China, Germany, USA and Japan in the lead. According to Wikipedia, the worldwide photovoltaic power capacity grew by 38% in 2013 when the production level went up to 139 GW. Under photovoltaic systems, solar panels are used to produce DC electric power. The corresponding CSP or Concentrated Solar Power systems use solar thermal energy to produce steam. Leading industrial countries have made substantive efforts to add solar power to their grid systems. The details of major world solar plants operating under the two systems are as follows:

Table showing major world solar plants
PLACESYSTEMPLANT NAMECAPACITY
ArizonaPhotovoltaicAgua Caliente Solar Project250MW (up to 290 MW)
CaliforniaPhotovoltaicCalifornia Valley Solar Ranch250MW
ChinaPhotovoltaicGolmud Solar Park200MW
IndiaPhotovoltaicWelspun Energy Neemuch150MW
ArizonaPhotovoltaicMesquite Solar Project150 MW
GermanyPhotovoltaicNeuhardenberg Solar Park145 MW
GermanyPhotovoltaicTemplin Solar Park128MW
FrancePhotovoltaicToulRosieres Solar Park115 MW
UkrainePhotovoltaicPerovo Solar Park100 MW
USASolar ThermalSolar Energy generating Systems354 MW
SpainSolar ThermalSolnova Solar Power Station150 MW
UAESolar ThermalShams Solar Power (Phase-1)100 MW

One encouraging aspect is that the solar power production cost follows a declining pattern over time making the attainment of grid parity easier. Grid parity is the breakeven point of the costs of solar and grid powers. This is easy to achieve in countries with abundant sunshine and higher grid power prices. Pakistan with 320 sunny days a year and 8 hours a day of sunshine is a sure starter for solar energy development projects. Our future energy programs should incorporate solar power as an important component in the national grid system.

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