Time to invest in a solar detonation

Published: February 26, 2016
The writer is a senior political economist based in Islamabad

The writer is a senior political economist based in Islamabad

My dear Prime Minister.

The inauguration by you of the world’s first solar-powered parliament building the other day, is important in more ways than one. First, it will be a constant reminder to the legislators of the largest potential source of energy. Secondly, and your statement recognised this, the resolution of the shortage of electricity will have to be gradual. There are no affordable quick-fixes here. Thirdly, Pakistan’s own base of fossil fuels is limited. Importing oil, gas and coal in the medium term is a necessity, but long-term dependence on these sources sows the seeds of unstable growth. The twin deficits of balance of payments and fiscal balance, together with the unsustainable debt, will keep fuelling our economic vulnerabilities. Fourthly, while hydropower does not pollute the air, it does cause massive displacements and costly ecological imbalance. Finally, the nuclear power has its own hazards.

In this background, Mr Prime Minister, while you can keep working towards fulfilling your promise of significantly reducing power cuts by 2018, it is strategically important to take a longer-term view of the energy situation. Something similar to the creation of nuclear capability has to be done. You had demonstrated the courage to detonate. Solar detonation requires no less. What is needed is a safe, secure and continuous source of energy located within the country. The only inexhaustible source we have is the sun. No upstream or downstream issues are involved here. There is a very small market in Pakistan for solar solutions right now, but the opportunities will know no bounds because this has the potential to become the cheapest alternative that can solve our energy problems.

This writer had proposed a Solar 2020 Project some years ago (ET, April 13, 2013). As nothing has happened since, it will now have to be a Solar 2025 Project. Solar is still a costly source of energy. The objective of the Project would be to collect a group of outstanding Pakistani experts, including expatriates, and task them to achieve cost-effective solar solutions to meet our growing energy demand and make Pakistan a major exporter of solar energy solutions and equipment. Like the nuclear project, money should not be allowed to be a constraint. Beg, borrow or steal, no questions asked. This was the policy that helped Pakistan achieve the nuclear threshold. Something similar ought to be done to achieve energy security. Parliament should pass a consensus law to cover an upfront annual allocation of a substantial sum of money, besides ensuring complete autonomy of management. All parties should sign an agreement to spare the Project any criticism until 2025.

Dear Prime Minister, the economy needs a radical breakthrough to join the high-growth league of countries, which can be provided by cheap energy and a niche in the export market. Solar power can help us achieve this aim. Currently, it is a negligible contributor to the global energy supply, though its contribution is projected to rise by 20 to 40 times, by 2020. Its engineering, economics and policy still need innovation, research and development and we need to employ the same zeal and consensus that was demonstrated when we were trying to achieve the nuclear threshold. There is currently a worldwide scramble to ensure energy security. The established, as well as the emerging powers, are investing to ensure that ready supplies are available to them in the future. China and Brazil have entered the solar field in a big way. Germany is currently the leader. There is still room for new entrants.

Let there be a solar detonation now, Mr Prime Minister.

Published in The Express Tribune, February 26th,  2016.

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Reader Comments (3)

  • SM
    Feb 26, 2016 - 11:56AM

    Solar PV is not “expensive” anymore. Nepra announced the tariff in Dec 15 in the range of Rs10-11/kWh. The government needs not to focus much on the price now, it has to determine realistic renewable energy targets. It’ll be then the market that will grow; the cost will decrease in response.
    Fossil fuels, as you mentioned are not “quick-fixes.” Because once you construct a coal or LNG project you’ll lock yourself in those technologies for the next 2-3 decades. The time to promote renewables is NOW!Recommend

  • Mansoor
    Feb 26, 2016 - 4:52PM

    What we need is a mix of energy sources powering our electricity grid. Right now we are tilted heavily in favour of thermal power plants and the fuel they use is derived from crude oil so our economy is heavily dependent on the price of crude oil in the global market. We need to diversify away from that. Coal is one option, hydro electricity is another and solar and wind are options too. What we don’t want to do is replace one dependency with another. If we invest in solar only then that is what will happen.

    How could depending on solar power alone hurt us in future? Perhaps fossil fuel prices will remain low for an extended time period and our competitors will enjoy lower electricity prices than us because of it. Perhaps climate change will make solar panels installed in Pakistan less efficient at generating electricity.

    It is impossible to know what the future holds. All we know is that the lesson of the past is that we should diversify our sources of energy.Recommend

  • Haji Atiya
    Feb 26, 2016 - 7:28PM

    You gotta read between the lines–he’s talking about H-bombs.Recommend

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