Pakistan plans huge desert solar park to fight energy crisis

By AFP
Published: April 20, 2014

This photograph taken on February 17, 2014 shows a vechile entering the proposed site of the solar energy park at Badaiwani Wala . PHOTO: AFP

This photograph taken on February 17, 2014 shows a vechile entering the proposed site of the solar energy park at Badaiwani Wala . PHOTO: AFP This photograph taken on February 17, 2014 shows a Pakistani villager riding a tractor under high voltage lines at the proposed site of the solar energy park at Badaiwani Wala village. PHOTO: AFP

BADAIWANI WALA: For years Pakistanis have sweated and cursed through summer power cuts, but now the government plans to harness the sun’s ferocious heat to help tackle the country’s chronic energy crisis.

In a corner of the Cholistan desert in Punjab, power transmission lines, water pipes and a pristine new road cross 10,000 acres of parched, sandy land.

The provincial government has spent $5 million to put in place the infrastructure as it seeks to transform the desolate area into one of the world’s largest solar power parks, capable one day of generating up to 1,000 megawatts of electricity.

The desert park in Bahawalpur district is the latest scheme to tackle the rolling blackouts which have inflicted misery on people and strangled economic growth.

Temperatures can reach 50 degrees Celsius in the country’s centre in June and July, sending demand for electricity soaring and leaving a shortfall of around 4,000 MW.

“In phase one, a pilot project producing 100 MW of electricity will hopefully be completed by the end of this year,” Imran Sikandar Baluch, head of the Bahawalpur district administration, told AFP.

“After completion of the first 100 MW project, the government will invite investors to invest here for the 1,000 megawatts.”

Engineers and labourers are working in the desert under the scorching sun to complete the boundary wall, with authorities keen to begin generating solar electricity by November.

“If you come here after one and a half years, you will see a river of (solar) panels, residential buildings and offices — it will be a new world,” said site engineer Muhammad Sajid, gesturing to the desert.

Besides solar, Pakistan is also trying to tap its unexploited coal reserves — which lie in another area of the same desert, in Sindh.

In January Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif inaugurated construction on a $1.6 billion coal plant in the town of Thar.

Work has also begun on a pilot 660 megawatt coal-fired plant in Gadani, a small town on the Arabian Sea. Another 600 megawatt coal plant has also been given the go-ahead in the southern city of Jamshoro.

But while coal may offer a short-term fix to the energy crisis, authorities are keen to move to cleaner electricity in the long run.

“We need energy badly and we need clean energy, this is a sustainable solution for years to come,” said Baluch.

“Pakistan is a place where you have a lot of solar potential. In Bahawalpur, with very little rain and a lot of sunshine, it makes the project feasible and more economical,” he said.

Baluch believes that the new solar park will make Pakistan a leader in that energy in the region.

The initial pilot project is a government scheme but private investors are also taking an interest.

Raja Waqar of Islamabad-based Safe Solar Power is among them. His company plans to invest $10 million to build a 10 MW project in the new park.

“The government has allotted us land over here. Infrastructure — the transmission line and road are available here, that is why we are investing,” Waqar told AFP.

A million dollars per MW is a sizeable investment but Waqar said the company expected to reap returns on it over at least the next decade — and others were keen to get on board.

“There are up to 20 companies who are investing in this park and their projects are in the pipeline,” he said.

“Some of them are working on 50 MW, some on 10 and others on 20.”

But not everyone is so upbeat about the project.

Arshad Abbasi, an energy expert at Islamabad’s Sustainable Development Policy Institute (SDPI), said the cost of generating solar power from this project may be uneconomical for the government.

He also warned that buying in solar equipment from abroad made little economic sense.

“Had the government decided to establish more hydro or thermal plants in the country it would have generated more employment, business and construction opportunities,” he said.

And farmers in the area who scrape a living herding cattle on the unforgiving land are worried about their future.

“We don’t know if this energy park is good, the power will come or not, we only want the government to spare our area and allow us to continue living here with our cattle,” said Malik Jalal, a local villager.

Reader Comments (24)

  • Jibran
    Apr 20, 2014 - 5:34PM

    Solar energy is very expensive. Please do some homework before throwing away money on just creating solar parks.

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  • Waqar
    Apr 20, 2014 - 6:24PM

    If Gujarat in India can do it, so can Pakistan.

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  • Apr 20, 2014 - 6:55PM

    Why can’t they build a dam like three-gorges dam of China? The dam alone generates the 23,000 MW of electricity which is way more than Pakistan’s total demand!! Why do they always have to choose the most expensive set up?

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  • Rex Minor
    Apr 20, 2014 - 9:22PM

    It was the former military ruler who turned down the offer from the German Government for a similar project in Rawalpin, with the reasons that the solar panel replacement batteries will be too expensive.

    Rex Minor

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  • Bilal
    Apr 20, 2014 - 9:58PM

    @Jameel ur Rasheed

    You do know the three gorges cost over $25B, displaced millions

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  • Kala_bacha
    Apr 20, 2014 - 9:59PM

    I@Jameel ur Rasheed:

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  • Kala_bacha
    Apr 20, 2014 - 10:00PM

    Operation desert scam in progress. First rental power now solar power scam. Great awam and great leaders

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  • Gp65
    Apr 20, 2014 - 10:11PM

    1000 MW in 5 million dollars? Seriously ET. if solar electricity was so cheap there would be no energy shortage anywhere in the world and Saudis would not be as rich as they are. Please do a little fact checking before publishing stuff.

    @Jameel ur Rasheed:
    Where should the dam be built? You know that 3 provinces oppose the Kalabagh dam. Where Diamer Basha is concerned, it requires 13 billion dollars of funding and government has been unable to arrange it. Further between GB and KPK there is a dispute about that dam. Dasu dam can be built and it will be but pace will be slow due to fiscal constraints that Pakistan faces. While part kf the dam will be financed with loans from ADB and WBm. Ulk of financing will have to coe from Pakistan.

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  • krush
    Apr 20, 2014 - 10:21PM

    Precisely! “…buying in solar equipment from abroad made little economic sense”. But not unless your target is show-bazi !

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  • Aamer Khawaja
    Apr 20, 2014 - 10:37PM

    @Gp65:
    If you would’ve only bothered to read before jumping to comments section, this is what is says in the 3rd paragraph:
    “The provincial government has spent $5 million to put in place the infrastructure as it seeks to transform the desolate area into one of the world’s largest solar power parks, capable one day of generating up to 1,000 megawatts of electricity.”

    Simply translated: $5million infrastructure development kay liyay hain, jaisay kay roads, transmission lines, basic buildings etc.

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  • H Chaudhry
    Apr 20, 2014 - 11:23PM

    @Gp65 Comprehension challenge much? The $5 million price is to SETUP the infrastructure only that is the required water pipes, roads, etc. The actual panels and farm will be built later with cost much above this $ 5MM

    @Jibran yes Solar is expensive but what is cheap? Cheap and Expensive are in relation to something. In Pakistan, that something is no thing. When you have no electricity and infrastructure every thing is better. Solar is definitely expensive compared to nuclear, coal, dual cycle but problem is there is not much of that either. Government is taking a great step here to get something going. Solar is not the only option but it is one of the option as stated in article or energy policy.

    @Kala bacha Ok well Mr. Genius, what is the scam. Dont we have energy crisis? Dont we have more demand and less supply. Dont we have provincial issues with making dams which by the way cost a lot more with displacing masses. Dont we have already run out natural gas reserves and buying gas has been a challenge to fire dual cycle plants, also Doesnt it take good 5-10 years to extract coal and re-purpose existing plants to run on coal and btw Coal generates most GHG emissions. Problem is that you are an example of what is wrong with our society. We are a group of negative people who do not want to see positive in any thing.

    Give credit where its due, be balance and truthful. To solve Pakistan’s energy crisis, years of no planning and wrong demand functions, this solar park is one things that must be done among many others as listed in article.

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  • Kathy
    Apr 21, 2014 - 12:37AM

    Solar panels are the way to go, lot of western countries are investing in solar energy, even households are doing it themselves and are now free from any grid as they are able to generate energy themselves. You need to have solar panels installed once, there is rarely any management cost. I generate solar power through solar panels installed, so far no further cost to maintain. It is a one off investment. For a country suffering from energy crisis and death of its industry due to power shortage, solar energy is the way forward, not dams. Look at the water crisis Pakistan has, investing billions of dollars in hydro-electricity when water is going to be a big issue in future is problematic. People need to invest in solar industry and make these panels locally, it is a better option than having UPS and generators in each house.

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  • Strategic Asset
    Apr 21, 2014 - 12:46AM

    @Gp65: Not to mention that Diamer Basha dam is in India as that area is considered disputed.

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  • Apr 21, 2014 - 2:07AM

    First I hear of largest Steel plant and now largest Solar park.
    Stop making fool of yourself by making such tall claims. Build an operational capacity of 500 MW and people will be automatically Impressed

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  • A Pakianist
    Apr 21, 2014 - 2:22AM

    @Gp65:

    Interesting. You seem to be very knowledged regarding Pakistan , despite being the “arch” neighbour.

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  • .S.Nasir Mehdi
    Apr 21, 2014 - 3:47AM

    instead of importing solar panels why it is not considered to manufacture our own Pakistani solar panels.This step will reduce the cost. Some one should give it a thaught

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  • Pakistani
    Apr 21, 2014 - 3:53AM

    One Word:

    In sha Allah

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  • Sabahat
    Apr 21, 2014 - 12:56PM

    For putting up any project in pakistan always it came in mind is that cost effective. Solar energy is expensive and unfortunately we are not producing or making any part of it except provide sun. All the technology is came from west. why we chose province of Punjab and district Bhawallpur which very adjacent to India??? see location.

    We have lot off barren areas in Baluchistan where sun shinning round the year and no power fro years and years.

    why in pakistan and individual provincial Govt take decision and get enough budget to start project.

    This kind of projects and development should have to taken from federal resource and having a think tank of knowledgeable technical peoples having cost analysis capabilities
    analysis capabilities

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  • Rehmat
    Apr 21, 2014 - 1:29PM

    @stretegic Asset
    Ur comment makes u retarded. 90% or more indian occupied Kashmiri’s wants freedom from India.

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  • S
    Apr 21, 2014 - 4:45PM

    @sg65 that 5million was to create infrastructure around the plan. Not the plant cost

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  • shabby
    Apr 21, 2014 - 5:18PM

    It is very very costly now . Who stupid is thinking about this ?? Why you are wasting money .Please go for DAM .

    If it is cheap all desert have this system.

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  • May 15, 2014 - 1:11AM

    It’s a good news.we hope this project will complete in time.
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  • Arslan Khan
    May 31, 2014 - 5:39AM

    @Jameel ur Rasheed:
    Germany is currently installed with 36 Gega Watt of solar PhotoVoltaic Capacity… and it aims to shift 100% to green energy by 2050. We should learn some lessons. Dams are constructed in 9 or 10 years and require a lot of patience are you ready to wait that long?????.. we need quick energy resorts and that a good solution to me. and Govt is targeting all the sources like hydel, Coal, Solar, Wind and whatever is available to us.

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  • Infinity
    Jul 2, 2014 - 5:58AM

    well i think its a good project but the thing is, if they were to Repair or Fund the plants which are not functioning due to lack of interest by the government. this would give them time to think and people some electricity. there are some power plants which need just fuel to generate electricity some are in need of little repairs. hope they get it through :)

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