While moving in concentric circles on the mouth of a cooling tower once built to provide utilities to a nuclear reactor, German riders of a swing ride in Kalakar Amusement Park get flushed with the memories of an unprecedented phenomenon that took root in the nuclear-torn Germany during the late 1970s. The phenomenon that Germans call ‘energiewende’ was the start of their momentous transformation towards clean energy that was fuelled by their deeply embedded anti-nuclear sentiment. Though the resultant clean energy revolution is well and truly on its way globally, it is failing to run at full steam not only because of countries like Pakistan that are lagging behind, but also due to an embedded moral dilemma that have the force to derail it in the long run.
According to Pillar IV of Vision 2025 penned by the Ministry of Planning, Development and Reforms, all sections of the country’s population must be ensured access to clean energy until the year 2025. But it seems more like a wish rather than a goal because the actions required to reach this goal remain highly inadequate and almost hypocritical, especially when the government’s fascination with coal-fired power plants is concerned despite having some serious ‘renewable’ potential in the country. Pakistan is touted to receive one of the highest solar irradiations in the world which can be used to produce massive amounts of electricity through photovoltaic and solar thermal systems, but this potential remains largely untapped. Similarly, according to a report by National Rural Support Programme, on average, the daily waste produced by a bull or a cow amounts to 10kgs and Pakistan has around 50 million animals for livestock-related activities. If only 50% of this 150 million kilogrammes of waste is properly channelled, it can produce 12 million cubic metres of biogas. Overall the renewable potential of Pakistan is aptly summarised by the numbers generated by the Pakistan Alternative Energy Board, estimating solar potential to be at 2.9 million MW, wind potential to be 340,000MW and hydro potential to be 100,000MW.
In countries like Pakistan, where burning of fossil fuels have brought about grave repercussions in the form of health issues like chronic asthma, low lung functioning, cardiovascular diseases and destructive flooding, renewable energy comes across as a mammoth breath of fresh air. It does not only solve problems of poor air quality but it also solves issues of energy deprivation itself. According to a research by Solar Energy Research Centre, 70% of Pakistan’s population lives in 50,000 villages that have limited access to the national grid. A similar report was released by the National Electric Power Regulatory Authority in 2016 stating that more than 32,000 villages in Pakistan are totally cut off from the national grid. Fortunately, renewables such as solar energy can serve as an elixir in this situation as decentralised power units can prove to be way less expensive and way more feasible than the extension of centralised national grid. Similarly, the raw materials required to produce biogas like agricultural residues, manure, crops, etc, are readily available in such areas. Such is the case with not only Pakistan, in fact, farming and agriculture is considered to be the most important sector of the whole South Asian region (UNCTAD and the Asian Development Bank report). Therefore, renewables can play a major role in not only filling energy provision gaps that hitherto have remained unattended in this region, but also help in improving the quality of air that has endangered millions of people in South Asia.
Unwittingly joining the global energiewende, there is an extremely limited chunk of Pakistani population who has begun to resort to solar power, but majority of them are opting for such alternatives because they provide a convenient solution to power outages and not because they want to exercise the moral imperative to serve and save the environment. This has remained a moral dilemma with the green energy revolution that it looks to target profit motives and convenience which are inherently individualistic in nature. Yes, any project has to be monetarily feasible, but eliminating moral motivation to adopt clean energy is like cutting the virtual umbilical cord that holds the environmental argument together. A major proponent of energiewende, Hans-Josef Fell, who passed a law that ensured Germans significant profits for installing renewable energy sources, said, “Tighten your belts. Consume less. People associate that with a lower quality of life. Do things differently, with cheap, renewable electricity.” It propels the same capitalist mode of thought that invokes selfishness and mass consumption — issues that environmentalists have spent their lives redressing.
China, a major advocate of global energiewende, is an example of a country where money is being targeted more than morality. It has closed each and every coal-fired power plant within its territory but has actively engaged itself in installing such projects in Pakistan under the umbrella of CPEC. It portrays an ambiguous stance taken by the Chinese government. But one thing has to be clearly understood: polluted air is not a problem of an individual or a country, in fact, it is all-encompassing because it does not entertain any borders. Therefore, for energiewende to go proverbially global, it is paramount that citizens of this world are familiarised with the idea of moral-profits and morality preceding profits — but not eliminating it, otherwise a selfish world order and population will be instituted which, when push comes to shove, will be unwilling to make sacrifices and take hard decisions.
Published in The Express Tribune, July 27th, 2017.