Climate change, energy security and net metering


Arshad H Abbasi June 23, 2024
Engineer Arshad H Abbasi has an extensive experience of working on water and power issues in Pakistan and Afghanistan

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During the World Economic Forum in April 2024, the Prime Minister of Pakistan highlighted the detrimental impact of the energy sector and climate change, emphasising that it has led to an economic catastrophe. The Prime Minister may lack awareness of the strong connection between electricity generation and climate change.

Climate change is science. Scientifically, human activities have been the main driver of climate change, primarily due to the burning of fossil fuels like coal, oil and gas. Burning these fossil fuels generates greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions that act like a blanket wrapped around the earth, trapping the sun’s heat and raising temperatures. CO2 is one of the main causes of global climate change. It made up around 79% of anthropogenic emissions. CO2 is one of the main causes of global climate change.

On a global scale, more than 40% of energy-related carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions stem from the combustion of fossil fuels to produce electricity. In Pakistan, apart from transboundary environmental effects, one of the primary contributors to climate change is the GHG emissions resulting from electricity generation. Unfortunately, the substantial increase in GHG emissions can be attributed to the transition towards thermal power plants, which has led to a significant decline in hydroelectricity generation from 70% to 29% over the past 30 years. Consequently, Pakistan now faces the highest electricity prices in South Asia. Moreover, the rapid depletion of natural gas reserves has been accelerated by their use in power plants for electricity production. The adverse effects of these gas- and oil-fired thermal plants, along with the introduction of induction of coal-fired power plants, particularly those established under CPEC, have significantly escalated GHG emissions to unprecedented levels.

Let us quantify Pakistan’s carbon emissions from electricity generation, which were minimal, at 5.5 million tons of CO2, with negligible amounts of methane (CH4) and nitrous oxide (N2O) in 1990. Now they have increased to 52 million tons of CO2, 4.4 million tons of CH4 and 0.04 million tons of N2O due to electricity generation by fossils fuels in the year 2023.

The primary measurable or quantifiable effect of this abrupt shift in GHG emissions is air pollution in Pakistan’s main cities. In 2022, Lahore will have the worst air quality in the entire globe. Tens of thousands of people in Pakistan became ill due to the smog. Since 2015, constant heatwaves and seductive downpours have established as a regular weather pattern.

What would be the mitigation strategy to arrest the menace of climate change? Although Pakistan pledged to the UN an overall 50% reduction of GHG emissions by 2030, the government and NGOs never came up with any doable and practical roadmap to achieve this target, except publishing colourful reports, recycling jargon and holding seminars in five-star hotels. Climate change mitigation is achievable through measures aimed at decreasing or preventing GHG emissions from human activities. One such measure involves transitioning from fossil fuel-based electricity generation to wind, hydropower and solar-based electricity generation.

However, hats off to the people of Pakistan, who are alien to the environmental benefits of roof-top solar systems but rushed to this cheap source of electricity. The main motivation for opting to it is the abnormally high cost of electricity from the national grid. Let’s analyse it with facts and data. In FY 2022-23, three CPEC coal power plants generated electricity at an average rate of Rs34 per unit. Meanwhile, three mega LNG-fired plants, touted to bring industrial revitalisation and economic prosperity, generated electricity at an average rate of Rs38 per unit. However, it’s not the climate change concerns but the high cost of electricity that’s driving people to adopt rooftop solar systems. Thanks to continuous innovations in solar cell efficiency, now exceeding 26% efficiency, compact solar plates are abundantly available in Pakistan. People are opting for rooftop solar panels, contrary to the assumption that only the upper class are doing to. Now even villagers are installing one kW solar systems, in remote areas of Pakistan.

The citizens of Pakistan have showcased remarkable decision-making abilities in the realm of affordable electricity. Despite a literacy rate of just 56%, they exhibit exceptional intelligence and unparalleled wisdom. When given the task of making choices, they demonstrate outstanding financial acumen by selecting solutions that offer the greatest value for their money. The citizens’ astute decision-making skills underscore the potential for a brighter future, contingent upon the government’s proactive measures to combat corruption in the power sector.

Let’s use reliable data and simple arithmetic to support this claim. As many as 10,419 million units were produced in March 2022 compared to an installed capacity of 37,137 megawatts. Even with an installed capacity of 40,272 megawatts, only 8,023 million units were generated in March 2024. The government purchases electricity from coal- and LNG-fired plants at a much higher rate than the current net metering tariff of Rs19.32 per unit. On March 24, around 21% of electricity was generated by efficient LNG-fired power plants at Rs22 per unit. The Capacity Purchase Price (CPP) is not included in this cost. In the same month, 28 million units of electricity was imported from Iran at Rs30 per unit.

Pakistanis are harnessing solar power to circumvent costly and polluting grid electricity. The government needs to prioritise energy security, a critical aspect of national security in West as well as India. Any attempt to dismantle the solar net-metering policy would compromise national security. Let’s commend ordinary Pakistanis for addressing energy security through solar power generation. Last week, the Supreme Court also emphasised the need for collective action on climate challenges but hasn’t offered a solution. With little hope from the government, the Supreme Court and the UN are now the only hope in the context.

COMMENTS (1)

Shamlal | 1 month ago | Reply

Very well written Sir

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