Energy-starved Pakistan sees the light on solar power

By AFP
Published: March 27, 2012
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Company employees arrange solar panels for a marketing demonstration in a park in Islamabad on March 10, 2012. PHOTO: AFP

Company employees arrange solar panels for a marketing demonstration in a park in Islamabad on March 10, 2012. PHOTO: AFP

MUZAFFARABAD: From mosques, to homes and streets, Pakistanis are increasingly seeing the light and realising that year-round sun may be a cheap if partial answer to an enormous energy crisis.

“It’s the best thing I bought this winter,” says Sardar Azam, a former civil servant retired to a river-side home in Kashmir, showing off his water-heating solar geyser installed on the terrace.

“The biggest advantage is that you spend money once and it runs on sunlight which is free,” Azam added.

The country needs to produce 16,000 megawatts of electricity a day but only manages 13,000 megawatts, according to the Pakistan Electric Power Company.

The shortfall means that millions endure electricity cuts for up to 16 hours a day, leaving them freezing in winter and sweltering in summer while hitting industry hard, exacerbating a slow-burn recession.

Voters say it is their biggest single concern, secondary to the war against al Qaeda and the Taliban, and so the government has been increasingly vocal about redressing the problem as it eyes elections within a year.

“I think all our friends are encouraged to understand the real energy crisis that is in Pakistan. We can’t afford to be selective of where we receive our energy supply from,” Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar said this month.

At the time, she was referring to Pakistan’s determination to build a pipeline and import gas from Iran, regardless of US threats of sanctions, but the message was clear: on the energy front, Pakistan needs any help it can get.

Arif Allaudin, who heads the Alternate Energy Development Board, would like to see more of that help coming from renewable sources, saying there was a 2.4 million megawatt potential for solar energy alone in Pakistan.

Niaz Ahmed Kathia, director of private company Alternate Energy Systems, said abundant and free sunshine was the answer to Pakistan’s energy woes.

“Energy is our biggest issue, more than terrorism, and if we replace our one million tubewell pumps with solar ones, we can save 7,000 megawatts,” Kathia told AFP at the demonstration of a solar well in the capital.

The majority of Pakistan’s tubewell pumps, which pump out underground water, run on the strained national grid or on diesel power.

There is no pretence that solar power is the only answer, but this month the prime minister ordered the government to provide solar electricity in remote villages far from the national grid.

The government described renewable energy as the “investor’s choice” and said the private sector has offered to produce 1,500 megawatts a day.

In the mountains of Kashmir there is no gas pipeline and in the cold winter months electricity bills are prohibitively expensive.

In Azam’s hometown of Muzaffarabad, the capital of Kashmir, solar panels light up a public park and mosques.

Solar street lights are also being installed slowly in cities such as Rawalpindi, Lahore and Karachi.

Pakistan’s first on-grid solar power station, capable of producing 178.9 kilowatts, began test operations in Islamabad this month with a grant of $5.4 million from the Japan International Cooperation Agency.

“It is a seed for thousands more solar power plants,” Senator Rukhsana Zuberi, a former chairperson of the Pakistan Engineering Council told AFP.

This winter Pakistan suffered a two billion cubic feet a day shortage of natural gas – usually the mainstay of millions delivered to homes and industry via pipelines – sparking protests and forcing factories to lay off labourers.

The trouble is remedial plans are only at an embryonic stage.

“We plan to promote the use of solar geysers as the gas shortage is becoming acute,” petroleum and natural resources minister Asim Hussain said.

“The gas companies would install solar water heaters at consumer premises and deduct the amount in installments in the gas bills,” he added.

Power generated during sunlight hours can be stored in deep cycle lead acid batteries to power lights, radios, televisions and fans at night.

Norwegian company Telenor says it has set up 50 solar-powered cell sites, mostly in remote areas, capable of reducing 2.5 tonnes of carbon dioxide per site by saving over 940 litres of diesel a month.

Traders say demand has certainly risen. A 170-litre (37-gallon) capacity solar geyser starts from 27,000 rupees ($300) and a 218-litre version for 32,000 rupees as a one-time cost.

“Solar geysers can reduce gas bills considerably. The technology is not only environment friendly but also pocket friendly,” said vendor Shakil Ahmed.

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Reader Comments (13)

  • Raza
    Mar 27, 2012 - 4:20PM

    Thank you for the report ET. Frankly, its astounding how the government n media mostly focus on non-issues or those not concerning the common man. The energy crises and economy is our biggest concern, and of course they’re inter-linked. We cant afford to rely on fossil fuels alone (though we should act to utilize our coal deposits); our answer lies in the renewable sources of hydro and solar, both of which can be used effectively in Pakistan. If only our government was competent…

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  • Intelektual
    Mar 27, 2012 - 4:21PM

    I would like to request the vendors contact info as well as orignal user comments regarding performance and durability

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  • Arif
    Mar 27, 2012 - 4:27PM

    It’s about time Pakistan produce all electric appliances that runs on solar energy. Every household that can afford this technology should utilize their roof tops to install solar panels.

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  • Mar 27, 2012 - 4:32PM

    a good alternative source of energy but its equipment (solar panels) is too much expensive for the home use

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  • Ch Allah Daad
    Mar 27, 2012 - 5:35PM

    This article is nothing more than an advertisement. With 20 hours of load shedding, everyone knows their is shortage, but where is the money to buy these expensive source.

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  • Khi2Khy
    Mar 27, 2012 - 5:52PM

    So it will sit just on bare ground?
    What about Goats, Human vandalism, snow, rain or earth erosion? Also how much it cost for annual or periodic repair and maintenance? Note: All exposed to weather plastic or metal plates and wiring get erosion and rust. I still suggest the buyer deserve his investment to be installed on long-term structure of concrete or steel support if possible.

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  • Mar 27, 2012 - 6:59PM

    The solar solution is available to the consumers. Consumer must recognize that even though the initial cost od solar or any other renewable energy system is higher, it has a much better return on the long run. The solar systems typically have a payback period of less than 5 years (in Pakistan) and they operate for up to 25 years. Recommend

  • Sharafat
    Mar 27, 2012 - 7:52PM

    Solar power is being discouraged by the oil mafia whose slave our government is. If instead of the ill intended Benazir Income support program, the money was invested in subsidising solar panels and equipment, the poor would have benefited more and so would have the economy. Imran Khan should include solarisation in his energy plan.

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  • Cautious
    Mar 27, 2012 - 8:19PM

    Your all weather friend is the largest solar exporter in the World – most of the solar components used in the USA originate in China. It’s close – it’s cheap (and getting cheaper) – it’s available. No brainer.

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  • FF
    Mar 27, 2012 - 9:12PM

    About time! Solar power is not an expensive source anymore and materials can be bought cheaply worldwide.
    The govt and private sector should vigorously exploit this source as we have sunshine in abundance!

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  • Munir Ahmad Saeed
    Mar 28, 2012 - 3:25AM

    emphasized textThe government at the federal level needs to take couple of steps to encourage solar power use:

    -There should be a subsidy on the import of solar panels

    -Some quality standards defined so that consumers are not exploited by unscrupulous vendors

    -Like in Australia, the power produced by solar system flows into to the main power distribution system, which means the government buys whatever power is generated and deducts that from the bills accordingly.

    -As solar sysem generates power during day time, whereas the domestic consumption during day time may not be enough to use all power generated, therefore, the government should be able to buy the extra power from the solar system.

    -Government can offer loans to people so that they can install the solar systems, the loans can be recovered either from the power buy back, from the solar system and added to the grid or these loans can be added to the power bills.

    -If nothing above mentioned happens, the solar power still offers an alternative solution to those who can afford and it is carbon free which means unlikle generators, solar system does not pollute our environment. Therefore all those who can afford must take the initiative and contribute to the cause of environment. Once people see this system being successfully implemented and used, others will follow, even if they have to get loans to have the solar panels at their roof tops.

    Munir Ahmad Saeed

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  • Azfar A Khan
    Mar 28, 2012 - 8:58AM

    Just see (in the picture) how these panels have been installed! One side of these panels is resting on ground. They have spent millions of $. Why couldn’t any concrete support provided? The quality of work could be gauged right from here! I think no japanese consultant was involved!

    Azfar A Khan,
    azfar44@hotmail.com

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  • khan of quetta
    Mar 28, 2012 - 12:22PM

    @Ch Allah Daad:
    dont lie 20 hours are for 3 weeks in whole year it is 6 hour average for big cities and 8 hours for small towns year average and there is a government pcret company manufacturing solar panels and biogas plants in pakistan they say it costs 2 lakhs and works for 25 years

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