Boosting clean energy

Developing countries like Pakistan are least responsible for greenhouse gas emissions, but due to their geographical location and socioeconomic fragility, most of these countries are extremely vulnerable to the threats posed by climate change. Pakistan is no exception and ranks seventh in the 10 countries that are worst affected by climate change.

During the past two decades, Pakistan has suffered over 130 events including floods, droughts and heatwaves in various parts, with losses costing up to approximately $4 billion. One of the ways Pakistan can contribute towards mitigation of greenhouse gases is through adaptation of clean and renewable energy sources, through its resources like solar, wind, hydro and biomass.

Although the government realises the use of clean energy, the implementation has been limited due to high upfront capital expenditure involved, limited access to practical knowledge and expertise, and operational demands and constraints. There is a need to ensure rigorous efforts at local, provincial and federal levels to encourage the concept of clean energy through public-private partnership. This may require policy interventions to reduce the existing fossil fuel-based energy mix and switchover to a renewable energy-dominated mix to ensure cost effectiveness, availability, stability and sustainability in Pakistan’s energy sector.

The energy mix in Pakistan is sourced majorly by thermal fuels, which are expensive and have high maintenance cost. The potential of hydropower reported by Nepra is about 41.7GW whereas only about 6GW is being harnessed. In comparison, India has constructed more than 3,200 small, medium and large dams since 2012. By building these, it not only produces electricity but also impacts the agriculture sector by reducing the risk of floods.

There is approximately 50BW of wind energy potential only in the Sindh corridor, of which Pakistan uses about 600MW only. One of the major issues Pakistan faces is a high volume of fine dust accumulation which effects UV factor in trapping solar energy. These problems can be sorted by anti-dust and high-temperature versions of solar and wind power equipment. The solar and wind energy power plants will cater to the non-grid areas of Balochistan and Sindh. Moreover, local industry should be promoted to manufacture the clean energy equipment and made a part of government policy. These actions will help in reducing capital cost, increase foreign investment, build the capacity of local workforce and consequently, reduce the cost of energy.

Currently, Pakistan faces significant energy deficits. It is producing 23,000MW of power, but due to increasing population, there is a high gap between supply and demand. To bridge this gap, the government is planning construction and installation of approximately a dozen coal-based power plants over the coming years under CPEC.

The major investments are being made in coal-fired power plants, expected to be fuelled primarily by imported coal. Due to the low calorific value of Thar coal, it seems that its use may not prove to be efficient. Furthermore, it requires a process that is water intensive which degrades local soil quality. However, a detailed feasibility study of the Balochistan coal reserve may yield a better quality local coal option with more cost-effective results.

The estimated budget for these energy and infrastructure projects amounts to around $57 billion, which is expected to help end Pakistan’s energy crisis. The government is not only filling the deficit but plans to generate excess energy to export electricity and deal with any future energy crisis caused due to economic development. A policy intervention to make this process sustainable is required.

In addition to this, CPEC also contains some renewable energy projects which are expected to generate over 1,000MW. Through these projects, around 10,000MW of energy is planned to be added to the Pakistan electricity grid by 2020. These energy projects will, of course, aid in addressing one of Pakistan’s major issues but the fact that it will have serious repercussions on the environment cannot be ignored. The world is moving towards decreasing carbon footprint, while Pakistan is talking about increasing it.

It is commendable that some of the projects under CPEC are focused on clean energy. However, Pakistan needs to have a strategic plan regarding its energy emissions and sources, like the UK which has announced that coal-powered plants will close between 2023 and 2025. Investments should be made in promoting clean energy in the long run, and coal-powered plants should not be used beyond the need to meet immediate energy deficit.

Pakistan has geophysical prospects favouring the solar and wind power based energy. Having a better return on investment, wind energy is more suited for the private sector through effective government facilitation. More than 600MW of energy is being provided to the national grid via the Gharo-Jhimpir wind corridor, and according to experts, it has the potential to generate more than 50,000MW of electricity through wind power. Since Balochistan covers more than 70% of the coastal belt of Pakistan, it is expected to have more wind power potential than Sindh. Therefore, the government should install wind masts at potential locations and carry out a wind energy assessment of the regions.

The private sector has a lot of potential regarding investment in clean energy in Pakistan. World Bank Group member International Finance Corporation (IFC) has initiated provision of funds amounting to $238 million to help build wind power projects in Jhimpir, Sindh. Tricon Boston Pvt initiated this project and is a perfect blend of the public-private-donor triangle required for implementation of such projects.

Although solar energy has great potential in Pakistan and recently there has been a rise in the use of Solar Photovoltaics (PV) and LED-based lighting solutions, not only in the urban centres but also in the rural non-grid areas, average consumers are facing major power shortages, and solar panels provide an easy solution to individual households. A policy level focus on on-grid wind power and off-grid solar power initiatives may help improve the energy sector crisis and mitigate the environmental risks.

In 2006, the first-ever renewable energy policy was formulated, under the ministry of water and power. The policy comprised three phases: short, medium and long term. The short-term policy covered a period up to June 2008 and focused on attracting private sector investments for power projects. Currently, National Power Policy of 2013 is in effect, devised by the PML-N government. It focuses on efficiency, sustainability and competition. Furthermore, it highlights the wind and hydro projects that the government aims to complete in the coming years.

Fossil fuel industry is endangering our society in countless ways. Some of the externalities are easier to observe like pollution and land degradation and more often than not the consequences are less obvious like increasing cases of cancer, respiratory diseases, loss of agricultural productivity and livelihoods are neglected. Unfortunately, the fallout of these policies is borne by the population that is not aware of these issues and therefore, unable to voice their concerns. There is also a cost accrued at every point of fossil fuel supply/value chain and even the waste material is hazardous to society.

Hence, Pakistan needs to make clean energy a priority. Well-researched, strategic and implementable policies and measures are required which focus not only on enhancing clean energy emissions but also side by side take steps to decrease the use of fossil fuel.

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