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Growth of alternate energy resources in Pakistan

The prevalent energy crisis has severely affected the economy and state affairs and earliest possible steps at the right time can be a springboard for this resource rich country.

Renewable energy and alternative energy are the energies produced from natural resources such as sunlight, wind, geothermal heat which are naturally renewable as they can be replaced and reproduced naturally. Pakistan has at different levels initiated steps to calculate the required energy and maximum potential generation capacity from abundant resources. Nevertheless, the costs associated with these options and whether every available energy option generates pollution which should fall below tolerable level and analyzing all the hindering factors which could slow the development and implementation plan as all these phases are intertwined and related.

Last year, Prime Minister Imran Khan promised that, by 2030, Pakistan would produce 60% of its electrical power from renewable sources. Currently the country gets 64% cent of its electricity from fossil fuels, with another 27% from hydropower, 5% from nuclear power and only 4% from renewables such as solar and wind power.

Construction of new power plants

Large-scale construction of new power plants especially the largely coal-fired funded by China has intensely increased the country’s energy capacity. But according to a 2018 World Bank report the electricity is still not reaching up to 50 million people of Pakistan. As per experts’ opinion the coal needs to rapidly disappear from the global energy to avoid the impacts on climate change. The additional fossil fuel energy capacity also is boosting electricity costs; hence putting question mark on government’s climate change goals. Thar coalfields are in the south-east of the country. By 2023, when all projects in the pipeline were scheduled to be complete, the country’s total power generation capacity would have more than doubled to reach 53,504 MW. A total of seven Chinese-funded coal plants are expected to add up to 6,600 megawatts of capacity to the grid. At renewable energy front China has a smaller scale contribution, with six wind farms set to generate just under 400MW whereas by 2027, a 100MW solar project and four hydropower plants expected to produce 3,400MW. Pakistan is expecting to have 50% more power capacity by 2023 once the coal-fired plants would fully functional. The government is planning to plans to de-commission some older fossil fuel plants to cut overcapacity and also pushing ahead to add new wind, solar and hydropower capacity to the grid to meet its climate goals.

When the under construction electricity projects would completed, Pakistan will have about 38,000MW of capacity. The current summertime peak demand is 25,000MW, with electricity use falling to 12,000MW in the winter. Definitely the energy overproduction is a better than undersupply as it allowed for growth, however, we have to look for new ways to utilized the electricity.

CPEC aims to boost road, rail and air transport links and trade between China, Pakistan and other countries in the region, as well as boosting energy production.

Hydropower generation

In the first seven months of the 2021 fiscal year, 33% of Pakistan’s energy came from hydropower.

The government paid more than 47,000 crore Pakistani rupees in power subsidies last year, making it one of the largest heads in current expenditures that have to be curtailed sharply under the terms of the International Monetary Fund program that Pakistan is seeking to restart. Only two years ago this amount was closer to 9,000 crore Pakistani rupees.

The capacity payments that stood at 27,200 crore Pakistani rupees in 2015, or approximately 30% of total generation cost, raised sharply to 63,080 crore Pakistani rupees by 2018, or almost 50% of the total generation cost. That figure was hit in the year 2019 instead, and according to the power minister, is projected to rise to 1.45 lakh crore Pakistani rupees by 2023.

However, the National Electric Power Regulatory Authority (NEPRA) provides a more complex picture for the spiraling costs that are weighing on power generation. As per NEPRA’s latest annual report, the cost of generation is increasing due to multiple factors. These included mismanagement by the distribution companies, non-availability of LNG for the more efficient, newer plants, excessive levies and surcharges on grid power to aid the government’s revenue effort and transmission constraints in some newer plants, among others.

The Chinese capacity expansion may have helped overcome power generation shortfalls in Pakistan, but more chronic problems of a creaking transmission network, poor bill recovery track record, etc.

Rising alternate energy demand

The energy demands of Pakistan are expected to increase many fold in the coming decades. So coordinated work between relevant companies to assign the target expected to be accomplished from various sources like wind, solar, hydel power by maintaining the database and requirements in terms of equipment dealers and contractors is necessary as energy requirements would surge to 100,000 MW by year 2030.

Power generation using coal

The lowest cost options available are coal and hydro. Pakistan has adequate generating capacity from hydro and coal resources. Climatic changes are also a problem and using coal and gas resources one has to keep the potential effect of increased pollution levels on the environment of Pakistan and the world in general. Pakistan can produce 45,000MW from hydro power. Water generated power energy fulfills 20 percent requirements of the world. At times of lower than normal usage requirements, excess electrical capacity can be used for storage of electricity for later usage. The three gorges dam project in China is an important example of hydroelectric power generation and its 26 generators supported by system of dams can generate around 20 gigawatts of power Pakistan’s energy crisis has increased due to increased energy demand, large population and industrial growth. The country has to properly utilize its available reserves of Thar coal which exceed the oil reserves of Saudi Arabia and Iran.

Geothermal energy

Geothermal energy is the heat from the earth and a free renewable, clean and sustainable source which can meet the increasing energy needs of the world. Geothermal energy in the form of hot water, steam springs, geysers and underground hot aquifers are available in the world including Pakistan. Geothermal energy is used for electricity generation, space heating and cooling of buildings, supply of hot water, green houses, fish farming and setting up of small industries requiring heat.

The world’s geothermal energy resources are 80 times more than all the known oil reserves in the world. Based on the recent estimates, the total geothermal energy potential available in the world could exceed the present electricity generation and direct energy produced by all the resources. Geothermal energy resources have been identified in 90 countries of the world which are using these resources.

Solar energy

Pakistan’s sunny climate makes it a perfect place to develop solar power. But it still depends on dirty fossil fuels, and is building more coal power plants. According to the World Bank, utilizing just 0.071 percent of the country’s area for solar photovoltaic (solar PV) power generation would meet Pakistan’s current electricity demand. However, the country currently only produces a meager 1.16% of its electricity through solar power and 64% with fossil fuels. Other electricity sources include hydropower at 27% and nuclear at 5%. Renewable energy sources count for only 4% of total electricity production.

Despite being located in a region severely affected by climate change, Pakistan continues to invest in environmentally unfriendly methods of power production. Recently, the government approved seven Chinese-funded coal power projects, which will add up to 6,600 megawatts to the national grid in the coming years. Pakistan could conceivably generate more than 2,900 gigawatts of solar power capacity. For reference, 1 gigawatt could power 110 million LED lights, according to the US Department of Energy.

There are many factors that are keeping solar power from flourishing. These include complications in finding space for solar farms, procedural delays in construction approvals,the high costs of initial investment and unattractive tariffs for selling power to national grid. Solar panels also occupy much space if installed on a massive scale, this could greatly hurt our agriculture, exacerbating food insecurity. Their durability is also an issue besides the huge initial investment. Despite of significant drop in the solar prices, the growth in rooftop solar in Pakistan is quite slow when compared to China, India and other countries since the upfront investment still remains daunting for an average middle-class family. The solar prices have fallen from Rs1.7 million per kilowatt to Rs1 million per kilowatt in recent years.

Wind power generation

According to GWEC 2015 report, Pakistan had 256MW of Wind Power (WP) in 2014. Pakistan has 1046KM coastal area where a lot of Wind Turbine (WT) can be installed. According to the report of the Ministry of Water and Power, new WP projects are recently installed at Gharo-Keti Bander and Hyderabad WFs. So the proposed WP capacity of Gharo-Keti Bander and Hyderabad WFs is 50GW.

When fully operational, these eight wind farms will generate enough electricity to cover the annual needs of up to 600,000 local households with clean and affordable electricity, significantly alleviating the power shortage in Pakistan where 40 million residents have no access to electricity supply

Ethanol technology

Ethanol is a natural byproduct of plant fermentation and also can be produced through the hydration of ethylene.

In 2019, fuel ethanol production for Pakistan was 0.09 thousand barrels per day. Though Pakistan fuel ethanol production fluctuated substantially in recent years, it tended to increase through 2000-19 period. Although, in Pakistan, alternative fuel production like ethanol is so limited and it is not produced over the year. Sugarcane and corn are the widely used ingredients of ethanol. Last year, Pakistan exported 342.82 million USD in sugar and sugar confectionery and 6.8 million USD in corn.

On the other hand, Pakistan imported oil of 3.4 billion USD March-July FY-2019. If Pakistan stops the export of the described crops and utilizes them in producing ethanol, then that massive amount of oil import can be reduced to its lowest level. It will not only provide a huge contribution to the economy but will play a vital role in reducing the burden of fuel import. However, for that achievement, an integrated ethanol production approach is necessary. Hence, sugar mills owners get a considerable amount from that export. Therefore, they would barely accept the utilization of sugarcane in the production of ethanol. In this scenario, there should be an agreement between the owners and government that nevertheless goes in their favor of them. It would be only possible if facilitate and encouraging them to establish ethanol production plants.

The described strategy advocates that the ideal location for ethanol production plant should be beside sugar mills. So that they could easily produce sugar as well as ethanol and could maintain their profits in a way that is not only beneficial for them but the whole of Pakistan. Moreover, the byproducts of sugar cane and corn like bagasse, corncob, etc., can be used to produce electricity to run these co-generating plants. However, electricity is the best option as it is the most efficient and eco-friendly fuel but due to the unavailability of electric vehicles and lack of technical research and resources. Currently, it neither can be applicable nor can be advantageous, but for the economy but the future, it would be the economic and best alternative fuel. The government should follow the world trend and turn the face of our vehicular technology towards hybrid and electric vehicles. Also, focus on the production of renewable energy that can make it more economical.

Nuclear energy

Some environmental groups are opposed to the idea that nuclear energy is renewable because it produces pollutants and the process of extracting uranium is also questionable. But the countries having nuclear industry support it as their renewable source since it does not produce greenhouse gases. Pakistan has 30 years of running and maintaining nuclear reactors. The initial costs are related to installation but afterwards it is cost efficient to keep them running at maximum capacity. Nuclear plants have long life and requirements for uranium are also optimum. The use of nuclear energy would also be helpful in lowering carbon emissions. China has planned to build 30 new plants thus contributing 300 GW of power against its requirement which is an impressive development. Pakistan can reduce its dependence on foreign energy sources by developing nuclear resources. The target set by Atomic Energy Commission is production of 8000MW power by next year. According to estimations Pakistan is able to generate 50000MW from nuclear reactors.

Pakistan’s nuclear power plants Chashma 1, Chashma 2 and Kanupp can generate 300MW, 350MW and 125MW of power approximately. For baseload generation nuclear and hydro resources are generally used. In coming years nuclear generation is expected to increase at a steady growth rate. To meet the high level requirements Pakistan has to access advanced nuclear supplies from Western countries. Effective governance and cooperation between important sectors is vital for nuclear development and infrastructure.

The author, Nazir Ahmed Shaikh, is a freelance columnist. He is an academician by profession and writes articles on diversified topics. Mr. Shaikh could be reached at [email protected]

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