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Solar power project in Balochistan

By Syed M. Aslam
June 28 - July 04,1999

  1. Privatization of PTCL
  2. National savings ratio to GDP declines
  3. Solar power project in Balochistan
  4. IMF unhappy over budget 1999-2000
  5. Increase in salaries of Govt employees

A New Jersey based company, World Water Corporation (WWC), has signed a $ 50 million memorandum of understanding with the government of Pakistan for the implementation of rural infrastructure of water and power utilizing solar pumping and solar electrical systems in the arid province of Balochistan.

Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif initiated the programme on June 7 to benefit the rural poor in Balochistan and later throughout the country. The solar systems can pump water for human consumption, livestock wells and irrigation.

The project envisages to supply energy to individual household or farms for various domestic use as well as water pumping of up to 140 litres per second. The impact of the mega project in such a water scare area as Balochistan could hardly be over-emphasized. The operation will begin in September with the beginning of WWC field team's study of the hydrogeoligical documentation of the areas to be developed and to further establish on-site data of availability, depth and quality of the ground water supply.

Once the scientific studies are completed, the intstallation of the solar systems to pump water for the people in the villages and communities to deliver independent electrical power to households and communities which have no access to power from existing utility sources.

The WWC will establish an assembling and manufacturing plant in Pakistan to build its solar modules and electronic controls to power the water pumps and electric accessories.

According to information, collected by PAGE from WWC website, locally owned investment institutions, including foreign and domestic banks, have been identified and have committed to supply the funding for the full $ 50 million programme on signing of the MoU and the formal agreement to follow.

The proprietary technology, newly developed by WWC, is capable of pumping up to 2,200 gallons per minute of irrigation water from rivers, streams or dams, and drinking/household water from depths of several hundred feet. "The people of Balochistan and of all Pakistan should benefit from the clean drinking and irrigation water made available by the latest American technology not otherwise available to them," the prime minister, as quoted by the WWC, said when he initiated the programme.

The Chairman of World Water Corporation, Quentin Kelly, has said in Islamabad that the project will help benefit some four million people of Balochistan, particularly by pumping water from hundreds of feet down below. The figure represents almost the entire population of Balochistan, the biggest (in area) but less populated province of the country.

Though least polluting and most inexhaustible, solar energy, nevertheless, is an expensive source of energy as compared to other traditional sources primarily due to higher investment.

The two most common practical energy systems in use today are passive solar heated homes (or small buildings) and small stand-alone photovoltaic (solar electric) systems. They also illustrate the two basic methods of harnessing solar energy— solar thermal systems and solar electric systems. The first converts the radiant energy of the sun into heat and then makes it for use as desired. The second converts the radiant energy of the sun directly into electrical energy which can then be used as any pther electrical energy.

Among the less popular, but still effective, solar energy systems are domestic water heating systems, remote solar powered water pumping systems and remote electric power systems for radio repeaters.

Siemens and British Petroleum are the two largest manufacturers of solar cells in the world and the former is also playing a leading role in Pakistan. It has installed small and large power supply systems for running domestic appliances; bulbs, fans, small refrigerators in the remote areas of Sindh and Punjab. It has also installed solar-powered cathodic protection for Sui Southern Gas Company, Pakistan Petroleum Limited and Pak Arab Refinery in remote locations in Sindh and Balochistan to save the underground pipelines from rust.

In addition, it has installed solar-powered microwave repeater stations and VHF systems for state-owned Pakistan Telecommunications Company Limited. Power supply for repeater stations of microwave link and power supply to 360 emergency call boxes on Lahore-Islamabad Motorway are also installed by Siemens.

Solar energy is thus being used in many ways though on a much smaller scale than expected in such a sun-friendly country like Pakistan. The primary factor, discouraging the use, is the high initial cost. For instance, a one horsepower water pumping solar pump and panel costs between Rs 700,000 to Rs 800,000, extremely expensive even for the local farmers who can pump sufficient water by installing a much inexpensive motor costing no more than Rs 10,000 and hooking it with the belt with a tractor. In an arid area like Balochistan where water is found at an average depth of 200-300 feet at least a two-and-a-half horsepower solar pump and panel is required for any water pumping operations. The installation cost of which comes to an unaffordable Rs 2 million.

Sources told PAGE that the signing of the agreement which prompted by a demonstration organized by the World Water Corporation on Brewery Road when Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif visited the city recently. The demonstration lasted for three days and was stopped immediately after the prime minister left the city, sources told PAGE.

Talking to PAGE, head of Siemens Solar Division, Dr M. Suhail Qureshi said that while his company was engaged in solar powered projects with good volume of reference installations in Pakistan it was never given a chance to participate in the project. "When I approached various departments of the government, including the Board of Investment, I was told that we can sign a similar agreement if our principal so desired."

Informed sources told PAGE that in the first phase the World Water Corporation will educate the people about the benefits of solar energy. Once this is achieved it will ask the domestic banks to provide loans for the solar projects. However, he expressed apprehensions that the scheme will work as the cost of solar water pumping projects is not only expensive but even the state-owned Agriculture Development Bank has its reservations about providing loans for such big investments.

What still remains to be seen is what kind of solar technology will be used by World Water Corporation— single crystalline or poly crystalline cell or Russian system. While both the systems have a 25-year life, the efficiency levels of the three differ widely—the single crystal system being the latest with an efficiency level of over 15 per cent is the most expensive, the poly-crystalline has an efficiency level of less than 10 per cent while the majority of Russian system has a low efficiency level of just 1-2 per cent.

Suhail expressed apprehensions about the implementation of the project as World Water Corporation has entered the Pakistani market that with no experience of the ground realities, such as deep water level in Balochistan, in addition to the absence of relevant social, economic and geographical data which is necessary for the project.

Meanwhile, we have to wait and see if the agreement will bring any relief and benefit to the people of arid Balochistan.