ALTERNATIVE ENERGY RESOURCES

Developing alternate forms of energy is critical for energy deficient countries such as ours

From SHAMIM AHMED RIZVI,
Islamabad

Sep 06 - 12, 2004

Alternative Energy Development Board (AEDB) is expecting an investment of $875 in this sector during the current fiscal year as the 5 international firms have expressed interest in different projects producing electricity through alternate sources. The AEDB has already granted permission toe New Park Energy Limited for installation of 45 MW wind powerhouse, the first of 400 MW projects, at a cost of $ 400 million in coastal areas of Sindh.

This has taken Pakistan into a new source of power generation. Wind energy is the cheapest source of electricity generation and doubtlessly it is a great blessing for a country like Pakistan. The country is burdened heavily with costly power generation like thermal and hydel sources.

New Park Energy Limited is a partner of consortium comprising Dorsch Consult Germany and Albario Engineering Limited, and it had submitted proposal to the AEDB some time back for power generation through wind energy. The AEDB has asked the New Park Energy Limited to complete the first phase of its programme in six months. On completion of the project, the consortium would sell electricity to Karachi Electric Supply Corporation (KESC), for which its representatives are already engaged with the National Electric Power Regulatory Authority (NEPRA) for signing a power purchase agreement (PPA).

The consortium had given a detailed presentation to the AEDB at a meeting on August 24, which was followed by grant of permission to it for the construction of wind farm project. The AEDB Chairman, Air Marshal (Retd) Shahid Hamid, presided over the meeting. The meeting was told that the consortium has 125 years experience in wind energy technology and it enjoys over 50 years experience in installation of wind farm and its operation and maintenance.

New Park Energy Limited Chief Executive Saeed Akhtar informed the board that Pakistan could make up its energy shortage by using its potential of wind power generation as wind energy is an alternative source of power generation and it is environment friendly, renewable and cost effective. He said that large amount of foreign exchange spent on oil import for energy generation could be saved by producing power through wind energy like other developing countries. He added that the mega project would open the doors of development and encourage other foreign investors to invest in Pakistan creating tremendous economic activity and offer the much needed additional job opportunities.

After detailed discussion and deliberation, the AEDB agreed with the proposal and allowed the consortium to install its farms near Karachi and start production of the first phase of 45 MW. Karachi coast being ideal for wind farms, the government has decided to provide land to the consortium near Port Qasim within a short period of two weeks to expedite the start of work.

It was in June last that the then Prime Minister, Mir Zafarullah Khan Jamali, after a presentation by the AEDB directed to prepare an action plan within one month to swiftly execute alternative energy projects throughout the country, particularly in the rural areas. The Jamali cabinet had promised that the government will provide all necessary resources to the AEDB to implement the action plan. Further, to promote this sector, the government would explore all the opportunities, including hiring experts from abroad and giving incentives to the private sector. AEDB would be made autonomous to make it an effective institution and the government would consolidate the work of all the ministries dealing with power production. It is hoped that this emphasis on alternative energy would not be a casualty of Jamaliís unceremonial departure from the executive branch.

Developing alternate forms of energy is critical for energy deficient countries such as ours. AEDB was set up on the recommendation of a task force constituted by the government to explore the possibilities of producing alternative forms of energy. It must be said though that at least so far, the AEDB does not have much to show for itself. In fact the last AEDB meeting chaired by the then prime minister was the first of its kind. As often happens with institutions set up by the government, it needs a strong hand on the tiller to negotiate the reefs and shoals of Islamabadís power corridors. One such individual who has managed to get things moving in the IT sector is Dr. Ata-ur-Rehman. Someone with the same amount of energy and competence is required for the job of developing alternate forms of energy, a project that has suffered benign neglect over the years despite Pakistanís critical energy shortage. Perhaps the good scientist could find time from his other responsibilities to oversee this sector also.

Pakistan has traditionally relied on hydel power to provide the bulk of its energy needs. However, controversies over water distribution have bogged down the prospect of big dams capable of generating substantial electricity. Thermal power, as the experience of the IPPs shows, has proved prohibitively expensive. Investment in the thermal generation sector raised the cost of electricity through the roof and threw the economy out of kilter because of unaffordable costs of production. Coal holds promise, especially the Thar deposits, but environmental concerns have relegated this source to the less favoured, at least in the developed world.

Alternate energy implies in most cases it is renewable sources of energy. Apart from hydel, amongst the possibilities are solar, wind and bio-mass. Nuclear energy, even when it is being developed at the Chashma nuclear plants, is beset by high capital costs and international political pressures. For a country located geographically as Pakistan is, solar power promises unlimited amounts of renewable energy. The problem with this technology in the past has been the high cost and limited recovery of energy. But in recent years technological breakthrough are increasingly bringing the cost of solar cells and arrays down and improving their output, making it more attractive, particularly for the service of remote rural communities to whom bringing the benefits of the national grid has a very high cost. The coastal areas of Sindh and Balochistan are ideal for generating wind energy, a technology mastered by some European countries with far less wind resources. Bio-mass is the degradable waste of livestock that can be widely and easily gathered in the rural areas and recycled for energy generation. Even in the hydel sector, small generation units can be set up at the falls of canals, adding a fair share to the national production of energy.

The argument that such forms of energy cannot serve beyond a limited area has to be weighed against the cost of extending the national grid to the remotest parts of the country. Such an examination would indicate that sometimes it is cheaper and more effective to generate energy locally and serve small communities that way than to wait interminably for the national grid to arrive at the doorstep of such communities at a high cost.

What is needed, is a national plan to be implemented on a war footing. In the decades to come, Pakistan cannot meet its growing energy requirements by relying solely on its traditional sources of energy. Unless some of the deficit is met through non-traditional and renewable sources of energy, Pakistan would not be able to keep up with the economic race in a globalizing world, if not provide its citizens the benefits of modern development.B