ALTERNATIVE ENERGY SOURCES

Need of the time

By Dr. M. H. CHOUDHARY
Feb 23 - 29, 2004

The prospects for the exploitation of Renewable Energy Sources to supplement and replace the use of fossil fuels has attracted much attention over the last 2-3 decades. Thus there are enthusiastic lobbies for the rapid expansion of benign energy systems based on solar, wind, water, waves, biomass energy potential.

There has been but a modest response to this enthusiasm by energy policy makers in most parts of the world, mainly as an increased availability of necessary research and development funds. However, apart from the continued expansion of hydro-electricity production (a long established source of energy), relatively little progress has been made in commercializing the potential contribution of the benign energy sources, partly because of long gestation period required for technical innovation partly because their successful utilization depends upon locating appropriate physical geographical conditions and partly because their use also depends on changes in the structure of societies and the recognization of national energy supply networks in the respective country. These are formidable problems being faced by numerous developing countries including Pakistan. Thus the relative contribution of such sources of energy to the world now slowly rising total energy needs is unlikely to grow very much at all until well after the turn of the century.

By contrast, Nuclear Power has secured the support of many governments as a means of reducing dependence on costly imported oil. Its expansion has thus been generously even extravagantly, funded partly at least because it is linked to the development of the fourfold exemption in nuclear electricity production over the last 2-3 decades but this was from a very small initial level of output. Inspite of all the efforts and finances devoted to it, nuclear power remains globally to less than half as important as water power, and it still contributes less than one quarter of one percent to the world's total energy use. Some governments and other authorities remain convinced of nuclear power's potential, but cost escalation, public concern for the safety of the reactors and of the irradiated waste products from the power stations and most important of all the lack of adequate growth in the demand for electricity in those countries where nuclear power is practicable proposition from the stand points of available finance and technology, have severely under-mined the prospects for nuclear power. It too, seems, destined to make little additional contribution to world energy supplies over the rest of the country. Figure-I and II summarize the outlook for energy over the period upto 2010. Growth in use will modest compared with experience between 1948 and 1973, but the contribution of fossil fuels will remain dominant though oil will lose part of its share of the market to natural gas and coal.

THE POOR COUNTRIES ENERGY PROBLEM

Outside the framework of the discussions of energy as above one element that remains important for large parts of the world i.e. the supply of locally available energy in societies which remain largely or partly subsistant in their economic organization. The per capita use of energy in such societies is small as is seen in figure-III (below) as it depends on the immediately available supply of combustible materials (like dung and wood) which can provide for cooking and heating needs. Collectively, however, this pattern of energy use in the world is still large given the numbers of people involved in such societies. Overall, it is estimated to account for about 20% of total world energy use ranging from near zero in the industrialized countries, to 15% in the Latin America to over 95% in some of the poorest countries of Africa. In almost all of the latter areas the local scarcity of world is becoming an increasingly difficult problem. The solution requires energy joining and new albeit simple technological developments which bring improved efficiencies in the use of the combustible materials. This is a world energy problem of which little is known and about which even loss is being done compare, that is with the attention which is given to the problems of oil and the other energy sources required for intensive use in the developed world and in the modernized sectors of the economies of developing countries.

PAKISTAN'S CASE

While acting upon the westernized phenomena of "make the hay while sun shines" we have also experienced the above alternative source of energy in our country. Government of Pakistan created a department for the sole purpose of searching out alternative sources of energy during 1970s. The sole objective behind the task was to establish wind mills, solar systems, bio-gas plants and water-mills in remote rural areas of the country having no accessibility to the electricity facility. Some tasks were achieved, some left un-attended or half done. There have total spillages as reports say and mal-practices in the tasks assigned to the department. No doubt the officer-men/field-staff did make their own beds-warm consequently the government had to do away with it owing to have handed over whole the task and project partly to the Federal Ministry of Science and Technology and partly to Water and Power Development Authority (WAPDA). The project fell short due to lack of expertise and know-how within the main Federal Ministry as well as within the directorate assigned the task. However, all the employees including BP-1 to above made their own shelters under the umbrella of this project. Whole the team to whom this national-wide important task was assigned could not come to the expectations of the government and badly failed to accomplish the goals. The need of the hour is to re-motivate the project, may it be in public or private capacity, so as to have cheaper and useful alternative source of energy in hand and it is expected that the government will give due attention towards this important issue may it be completed by the national own engineers/experts or under international tendering system.