June 11 - 17, 20

Solar technologies can become the cheapest source of alternative renewable energy for not only industrial and commercial hubs but also domestic consumers in the urban centres in the country if the government extends the scope of solar energy programme from the rural areas. Solar village electrification programme has remained quite successful in electrifying 49 villages of district Tharparkar, Sindh with 3,000 solar home systems this year, according to the latest annual economic survey. According to an estimate, Pakistan can produce 2.9 million megawatts from the solar source of energy.

Energy supply as per the growing demand in the country sounds like a dream. Power generation is also taking heavy toll on the national kitty since instead of coming down, share of imported furnace oil in power generation has been increasing over the years. Due to high cost of oil and structural issues in the power sector, the incumbent government has to fork out sizeable money in the name of subsidies. According to the recent budget document, government has extended Rs1250 billion in subsidies to power sector in the last five years. Needless to say what this huge amount would have done had it been channelised in the beginning towards addressing of structural issues in the power sector.

Federal government has also indicated its inability to carry on the burden of subsidy to power sector. National finance commission award has left provinces on their own to set fiscal anomalies right. Now, clean renewable energy projects have gained importance all the more for the provinces to overcome power crisis. Punjab power development board issued three letters of interest (LoI) of 70 megawatt capacities of solar power plants in the outgoing fiscal year. Other provinces have to follow suit.

The federal government said it is introducing reforms to resolve issues related to tariff subsidies, line losses, and a score of management inefficiencies, adding these reforms could not take place at once. Five-year period is not a small one and nor a democratic government in the history of Pakistan has been as luckiest as the present one to unveil its fifth year development programme in a row. Not a single mega project or so-called reform in the power sector has become reality during this ruling under the friendly opposition that has realised its role only recently with the general election round the corner.

Is addition of 3,500 megawatt to the system an achievement when shortfall has reached alarmingly more than 5,000 megawatts?

National economic council (NEC) has approved Rs69 billion for power sector and Rs115 billion additional by federal organisations like water and power development authority (Wapda) and other electric companies out of the public sector development programme (PSDP) for the next fiscal 2012/13.

Deregulation of telecommunication sector broke the monopoly of the then state-run Ptcl. The same can be applied to energy sector. Besides telecommunication, banking and oil distribution sectors turned up across the board following deregulation.

Planning commission has also advised the government of deregulation of energy sector. In its integrated energy plan 2009-22, it said consumers should be given a number of choices of electricity and gas suppliers that they could choose from based on price competitiveness and quality of services. Though emphasizing on exploration of coal and gas, the plan strongly advised that share of clean, alternative, and renewable energy should increase to 12 per cent in total energy mix by 2022. The power generation capacity should scale up to 50,000 megawatts by then according to the demand.

Solar energy technologies are viable means of power generation and the government has to promote it under the public-private partnership and encourage people to use solar energy units, standalone gadgets, and domestic appliances instead of e.g. uninterrupted power supply (UPS) units that inflate electricity bills and pose health risks, as per the recent study.

Local manufacturing of solar plants will cut down the prices of solar energy equipments. Pakistan council of renewable energy technologies (PCERT) has designed five different models of solar water heaters—which are common household items in at least urban areas and consume sizeable gas in winter—for commercialization. It has targeted to produce 10,000 solar water heaters in 2011-15 and 25,000 in following five years in collaboration with private investors. Solar dryers, solar cookers, and solar cells are other projects for which it has planned to provide technical services to private parties.

Private investors should not feel problem probably in directing investment towards importation of solar units and setting up local manufacturing base. Being a virgin renewable energy market, Pakistan holds immense opportunities.

International renewable energy agency (Irena) has assigned membership status to Pakistan. This is likely to help the country build its capacity in the renewable sector. Reportedly, this will also encourage foreign investments in the sector.

Founded on 26 January 2009 in Bonn, Germany, Irena is an intergovernmental organisation to promote renewable forms of energy including solar, wind, hydropower, ocean, geothermal, and biomass. Eighty-six states and European union block have endorsed the status of the Irena as an expert body that helps members in formulating alternative energy policies.

Not only industrial and commercial, but residential consumers of electricity are also aching for cost-effective solutions to power crisis. They would shift to new modes pleasingly. Previous examples show the fast adaptability of Pakistani people to new developments. It took a small period for CNG to become major fuel of road transportation. And, everyone knows the transition from gasoline to gas economy happened because of government’s determination and intention to do so.

As soon as usage of solar technologies will increase, prices become affordable. Subsidy to power sector is not a one-off solution to intractable power crisis. It is a perennial drain on the fiscal system. Though tariff subsidy pre-empts unbearable electricity bills, yet this puts burden on consumer’s pockets indirectly through indirect taxes the government slaps to fill revenue-expenditure gap.

Alternatively, the money should be spent on marketing, negotiation with the investors, policymaking, and capacity building related to the renewable energy technologies.

Slow progress of alternative renewable energy is because of long and tiring process of approval in the government departments. Foreign investors and donors lose interest due to lack of cohesion and coordination between government agencies and umpteen numbers of bureaucratic hurdles. Renewable energy exploration and development should be devolved to local bodies or district governments. Solar energy means from handy gizmos to generation plants should be promoted in public since they are found more effective and result-oriented in subtropical climate of urban centres like Karachi.