Potential of large scale solar plants in Pakistan

by Faraz Ahmed

Pakistan has been recently in the news for the solar potential it has. In March this year, the Alternative Energy Development Board (AEDB) and World Bank produced the solar map of the country. This was created by drawing data from nine solar data stations and 12 wind masts installed across the country. What it showed it that the country has better solar radiation than even Germany which is the leader in using solar energy for energy consumption.

Solar map of the world

Solar map of Pakistan

The picture is worth a thousand words and as evident, the country’s south side has huge potential for the use of solar energy. The province of Balochistan has the biggest potential along with the Sindh province. Such maps are very important for other countries when they look at which areas to make investments for solar plants.

Below is the solar map for Germany

As illustrated above, Germany’s map shows the maximum it receives in the range of 1200+ kWh/m2, whereas Pakistan has many areas with over 2000+ kWh/m2.

Pakistan has been struggling for energy, current summer trends has led to over 7,000 MW of shortage in the country which is leading to frequent power cuts and with some parts of the country having no electricity for 10 to 12 hours. People have started to install small scale solar panels on their homes, which is generating electricity for their own consumption. The non-ability of electricity is just not impacting residential users but industries are unable to run their production and hence export orders are declining. With Pakistan’s remittances declining due to global issues and some of its inability to deliver export orders on time, Pakistan will soon will be facing a balance of payments issue.

The energy regulator of the country NEPRA has recently introduced the net metering licensing, with the Pakistan parliament becoming the first in the country in achieving this license. If large scale solar plants are installed in these areas which have big radiation potential and can be connected to the national grid, most of the energy crisis will be eliminated if not converted into a surplus which can be exported to other countries around the region.

Pakistan will be installing about 4,400 MW projects in the next 15 years using coal, whereas the country is looking at installing similar capacity projects using solar energy. Pakistan requires an additional 1,000 MW of energy every year to meet its population demand. If international investors along with some local investors can harvest this potential of solar energy available in the country, Pakistan can become self-efficient in a very short period of time.

These solar panels can be installed in railway stations, bus stands, school roof tops, government office buildings, the list is endless. Pakistan needs to in cash this potential it has which is naturally provided to it. But with political climate of the country not addressing this basic need of electricity to its citizen, it will be up to private individuals and businesses to realize its potential and take the initiative to install these solar plants around the country. The northern part of the country has good potential for hydro but installing a dam will take years of construction and its impact will be felt in 10 years or so, but with solar the situation is opposite, the impact can be seen within a year.

Another option here is the banking industry which can actively play a role in this, banks need to realize that by creating clean energy funds and associating these funds with projects which can provide maximum benefit to the users, the ROI of such projects will be very high. Not only will they be addressing a social need but at the same time profit from such projects.

Electric cars does have a big potential in the country, with major tax breaks provided for such vehicles, it does make sense to have such vehicles on the road. But in the absence of electric recharging stations due to non-availability of electricity, such projects cannot be started. Electric cars have maximum impact on the environment and the air we breathe in the country. But we are still at least 15 years behind the globe on the use of electric cars in the country. There are some hybrid models already on the road, but these run on a combination of self-generated electric power and the use of fossil fuel. But once Pakistan is self-reliant or in surplus on electricity, this dream can become a reality.

It is up to the people to realize the potential of these large scale solar plants, with the cost of solar panels decreasing on a daily basis, this is perfect time to venture into mass scale use of solar panels. The government needs to remove or reduce the red tape in the installation of such projects and really push into this venture, not only will this be beneficial for the country but also be a good vote grabbing opportunity for the political parties. Question is who will blink first and realize what can be achieved by addressing a simple basic human need.

Syed Faraz Ahmed is a financial services specialist by profession, but clean and green energy is his passion.

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