THE development of elaborate solar maps of Pakistan by the World Bank and the Alternate Energy Development Board is a step in the right direction. However, what is the likelihood of this making any significant impact on Pakistan’s solar and renewable energy landscape?
Solar energy has been making headlines across the world for the last few years. Between 2005 and 2010, the global installed capacity of solar photovoltaic (PV), also termed solar cells, has grown from 5GW to 227GW. Since 1977, the price of PV has dropped from $76/watt to $0.03/watt. This phenomenal success owes to wide-ranging factors; most importantly, conducive policies, technological advancements and economy of scale. Solar PV is now becoming financially competitive with conventional forms of power generation. Dubai, for example, is currently developing an 800MW PV project with a power purchase agreement signed at less than three US cents per kW hour.
While renewable energy is making an important contribution to the energy and environmental landscapes of many countries both in the developed and developing world, Pakistan has been extremely slow in capitalising on it. Even other South Asian countries have made tremendous progress in renewable energy.
In recent years, solar systems have found some acceptance in domestic and commercial sectors. Aside from the renewable energy policy development and tax exemptions on solar PV gear, there have been many public-sector initiatives, the most hyped being the Quaid-i-Azam Solar Park. However, their effectiveness especially in terms of business, levelised cost of electricity and sustainability is not clear. The fate of solar street lights, for example, has been disappointing, with most becoming dysfunctional within the first year of installation.
Pakistan is recognised as having enormous potential for solar energy, and the newly developed maps would provide better insight into the resource base. Besides solar PV, there is huge scope for solar water heating and solar thermal power generation. Given the prevalent electricity shortfall and reliance on imported oil and gas to meet national energy requirements, solar energy as an indigenous resource can greatly help address this energy insecurity. There is, however, need for a coherent and strategic approach in the form of supportive policies, innovative business models, local and international financial and technical partnerships — and motivation.