Wasting our energy

People are demanding for an end to the load-shedding of electricity and gas. Government should listen or else people will come out on the streets if they do not get basics like energy to light their homes and run their stoves. The issue with oil prices is in fact world wide; the noise is about “energy security”. Other countries in the region are all in chaos ahead to become self sufficient in meeting their own energy needs.

Technology can be our rescue. “Pakistan has two very serious energy problems; energy reliability and energy access”, says Carl Pope, a former executive director of the Sierra Club, an American environmental organization. “For half of Pakistan’s population, renewable energy is the only power they are ever going to get and for the rest renewables can replace the shortfall”, he added.

Carl Pope’s point of view was, renewable energy is the key to our energy misery. This will be possible in the form of small hydro projects, solar water pumps and water geysers to ease the load of electricity and gas, rooftop solar units for homes and large wind farms on Pakistan’s extensive coastal wind corridor. There can be smaller initiatives like the sugar mills producing electricity from biomass to feed the grid, garbage companies converting sorted trash into energy and smaller biogas units across farms in rural areas where dung is readily available. There are a lot of possible solutions; in addition, it can be run of the river turbines or canals to produce electricity locally and extracting methane from our vast low-grade coal supplies in the Thar Desert.

“Every little bit is going to help… The technology for doing all this is readily available”, he points out. All the Government of Pakistan has to do is set the policy right, which in his view, is the fairly easy part. The rest will be done by business. “You don’t have to start from scratch, you can learn from other developing countries like South Africa, Kenya and to some extent India”. If we set out on this path, he says, the “current energy shortage can improve dramatically”. Several companies in Lahore and Karachi are already offering solar technology. What are urgently needed, however, are trusted brand names that can distribute solar products like solar panels, solar geysers, solar pumps, solar streetlights etc. Along with the right distributors, we also need banks to provide the finance to scale all this up.

Wind is the second cheapest form of energy that has huge potentials. But the downside is, aside from a few small pilot projects set up by different NGOs on the coast, we only have one big 50 MW wind energy project that was recently set up by the Fauji Fertiliser Company. But on the good side though, the government claims that the next year will see at least 10 more wind projects which will be the beginning of exploiting the wind potential of the Gharo-Keti Bandar Wind Corridor. The area has 50,000 MW power generation potential which means with the city of Karachi located nearby, distribution costs will not be high.

We are blessed with all the rivers and extensive canal system. This gives us great potential small-scale hydro projects, including run of the river hydro systems. Medium sized dams in the country come with great potential too, they seem to be appropriate sites.

In the rural areas of Pakistan Biogas plants are also a good option, but there could be a problem, according to Carl Pope, is that “they fall apart when you make them too big”. In fact, this has been introduced to some places in the country and they seem to work quite well but only if few households are sharing the load and feedstock.

Another good option is biogas from crushed sugarcane because of many sugar mills in Pakistan. As of today, only around seven sugar mills practice this and selling their surplus power to the national grid. But if all will do the same idea, the potential of producing 2000 MW through the 82 sugar mills in the country.

Pakistan can do better; there are a lot of options for us. If we all support renewable options rather than go for potential expensive scams like “Rental Power Projects”, we could solve our energy problems within five years, says the experts.

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