A renewable solution to Pakistan’s crisis?

 By Robin Wylie

Pakistan suffers from a huge electricity deficiency due to a heavy reliance on imported fuels, and this deficiency has become a significant impediment to socio-economic development in the country. For example, a routine problem is that electricity supply cannot be maintained during peak hours, resulting in frequent power shutdown of 13–14 h in urban areas, and 16–19 h in rural areas. This scenario creates an increase in local fuel prices and limits potentials in the establishment of new industrial zones. Pakistan is endowed with potential renewable energy resources such as wind, solar, hydro, and biomass. These resources have the capacity to be major contributors to future energy production matrix, climate change reduction efforts, and the sustainable energy development of the country…

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Pakistan’s entrenched energy crisis is a huge barrier to economic and societal progress. A new study highlights how renewable power could help. Pakistan relies heavily on imported fossil fuels to meet its energy needs, and since a global hike in oil prices beginning in 2007, the nation has been struggling, and failing, to bring power to its citizens. Pakistan’s energy demands outweigh production by between 5000 and 8000 MW — equal to more than 25 percent of the country’s total power usage.

This issue costs Pakistan’s economy dearly. Power outages of more than 12 hours at a stretch are now routine occurrences, even in developed urban areas. This has caused many businesses to relocate to neighboring countries, dealing a significant blow to Pakistan’s economy.

Pakistan’s main response to its energy crisis has been to increase its acquisition of fossil fuels. But the country’s abundant sources of renewable energy could make for a much more sustainable, and greener, solution.

Pakistan already derives around 30 percent of its energy from hydroelectricity, however other promising renewables, such as solar and wind power, have next to no presence. But the expansion of renewable fuel sources should be a “major national priority,” according to a recent study in the journal Energy, Sustainability and Society. After reviewing the recent literature, the study’s authors concluded that the potential to exploit various other forms of renewable energy is high across the whole of Pakistan.

For example, the study points to a recent survey by the country’s meteorological department which identified a “Wind Corridor” in the Sindh region, in the far south of Pakistan. This small region alone has the potential to produce some 11,000 MW of wind power, equal to 50 percent of Pakistan’s current energy demands.

A wind farm in Sindh. Source: Esmap World Bank

What’s more, a recent survey aided by the United States Agency for International Development determined that across the whole of Pakistan, a total exploitable wind resource of approximately 120,000 MW could be technically exploited to power the national grid. The Pakistani government has announced plans to increase wind power generation from less than 300 MW today to more than 3,500 MW by end of 2018.

Pakistan is also ideally situated to profit from the solar energy boom. Located in subtropical latitudes, most of Pakistan consistently receives more than 300 days of sunshine per year. Pakistan’s Alternative Energy Development Board has estimated that Pakistan has about 2900 GW of solar power potential.

Solar development in Pakistan may still be in its infancy, but there are promising signs of progress. The Quaid-e-Azam solar park, located in the central province of Punjab, came online in 2015, and will eventually produce up to 1000 MW of electricity. Pakistan had also set a target of electrifying 40,000 villages via solar photovoltaics by 2015, although the progress of this project is unclear.

The presence of hydroelectricity in Pakistan is also set to grow. Only approximately 7000 MW of the country’s estimated 42000 MW hydro potential has so far been exploited. New developments like the Dasu power plant, a 4320 MW hydroelectric dam currently being constructed on the Indus River in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Province of northern Pakistan, are a promising sign for Pakistan’s energy future. The Pakistani government plans to invest a further $500 million in renewable energy projects in the country by 2030.

SEE MORE: China’s renewables revolution by Nicholas Newman

about the author
Robin Wylie
Freelance earth/space science journalist. Currently finishing off a PhD in volcanology at University College London.