Scaling up Pakistan’s renewable energy
In a world dealing with climate change and limited natural resources, there is an increased focus on tapping into renewable resources and enhancing their share in the energy mix to meet the needs of domestic, industrial and transport sectors.
The Paris Accords signed in December 2015 at the World Climate Summit really ushered in the era and awareness of renewable energy on a global scale. This energy is derived from sources that are naturally replenishing, clean and inexhaustible, like solar, wind, hydropower, biomass and geothermal. In contrast, non-renewable energy sources like coal, natural gas, oil and nuclear energy are both limited and associated with greenhouse gas emissions.
Historically, the world has relied on biomass fuels, wood, agricultural waste and cow dung for its energy needs. Even today, biomass fuels remain a dominant source of energy and owing to how inexpensive they are, they account for 60-70% of all energy in low-income households mostly in middle and low-income countries.
Globally there has been a shift toward renewable energy sources and many developed countries have restructured their energy systems to assimilate renewable energy in the overall mix. But a birds eye view of the energy mix in Pakistan shows it is still relying heavily on more traditional sources of energy with thermal energy at 64%, hydel at 30%, and nuclear at 3% of the total. This is not only eating away at the country’s foreign currency reserves but also contributing to GHG emissions and is a far cry from where the rest of the world is heading. For a country still importing oil and gas, it translates into high cost of electricity for end consumers.
In December 2006, the first policy for development of renewable energy for power generation was launched by Pakistan’s then Ministry of Water and Power and it provided guidelines in line with the government’s open door policy for private investment to improve Pakistan’s power supply position. Despite this, nothing notable was seen during that period and the country continued to suffer crippling energy shortages. The previous Nawaz Sharif-led government took measures to tap into wind and solar power energy and initiated projects through competitive bidding in an attempt to bridge the energy supply gap.
Transitioning to an energy system based on renewable technologies will have immense economic dividends.
Dr. Mehreen Mujtaba
According to the Economic Survey of Pakistan 2017-2018, 18 wind power projects of 937.27 MW cumulative capacity and six solar power projects of 418 MW capacity do supply electricity to the power grid but this is less than 1% of national electricity generation, barely making a dent in the overall mix. The incumbent government announced an ambitious plan in their manifesto to increase renewable power, especially through micro-hydro plants. However, there is an urgent need to push for and incentivize solar rooftops as small-scale solar technologies would really help mitigate the country’s energy issues.
According to International Energy Agency (IEA), the world’s electricity demand will increase 70% by the year 2040, mainly driven by emerging economies like India, China, the Middle East and some countries in South East Asia. The share of renewables in meeting global energy demands is expected to grow by one-fifth in the next five years. Renewables will have the fastest growth in the energy sector, meeting around 70% of global energy demands, including solar, wind, hydropower and bioenergy shares.
Transitioning to an energy system based on renewable technologies will have immense economic dividends. According to International Renewable Energy Agency, doubling the renewable energy share in the world mix to 36% by 2030 will result in additional global growth of 1.1% (equivalent to 1.3 trillion dollars), and will employ more than 24 million people, compared to 9.2 million today.
In Pakistan, issues of social equity such as access to clean and modern sources of energy, improved human development indicators, poverty alleviation and a reduced burden on rural women for biomass fuel collection can be addressed by the ubiquitous use of renewable energy, which reduces reliance on fossil fuels.
Pakistan needs to urgently push forward and tap into renewable energy resources for economic development as well as for providing relief to it’s citizens from the heavy tariffs of imported power — a commodity that is not even available half of the time.
– Dr. Mehreen Mujtaba is a freelance consultant working in the area of environment and health. She has a keen interest in Climate Change and it’s impacts on population health and human security.