Saudi ACWA poised to start work on Pakistan solar projects next month

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A worker at a solar power plant. Saudi Arabia’s ACWA Power is planning a number of solar and wind power facilities in Pakistan. (Reuters/File)
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A worker at a solar power plant. Saudi Arabia’s ACWA Power is planning a number of solar and wind power facilities in Pakistan. (Reuters/File)
Updated 18 May 2019

Saudi ACWA poised to start work on Pakistan solar projects next month

  • Riyadh-based company signed $2 billion agreement with Islamabad during Saudi crown prince’s visit in February
  • Only about 5 to 6 percent of power to Pakistan’s national electrical grid comes from renewable energy

KARACHI: Saudi-based ACWA Power is set to start Pakistan operations next month by investing in solar projects in the southwestern Balochistan province, a top Pakistani power division official said on Friday, putting in motion an agreement signed during a high-profile visit to Islamabad by Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in February.
The crown prince signed agreements of over $20 billion during his trip, including for a $10 billion oil refinery in the coastal town of Gwadar in Balochistan.
“ACWA Power will come to Pakistan after Ramadan,” Irfan Ali, Federal Secretary Power Division, told Arab News. “They will invest in solar projects in Balochistan.”
“Balochistan is the largest province of Pakistan; we are trying to switch major parts of Balochistan to solar power,” Ali said, adding that “the exact quantum of the investment [by ACWA Power] will be determined after the survey of projects.”
Riyadh-based ACWA Power, partly owned by Saudi’s Public Investment Fund, has a presence in 11 countries including Oman, United Arab Emirates, Jordan, Morocco, South Africa, Turkey, Vietnam, Mozambique, and Egypt with regional offices in Dubai, Istanbul, Cairo, Rabat, Johannesburg, Hanoi, and Beijing.
The company, which develops power and desalinated water plants, signed a $2 billion deal with Pakistan to invest in solar projects during the crown prince’s visit.
Facing enduring energy shortages, Pakistan is taking steps to increase the share of renewable energy in its total energy mix which is at present dominated by fossil fuel at up to 80 percent.
Only about 5 to 6 percent of the power to Pakistan’s national electrical grid currently comes from renewable energy, according to the country’s Alternate Energy Development Board (AEDB).
The new government of Pakistan led by Prime Minister Imran Khan, who came to power in August, is planning to increase the share of renewable energy (power generated from wind, solar, small hydro and biomass sources) to 30 percent by 2030.
Pakistan today imports more than 95 percent of the solar panels and other renewable energy systems it uses, largely from China. But new high quality solar maps — essential to securing financing for major solar projects — show Pakistan is one of the world’s best countries for producing solar energy because of its arid climate and latitude. The maps were developed by the Alternative Energy Development Board and the World Bank, drawing on data from nine solar data stations and 12 wind masts installed across the country.
The solar maps highlight which regions are most suitable for solar power generation. Balochistan, a desert area with little cloud cover or air pollution, has the country’s largest solar potential, they show. Sindh is another prime location.
Pakistan’s data has been made public as part of the Global Solar Atlas website, giving commercial scale projects ready-to-use seasonal and monthly data.
This means investors do not have to spend significant time and money gathering data for their projects. Instead, they can instantaneously acquire certified data of ‘bankable’ quality that should be acceptable to commercial financing institutions. That can substantially lower the costs around projects, which in turn encourages companies to set up large-scale solar power facilities.
Frustrated with constant power cuts, consumers around the country are already installing small-scale roof-top solar systems for their homes and businesses.
In general, the solar industry is poised for massive expansion, driven primarily by cost reductions. Solar Photovoltaic (PV) capacity could reach between 1,760 and 2,500 gigawatts (GW) by 2030, according to AEDB.


Pakistan interior minister orders ‘strict’ action against spread of COVID-19 'fake news'

Updated 34 min 9 sec ago

Pakistan interior minister orders ‘strict’ action against spread of COVID-19 'fake news'

  • Says all available resources would be used to identify people who spread misinformation
  • Rights activists fear new laws to curb coronavirus fake news could be used to clamp down on freedom of speech

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan’s minister for interior, Ijaz Ahmad Shah, on Thursday directed authorities to take “strict and immediate” action against those involved in spreading coronavirus misinformation, a week after the government announced plans to introduce new laws to curb COVID-19 “fake news” on social media.
Last week, the National Command and Operation Center (NCOC), a top federal body set up to oversee the government’s coronavirus mitigation efforts, set up a committee under the chairmanship of the interior minister to prepare a legal framework to help the government deal with coronavirus-related “fake news” on social media platforms.
“The Federal Minister for Interior, Ijaz Ahmad Shah directed the Director Cyber Wing, FIA to closely monitor and hold the responsible ones accountable for their actions,” the Ministry of Interior said in a statement released after Shah presided over a meeting on formulating a “COVID-19 Disinformation Prevention Mechanism.”
“He reinforced the point that strict and immediate action should be taken against these people. The Minister further said that people who are involved in such actions are not pro-country or its people.”
Shah said the primary purpose of the new committee was to ensure that “correct and credible information” was disseminated, adding that all available resources would be used to identify people who spread disinformation.
He also directed the head of Pakistan’s electronic media regulator not to allow “fake news” to run on TV channels.
Islamabad has previously struggled to regulate online content mostly by blocking or asking social media companies to remove blasphemous material and other posts that violate the country’s religious and cultural norms and laws, or hurt national security interests.
In February, the government approved, and then rolled back, new rules to regulate cyberspace after opponents said they could be used to stifle dissent. Social media companies have also largely shunned obliging to help law enforcement agencies access data and remove online content deemed unlawful.
Rights activists and free media campaigners fear the government’s new coronavirus “fake news” mechanism could be used to clamp down on freedom of speech.
“This shady mechanism is going to have serious implications for the already squeezed freedom of press and expression in Pakistan,” Haroon Baloch, researcher and program manage at Bytes for All, told Arab News.
Baloch said disinformation on social media was a challenge but not a crime, unless it turned into “deep-fake” news that harmed individuals and groups.
“The government must ensure transparency in the so-called mechanism,” he said, “along with ensuring an oversight of civil society and free speech campaigners to prevent abuse.”