The biggest threat to our economic security today is the non-availability of reliable and continuous power supply. We are fortunate enough to be blessed with unlimited sunshine that can easily meet the national energy needs. Solar energy, being reliable and affordable, will not only help in easing the power crisis but also diversify the energy portfolio by including more in-state resources
By Dr. Noor Fatima
The country is presently confronted by a severe energy crisis that has jeopardised the national industrial production on the one hand and made the lives of people miserable, especially students. There is a close link between energy security and overall development. The latter will continue to deteriorate if the major problem of power outages is not addressed. It is nearly impossible for the economy to move towards the road to recovery until the wide gap between energy demand and supply is bridged, which reached the highest level of 5,000MW this summer. Long hours of load shedding and frequent power cuts have become a norm now, hence foreign investors show their reluctance to invest in a country where even the basic necessity of life i.e. electricity is a rare commodity.
In the prevailing circumstances, one thing is fairly obvious that we cannot rely on conventional sources of energy only. We need to turn our attention towards alternative sources of power such as water, coal, wind etc. Although the national leaders focused on renewable energy sources, but there has hardly been any improvement on this front.
Nevertheless, there are some potential areas which could be explored for power generation and these might prove to be beneficial to the economy and people alike. One such area is solar energy that could help to mitigate the country’s energy crisis.
Solar power is the conversion of sunlight into electricity, either directly using photovoltaics or indirectly using concentrated solar power (CSP). Photovoltaic cells enable sunlight to be converted directly into electrical energy. This system can be used to build mini grids to transmit electricity to individual houses and buildings; it has a storage technology which is integrated to the mini grids to ensure that electricity is available even during periods of insufficient solar radiation. The diameter of the sun is 109 times larger than the diameter of the earth and its radius stands at 696,000km while the earth’s is 6,376km. The sun’s average surface temperature is 5,700 C. The earth’s average temperature is 20 C. The amount of energy from the sun that falls on the earth’s surface is enormous. All the energy stored in the natural reserves of coal, oil, and gas is equal to the energy from just 20 days of sunshine.
Solar energy has an excellent potential in Pakistan that receives high levels of solar radiation throughout the year. Solar energy is available at a rate of 1,000 watts per square metre in the country. It can be converted to electricity with the help of photovoltaic cells, which may be used to pump water, operate fans, TV and telecommunications directly during daytime. The electrical energy generated during the day time (5-8 hours of sunshine), can also be stored in deep cycle lead acid batteries which can be used at night to provide power for lighting, radio, television and fans.
At present, almost 95 per cent of the country’s electricity generation comes from hydropower, which becomes less productive during the driest, hottest months of the year and cannot keep pace with the surging energy demand. Also, about 70 per cent of the population lives in some 50,000 villages dispersed around the country. Many of these villages are far from the main transmission lines of the national grid and owing to their relatively smaller populations; it is usually not economically viable to connect these villages to the grid. Solar energy, on the other hand, has a huge potential in areas of Pakistan that receive high levels of solar radiation throughout the year.
There is a general consensus among energy policymakers that solar energy will be expensive. But we need to compare its cost with importing exorbitantly priced furnace oil for electricity generation. In addition, when a major chunk of the population is suffering due to rampant blackouts, solar energy might be the most effective and least costly solution to the country’s energy woes. Initially, its utilisation could be expensive however it is the only feasible option available to address energy shortages.
The world’s largest solar system is in Germany. It managed to produce 617,000 GWh of electricity from photovoltaic system in 2010. The 10 megawatt photovoltaic power station is divided into 3 different locations in Germany and has 57,600 photovoltaic panels. Our nearby neighbour Bangladesh is also engaged in solar energy business and produced 26,000 GWh of electricity in 2008. Furthermore, almost half of the worldwide production of solar panels is consumed by Japan.
The capital cost of solar power will be reduced once a market is developed on a sustainable basis and if the government formulates favourable policies to attract investors and entrepreneurs to invest in this industry. Similarly, the cost will be reduced by a wide extent through collaboration and technology transfer programmes with countries using solar power. In this regard, we need to approach donor organisations including USAID to help us develop the solar power capability in the country.
Nevertheless, strong political will is required to fulfil these objectives. We need to be cognisant of the fact that the biggest threat to our economic security today is the non-availability of reliable and continuous power supply. We are fortunate enough to be blessed with unlimited sunshine that can easily meet the country’s energy needs for an entire year.
Presently, Pakistan is relying too heavily on unsustainable energy sources such as oil. By focusing on solar energy, which is affordable and reliable, our energy portfolio will be diversified by including more in-state resources. In-state resources would not only help to boost the national economy but also be a better option in overcoming the energy crisis.