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Solar energy is the energy of the future

enter image description hereAccording to the Center for Science and Environment in Delhi, solar energy has finally “arrived” – it is now causing trade wars between the US, Europe and China, which tells you that this sector is growing and is lucrative (hence all the competitiveness). Today, solar energy is positioned to become a new source of power to lead the world to a low-carbon future and hopefully, away from a global climate catastrophe (caused by rising emissions from burning fossil fuels). For solar energy to become so cheap that it can compete with coal and oil, its deployments needs to be greatly scaled up.

That is happening already – not just in the western countries like Germany and Spain, but also in the developing world. In South Asia, Bangladesh and India are quickly deploying this technology already, which is becoming cheaper each year. The Chinese have actually managed to bring down prices in the last few years – it is estimated that in 2011 Photo Voltaic (PV) modules cost 60 per cent less than what they did in 2008. Today, China has a glut of solar panel production and Chinese manufacturers that supply most of the world’s solar panels are struggling to avoid bankruptcy after expanding too fast. The resulting plunge in solar-panel prices means that investors can expand into new markets. Pakistan can use this opportunity to request the Chinese government for major solar power installation financed by China. Instead of talking about nuclear and coal, we should be seriously considering this modern, renewable energy, which is THE energy of the future.

Currently, we have an installed capacity of around 23,000 megawatts and a demand of only around 16,000 megawatts so we are actually OK for now. What we need to do in the short term is to finance the circular debt and address the massive theft and corruption that takes place in our power sector. Energy reforms are of no use unless they are long-term and we need to be thinking of the future. Our political leaders should be planning for the long-term, which means thinking years ahead (taking our population growth and the increased demand for electricity into consideration).

According to development expert Dr Tariq Banuri, who is a great advocate of renewable energy in Pakistan: “Unless we have a solvent system, it is difficult to attract investment in new capacity. Not surprisingly, the only ‘investors’ we seem to be able to attract are snake oil salesmen out to make a quick buck (in fact, a quick million bucks), in cahoots with the high level decision makers, but with no interest in building new capacity and helping the country overcome the energy gap. This leads me to three points. First, given the insolvency of the system (and the insolvency of the exchequer), we have to be mindful of what the rest of the world would be willing to contribute in order for us to attain an adequate level of energy availability. This is the argument for renewable energy. In case of all other technologies, we will either be on our own, or may in fact face unanticipated repercussions in the future. Second, we need to strengthen the dual pricing system in such a way that it leads to strict segregation between low-income consumers and those with high-incomes plus the commercial, government (including military), agricultural, and industrial sectors. The best way of doing it is to reserve the low cost energy (WAPDA/ hydro power/ domestic gas) for the low-income sector and ask the industrial, agricultural, commercial, institutional (e.g., military) and high-income residential areas (e.g., defense housing authorities) to generate their own energy. Instead of diesel generators during load shedding, they should be encouraged to build large scale and efficient and non-polluting energy systems. Third, the incoming government has to address the stratospheric level of corruption in the energy sector”.

The Alternative Energy Development Board in Pakistan (AEDB), which is promoting renewable energy in the country, says that currently both the Solar PV and Solar Thermal based markets are rapidly developing in the country without any government subsidies or direct assistance. Although Pakistan has yet to install its first ‘MW scale’ solar PV project, there has been a sharp increase in the capacity of installed Solar PV technology in the country during 2012 (small-scale kW range installations). The AEDB report for 2012 explains that: “Considering the significant energy shortfall with heavy load shedding in major cities of the country with hardly any electricity being supplied to the rural communities, increasing trust and popularity of the effectiveness of the technology within the country as well as reduction in Solar PV systems globally, this trend is not surprising and is expected to continue in the future. It is also worth mentioning that development of the capacities of the local technical staff and vendors working in the Solar PV market has also resulted in improved quality of O&M and played a key role in developing consumer confidence to install Solar PV systems”.
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