Soaring inflation, coupled with steeply rising power bills, has crippled the lives of the already battered citizens of Pakistan. Years of mismanagement in the energy sector have come home to roost. The survival of daily wagers and salaried persons is at stake. The present situation has plunged them into a state of compromise on the most basic of needs. How to cope with the unbearable cost of electricity is something that every Pakistani citizen is thinking of. Going solar provides a beacon of hope in this nightmare scenario.
A systematic approach at three levels – individuals, institutions, and government – could ward off the burden of rising electricity costs. Likewise, vulnerable segments of society can be given a low price of electricity if effluent people generate most of their electricity through this one-time investment, which is cost-effective and environmentally-friendly.
Escalating inflation is unlikely to be overcome. Fuel prices registered a sharp increase of 52.8%, as against 19.4 percent during July-April FY2022, resulting in expensive electricity. Steep power bills hit Pakistan’s poor. Millions of Pakistanis have been forced to ration the use of fans and other essential electrical items.
How can this situation be remedied? Renewable sources of energy are significant in this regard. Solar energy is abundant and remains unharnessed except for a few projects. Miriam Katz's study in Triple Bottom Line Magazine, titled The Feasibility of Renewable Energy in Pakistan revealed that if only 0.25 percent of the land area of the province of Balochistan were covered by solar panels with 20 percent efficiency, this would be enough to provide electricity to the entire country. With a solar capacity of just 1.22 GW by the end of 2022 (IRENA figures), Pakistan has failed to utilize its potential and underperformed. An integrated approach is the need of the time.
In Pakistan, solar energy emerges as a practical solution for several compelling reasons: approximately 70 percent of the population resides in remote villages, situated far from the reach of the national grid, according to findings of the Solar Energy Research Center (SERC). These people rely on wood and animal dung as their major source of cooking fuel, a practice that has led to alarming deforestation and has affected the environment and health of the people.
In Pakistan, solar energy emerges as a practical solution for several compelling reasons: approximately 70 percent of the population resides in remote villages, situated far from the reach of the national grid.
At the individual level, the billing prices can be assessed cost-effectively. India's average electricity cost is 5.90 per unit, very low compared to Pakistan which is more than 45 per unit and not affordable for a salaried person. Going solar in a small home needs six panels of 3.3 kW. However, India offers generous subsidies for solar roofs that cover up to 10 KW capacity. The Turkiye recipe can also be adopted – an installed power generation capacity of 8 GW with 16 producers, with an average plant capacity of 200 MW.
Government institutions, including universities, should aim for self-sufficiency in energy consumption, and solar power is the most viable option. A good initiative by the Asian Development Bank, ‘Powering Pakistan’s School through Solar Energy’, has proved its energy-generating potential. In Punjab, this programme has resulted in annual savings of about 2.8 million dollars. Some schools even earn by selling the extra electricity to the national grid. The Islamia University Bahawalpur is another case study; it generates 2.5 megawatts of electricity and saves Rs70 million.
As of April 2023, China is the largest producer of solar energy with a capacity of 430 GW, followed by the US 141.8 at GW. The solar market in the US is increasing, resulting in an increase of solar jobs by 167 percent. China’s share in the total manufacturing phases of solar panels exceeds 80 percent. Currently, subsidy-free solar power has become cheaper than coal in China. In the first half year of 2022, the nation has deployed more than 30.88 GW of solar PV systems.
Pakistan has the capability to generate a substantial 33,000 MW of solar and wind power.
However, there is a real danger that all used panels will go straight to the landfill. Therefore, regulators and industry players need to start to address this issue by improving the scale of recycling capabilities before the avalanche of solar panels hits.
A recent analysis by the German Think tank Agora Energiewende revealed the need for Pakistan to adopt a more aspirational approach in harnessing its variable renewable energy (VRE) potential, specifically solar and wind. The National Transmission and Dispatch Company's (NTDC) 10-year Indicative Generation Capacity Expansion Plan (IGCEP) falls short of forecasting this potential. According to Agora Energiewende, Pakistan has the capability to generate a substantial 33,000 MW of solar and wind power. Implementing this strategy could yield cost savings of 15 percent and significantly reduce emissions by 50 percent. It is stated that the design future installed capacity share of VRE is 20,548; 13,680 MW from solar photovoltaic (PV) and 6,868 MW from wind. The government should pursue this ambitious program.
The Comprehensive National Solar Policy, aimed at providing environmentally friendly and affordable solar energy, represents a promising strategy to tackle our nation’s energy crisis. However, it is imperative that this policy should consistently be implemented. To achieve this, all obstacles hindering solar installations at the governmental level must be promptly addressed. This aligns with the principle of a green energy system, which not only prioritises environmental friendliness, but also embraces the concept of a circular economy.
Pakistan stands at a critical juncture, facing the confluence of daunting challenges of double-digit inflation, crippling electricity bills, and a pressing energy crisis. These problems will not disappear in the near future. Solar energy solutions can minimize the plight of the people. Studies suggest that the potential is there. Harnessing this potential relies on the will of individuals, institutions, and the government.
Pakistan's energy future must be one that not only addresses immediate challenges but also foresees a sustainable, green, and economically vibrant path forward.