Over the last thirty years, Asia has become a major player on the global scene. Many economies have become tigers while China and India are developing more rapidly than anyone had expected. Because of these developments, electricity demand is expected to increase 8% every year until 2015. As the world wakes up to the reality of climate change, electricity will increasingly have to come from renewable sources such as wind and solar. Pakistan is in a good position to exploit these because it has abundant wind and sun. This article will look at this potential, the barriers that exist to further development – and of course reasons why it must follow the course to a greener energy future.
Origins of Wind Power
Many people do not realize that wind energy first came about in Asia. Between 500 and 900 AD, a vertical axis turbine was developed in Persia to grind grain and pump water. These wind turbines were made from bundles of reeds or wood. During the 11th century, the Crusaders brought back the concept of the windmill to Europe where it was first used by the Dutch to grind corn and to drain wetlands in order for people to settle and build homes. In recent years, Europe and North America have led in terms of installed wind capacity.
Asia is now -again- making its presence felt. India and China currently have the fourth and fifth largest number of wind turbines installed, respectively.
It is interesting to note however, that while India has 45,000 megawatts (MW) of wind energy potential and a much larger surface area, Pakistan has at least 50,000 MW of potential.
The Viability of Wind Power in Pakistan
Pakistan is fortunate to have something many other countries do not, which are high wind speeds near major centres. Near Islamabad, the wind speed is anywhere from 6.2 to 7.4 metres per second (between 13.8 and 16.5 miles per hour). Near Karachi, the range is between 6.2 and 6.9 (between 13.8 and 15.4 miles per hour). Pakistan is also fortunate that in neighboring India, the company Suzlon manufactures wind turbines, thus decreasing transportation costs. Its turbines start to turn at a speed of 3 metres per second. Vestas, which is one of the world’s largest wind turbine manufacturers, has wind turbines that start turning at a speed of 4 metres per second. In addition to Karachi and Islamabad, there are other areas in Pakistan that receive a significant amount of wind.
In only the Balochistan and Sindh provinces, sufficient wind exists to power every coastal village in the country. There also exists a corridor between Gharo and Keti Bandar that alone could produce between 40,000 and 50,000 megawatts of electricity.
Given this surplus potential, Pakistan has much to offer Asia with regards to wind energy. In recent years, the government has completed several projects to demonstrate that wind energy is viable in the country. In Mirpur Sakro, 85 micro turbines have been installed to power 356 homes. In Kund Malir, 40 turbines have been installed, which power 111 homes. The Alternative Energy Development Board (AEDB) has also acquired 18,000 acres for the installation of more wind turbines.
In addition to high wind speeds near major centres as well as the Gharo and Keti Bandar corridor, Pakistan is also very fortunate to have many rivers and lakes. Wind turbines that are situated in or near water enjoy an uninterrupted flow of wind, which virtually guarantees that power will be available all the time. Within towns and cities, wind speeds can often change quickly due to the presence of buildings and other structures, which can damage wind turbines. In addition, many people do not wish for turbines to be sited near cities because of noise, though these problems are often exaggerated. Wind turbines make less noise than an office and people comfortably carry on conversations while standing near them.
Solar Energy – a Feasible Alternative for Pakistan
As is becoming painfully evident with summer around the corner, Pakistan is an exceptionally sunny country. If 0.25% of Balochistan was covered with solar panels with an efficiency of 20%, enough electricity would be generated to cover all of Pakistani demand. In all provinces the AEDB has created 100 solar homes in order to exploit solar energy.
Solar energy makes much sense for Pakistan for several reasons: firstly, 70% of the population lives in 50,000 villages that are very far away from the national grid, according to a report by the Solar Energy Research Centre (SERC). Connecting these villages to the national grid would be very costly, thus giving each house a solar panel would be cost efficient and would empower people both economically and socially.
In many Pakistani villages, wood and animal dung is used for cooking fuel; however, this is causing widespread deforestation. Women are also forced to walk for many miles each day to gather wood. Then, their health suffers from the smoke emitted from cooking on wood fires. The AEDB completed a project whereby villagers that received solar panels were also given solar cookers. During the project, deforestation decreased by 80% near the villages and the cookers were also made in Pakistan, which generated local economic growth.
Coal Power and Hydroelectricity
In addition to wind and solar, Pakistan has the fifth largest coal deposits in the world. However, the negative impacts of coal have been well documented. When power is produced from coal, sulfur dioxide and nitrous oxides are produced as well, which cause an increase in smog, ozone depletion and acid rain. Nitrous oxide is also a very powerful greenhouse gas. Even before the power is produced, the transportation of coal also impacts health due to the coal dust and the emissions from the vehicles. Lastly, the heavy metals from coal mine waste can seep into groundwater and rivers, of which there are many in use Pakistan.
Pakistan also has some deposits of natural gas in the Potwar Plateau region and near the border between Balochistan and Sindh, but these are likely to disappear within 20 years.
Because of the presence of many rivers and lakes, it may be tempting to go down the route of large hydroelectric dams, but this may not be the answer for Pakistan. There are many examples of hydroelectric projects in India and China that show the detriments of hydroelectricity. In China, one million people are being relocated as part of the Three Gorges Dam project and 62,000 acres of farmland will be flooded. The reservoir for the dam will contain one billion tons of sewage, states Diana Biggs in her case study on the Three Gorges Dam. In Pakistan, the Kalabagh dam was put on hold for environmental reasons in the 1980s and since then, there has been very little activity in this area. Due to the publicity that large dams have gained in recent years, it looks unlikely that Pakistan will take this route.
Financial and Policy Incentives
Despite the fact that Pakistan is so well endowed with wind and solar potential, only a few projects such as those mentioned above have been completed. One of the reasons why this has occurred is that Pakistan does not have major financial incentives available for those who want to install wind turbines or solar panels. Let us look at the case of India, Pakistan’s neighbour. Despite having less potential for wind, India now has the world’s fourth largest number of wind turbines installed at 7,093 MW, according to India: Renewable Energy Market report. In front of India are Germany at 21,283 MW, Spain at 13,400 MW and the US at 12,934 MW. In Germany, Spain and India, those who install wind turbines and solar panels are guaranteed a certain rate per kilowatt hour. In India, this varies according to the technology and the area. The Ministry of New and Renewable Energy, India reports that in most areas, between 2500 and 4800 rupees are guaranteed for solar panels, and for wind turbines, between 250,000 and 300,000 rupees are awarded.
Because of the above incentives, the cost of wind in India is between 2 and 2.5 cents per kilowatt hour while in Pakistan, the cost is 7 cents. In December 2006, President Musharraf announced a national renewable energy policy. This policy means that small projects do not need approval and that any person can put up their own project. However, there are no financial incentives for doing so. At the moment, all renewable energy equipment has no sales or income tax and is free of custom duty, but these incentives do very little to stimulate growth in the renewable energy market where RoIs and other financial ratios have a long gestation or breakeven period.
1. Diana Biggs, “Three Gorges Case Study” http://www.arch.mcgill.ca/prof/sijpkes/arch374/winter2001/dbiggs/three.html
2. GLOBE-Net, “India: Renewable Energy Market” http://www.globe-net.ca/market_reports/ index.cfm?ID_Report=1069
3. Ministry of New and Renewable Energy Sources, “CFA Provided Under Various Renewable Energy Schemes/ Programmes” http://mnes.nic.in/cfa-schemes-programmes.htm
It is starkly evident that Pakistan is a suitable country for the installation of wind and solar: due to high winds near cities; the presence of rivers and lakes as well as the availability of wind turbines from nearby India. There are also other reasons for installing renewable energy.
In 2006, the government reported that Pakistani economic growth reached 8.4 percent and will most likely grow for the foreseeable future. It is quite normal for power outages to happen on a daily basis in the country, but this cannot continue if the Pakistani economy is to grow. In March 2007, President Musharraf stated that renewable energy should be part of the push to increase energy supplies by 10 to 12 percent every year. The government has also set a target of 10 percent of energy to come from renewables by 2015. If it does follow through with aggressive capacity enhancements, Pakistan could be an Asian leader in renewable energy given its strategic endowments.