In recent times, solar energy has emerged as one of the most important renewable energy sources. Advancements in solar cells have not only improved their efficiency but have also led to massive reductions in costs. Globally, $92 billion was invested in solar energy for utility-scale investments and $334 billion for rooftop and off-grid applications in 2015. Solar adoption is twice that of fossil fuels.
Pakistan has been dependent on hydro (water) and fossil fuels (Gas, Oil, Coal) for power generation. This is missing out on a huge opportunity as Pakistan is ranked among the top countries in terms of potential for solar energy.
Despite that, solar power is yet to go mainstream in Pakistan. But if it does, loadshedding and expensive electricity would become a thing of the past. Not only this, but it could help boost Pakistan’s economy to unseen heights.
We take a look at how Pakistan currently fares vis-a-vis solar power projects and its future potential.
Pakistan’s Current Solar Power Projects
Solar projects are usually employed on a small scale, largely due to the fact that their initial costs used to be very high for solar panels. However, Pakistan has somewhat adopted the energy source by launching a 900MW (initially planned to be 1000 MW) solar park. Only 200 MW worth of panels have been fitted until now, though.
Overall, Pakistan’s total solar power generation is well 1,000 MW, with small projects considered as well.
International Research on Solar Power Potential in Pakistan
While solar power can be utilized almost anywhere on the planet, Pakistan has been blessed with one of the highest potentials for solar power generation.
World Bank’s solar maps have a detailed report on which places are most suitable for solar power generation and which areas get the most Global Horizontal Irradiance (GHI). GHI is the total amount of solar radiation received by a surface horizontal to the ground. According to the report, some areas of southern western Balochistan and Central Sindh have an average GHI of over 2,300 kWh/m².
More than 90% of Pakistan’s area receives 1,500 kWh/m² of irradiance and 75% of the land has an annual GHI of over 2,000 kWh/m².
Direct Normal Irradiance (DNI) is the measure of solar energy available when a surface (a solar panel) is held perpendicular to the sun. This is measured for more advanced panels which can change direction to follow the sun.
According to the report, peak value for DNI exceeds 2,700 kWh/m² in north-western Balochistan and over 83% of Pakistan’s area exceeds 2,000kWh/m². This values are comparable to Sinai Peninsula in the Middle East, which is considered the one of the top locations in terms of solar irradiance.
Pakistan’s weather is considered to be well suited for solar power generation, according to report as there are vast spaces of land which are not affected by air pollution, aerosol content, irradiance diffusion and cloud cover.
Germany, which receives one-third of the solar irradiance (energy) that Pakistan does, produced 37,780GWh of electricity in 2013, almost half of what Pakistan needs every year.
MIT and Stanford Researchers have performed a group of studies on countries across the world and their solar power potential. The study even lists detailed plans on how solar power and other renewable sources can be implemented in Pakistan.
According to their studies, Pakistan has the potential to fulfill 92% of its electricity requirements via solar energy. Solar power will also create over 200,000 jobs in Pakistan, reduce health costs by $916 million which will be worth 21% of the whole GDP of Pakistan by 2050. Solar power projects can potentially recoup its costs in just one year after implementation.
Cost of Solar Power
NEPRA currently lists its tariff for solar power plants of up to 100 MW between 10-12 cents/kWh for IPPs and any other solar projects. That rate is still about the same as fossil fuels like oil and gas. Even electricity imports cost nearly the same.
However, the costs have drastically dropped in recent times. Last year, a company set up 800 MW solar park in Dubai and bid for per unit price that beats all fossil fuel based power solutions. The company is selling electricity for just $0.03 per KWh (3 cents). China, US and some other countries are getting solar energy at $0.029 per KWh.
Even if solar energy is employed alongside slightly expensive Wind mills, the total costs of using wind, water and solar (WWS) are well below the current mothods of power generation. The prices for WWS energies are estimated to be reduced even further in future years.
Considering the tariff rate currently applicable in Pakistan, if electricity is sold at even slightly higher rates than the ones currently applicable globally (3 cents per KWh), it would still be at least 3 to 4 times cheaper than the current rates.
Of course, there are other factors to consider as well. Pakistan is a high risk market and it’s difficult for solar power companies to invest in Pakistan, but proper support or more interest in solar energy by our government could make the process a lot more appealing. The costs for setting up solar power panels are constantly dropping and for countries like Pakistan, with its high solar irradiance, solar energy has the potential to resolve a major part of our power needs.
If Pakistanis can get electricity for at 70-80% discounted rates by using a combination of solar power, wind power, hydro electricity and nuclear power, why is there any need to build new power plants that pollute the environment which, similar to China and other countries, are certain to severely impact the health of the coming generations, even causing the death of thousands of people and damage Pakistan’s economy in the years to come?
This is one of the crucial reasons why the whole world is already moving towards solar power. It’s time Pakistan does the same and saves itself money while at the same time providing relief to its people.