Solar power had been one of the most neglected sources of electricity generation in Pakistan for years despite its immense potential and benefits. The neglect and oversight of this abundant indigenous power resource by the policy makers finally ended in recent time.

The technology of converting energy from sunlight into electricity gained prominence in Pakistan in the last couple of years with a successful installation of the first project in Cholistan desert in district Bahawalpur. The solar energy take-off, nevertheless, has been remarkable. However, consistency and a focused approach are needed to continue the momentum set by this government’s intervention.

The country receives one of the best solar radiation in the world. It has the potential to generate more than 2.324 million megawatts (MW) a year through solar thermal and photovoltaic (PV) systems, a report said.

Geographically, Pakistan is blessed with one of the ideal locations in the world for producing energy from sunlight and heat. Solar irradiation of 1,920 kilowatts per meter squared per hour (kWh/m2) has been reported in Pakistan, which is more than any other countries like India, China, Germany, and Spain.

Solar panels in Pakistan can produce one-third more power than installed in Germany as the market leader with a solar power capacity of more than 40 gigawatts.

The 100MW Quaid-e-Azam (QA) solar power project (2014) is considered a major breakthrough for breaking the stereotyped dependence on fossil fuel for meeting electricity needs. This is the first-ever commercial solar PV project in the country and also one of the biggest in the world in terms of generation capacity as an average size of a solar project in the world was 10MW.

The Punjab government came up with an idea of harnessing the solar irradiation for power generation as the land-locked province is largely resources-deficient due to lack of any oil or gas reserves or major hydro source.

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The provincial government completed grid-connected, ground-mounted solar PV project with its own resources as part of a startup company, namely Quaid-e-Azam Solar Power Company (100MW), registered with the Securities and Exchange Commission of Pakistan.

The execution of the maiden solar project was an uphill task as everything had to be established from scratches, from identification of human resource for building and running the project to dealing with cumbersome regulatory affairs, everything was hectic.

Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif was fortunate that he got a vibrant team of professionals for this task. One official says QA is not a provincial project, but it is a national endeavor given the fact that top managers of this project belong to various provinces.

Mohammad Jehanzeb Khan, supervisor of the project as additional chief secretary (energy), belongs to Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, while Najam Ahmad Shah, chief executive officer of QA Solar Power Company hails from Karachi.

The tariff announcement and the completion of the 100MW solar project created a great interest among new investors.The federal government announced an upfront feed-in tariff of around 14 and 15 US cents per kWh for solar power plants in January 2015.

The provincial government is going for a strategic sale of QA solar project as it can offer its shares through initial public offering. The government will choose an option, which will ensure maximum income from the project, sources said.

Punjab government ‘s investment of Rs3.8 billion on QA solar power plant has already earned it around Rs1.4 billion since its establishment back in mid-2015 by transmitting approximately 360 million units of electricity to the grid. Private investors have also shown interest in investing in the park and are in process of initiating work at the site.

Quaid-e-Azam Solar Park started helping in the provision of clean renewable energy that also provides carbon credits. Once completed to full capacity of 1,000MW, QA Solar Park is expected to cut carbon emission by 90,750 tons.

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QA Solar Park has already been developed, while officials hoped that another 700MW of electricity would come online by the end of the current year.

Bureaucratic delays and other bottlenecks have already dented progress of under-construction projects, being executed by private investors at the solar park. QA solar park was expected to reach its targeted capacity by the end of 2016 earlier and officials feared that 1,000MW capacity could not be installed at the park even by the end of 2017.

One of the main firms that are braving regulatory impediments and has drastically scaled down its investment plan for QA solar park.Several investors have to retreat or change their investment plan because of the delayed announcement or downward revision in power tariffs by the regulator.

Analysts said a pre-determined timeframe should be followed in letter and spirit by the regulator to execute all the tasks.

The provincial government should reduce shadow of its own mushrooming energy concerns. There are dozens of government departments or entities at the provincial level. Some of them are Punjab Energy Department, Punjab Power Development Board, Chief Engineer Power, Punjab Power Development Co. Ltd, Punjab Power Management Unit, Directorate of Power Projects, Punjab Energy Efficiency and Conservation Agency, Reconciliation Cell, Quaid-e-Azam Thermal Power Limited and Punjab Energy Holding Company Limited.

Experts believe that such an extensive setup is counterproductive and further complicating the development process in the energy sector. Further, delays in building transmission network for connecting the solar park with the grid for evacuation of power should also be accelerated.

The electrical output of the first phase of the park is a 132-kilovolt (kV) transmission line that runs through the solar park via the network of electricity distributor Multan Electric Power Company. The transmission line has a capacity of up to 400MW.

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Officials said the state-run transmission company is in the process of upgrading off-take capacity to 1,000MW in addition to building a 220kV grid station for transmitting the last phase of 600MW generation from the park.Analysts said the new energetic leadership at the National Transmission and Despatch Company is, indeed, required to speed up the work.

Experts said after endeavoring through PV solar, Pakistan now should be pragmatic in exploring other forms of solar energies. Solar energy can be harnessed using a range of ever-evolving technologies, such as solar heating, architecture, thermal storage, molten salt plants or artificial photosynthesis.

“We will have to be more imaginative in discovering new energy vistas for meeting our ever-increasing power needs,”. “Therefore, the specialized team should be assigned the task to jumpstart energy generation in all possible fields of solar energy, given the fact that it is abundantly available”, an expert said.

Around 20,000 schools in the province will be provided solar panels under ‘Ujala Programme’ with the investment of billions of rupees by Punjab government.   The demand load of school, colleges, universities, factories, commercial offices, trade centers and shops can effectively be met with solar energy that has no fuel cost.

 

EditorialNewsgained,Pakistan,prominence,Solar,technologiesSolar power had been one of the most neglected sources of electricity generation in Pakistan for years despite its immense potential and benefits. The neglect and oversight of this abundant indigenous power resource by the policy makers finally ended in recent time. The technology of converting energy from sunlight into...Pakistan's Only Newspaper on Science and Technology