Sunny California is leading the way to tap solar energy. Can sunny Pakistan follow to deal with its crippling energy crisis?
California based BrightSource Energy, which already has a deal to build a series of huge solar power plants in the Mojave Desert for Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E), announced an even larger project recently with Southern California Edison. Brightsource, with its roots in Israel, launched its first big solar project last year in the Negev desert.
The World Economic Forum voted BrightSource as a 2009 Technology Pioneer. It was the only solar company to win this year's award, and is recognized for helping industrial customers reduce their dependence on fossil fuels.
By 2016, the two companies said, BrightSource will build a series of solar-thermal power plants that will generate 1.3 gigawatts of electricity for Southern California Edison's customers. That's enough power for 845,000 homes, said Stuart Hemphill, the utility's vice president of renewable and alternative power. Talking with SiliconValley.com, he characterized the deal as "the largest set of solar agreements ever signed."
Photo-voltaic solar power panels are often used for local and distributed power generation capability, such as on rooftops of homes and buildings. It is generally on-grid but it can be off-grid for remote places. Unlike the solar panel's relying on photo-voltaic cells, solar thermal power is centrally generated from thousands of curved mirrors in the desert focusing sun's light on to water pipes to generate superheated steam which is then used to generate electricity. It is then connected to the grid and transmitted to major population centers. The first such experimental power plant was set up in California's Mojave desert in the 1980s and many of its pioneers are now helping Brightsource to go big with solar thermal.
The deal is another step toward meeting California mandates for renewable-energy generation. Investor-owned utilities such as PG&E are required to get 20 percent of their power from renewable sources by the end of 2010, and 33 percent by 2020. Even before this latest development, the state's Energy Commission was reviewing seven solar-thermal projects that could generate nearly 2.6 gigawatts worth of electricity.
California is very sunny, but so are other places such as Pakistan. In fact, 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.
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 Center (SERC). Besides, the country's creaky and outdated electricity infrastructure loses over 30 percent of generated power in transit, more than seven times the losses of a well-run system, according to the Asian Development Bank and the World Bank; and a lack of spare high-voltage grid capacity limits the transmission of power from hydroelectric plants in the north to make up for shortfalls in the south.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.
Pakistani blog Pakistaniat has reported practical examples of the use of solar energy as seen in some villages of Pakistan where each house has been provided with a solar panel that’s sufficient to run an electric fan and two energy saving bulbs. Prior to this arrangement, the whole village used to be plunged in darkness at night. In Narian Khorian, a village about 50 kilometers from Islamabad, 100 solar panels have been installed by a local firm, free of cost, to promote the use of solar energy. With these panels, the residents of 100 households are enjoying light and fan facilities. This would not have happened for decades as the supply of electricity from the national grid would be difficult and costly due to the mountainous terrain.
|Pakistan Solar Map Multi-year mean (2000-2012) of daily Global Horizontal Irradiance (GHI) for Pakistan in kWh/m2 [Note: preliminary, unvalidated results] Source: World Bank|
In addition to renewable energy from the sun, Pakistan is also fortunate to have something many other countries do not, which are high wind speeds near major centers. Near Islamabad, the wind speed is anywhere from 6.2 to 7.4 meters 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. Working with Suzlon, Pakistan can begin to build its own wind-turbine industry and create thousands of new jobs while solving its energy problems. Suzlon turbines start to turn at a speed of 3 meters 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 meters per second. In addition to Karachi and Islamabad, there are other areas in Pakistan that receive a significant amount of wind.
|Pakistan Wind Map Source: USAID|
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, about twice the current installed capacity in Pakistan, says Ms. Miriam Katz who has studied and written about alternative energy potential in South Asia. 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.
The village of Ghulam Muhammad Goth, north of Karachi with population of 800, about 10 km from the national power grid, now receives power from a small windfarm consisting of 18 wind turbines each capable of generating 500 watts of electricity. Installed by the state-run Pakistan Council for Renewable Energy and Technologies (PCRET), the farm produces enough to power for each home to have two low-energy bulbs, a fan and, most importantly, a television set.
In addition to high wind speeds near major centers 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.
Finally this year, Pakistan awarded a contract to a Turkish company to set up a wind farm near Hyderabad. President of Zorlu Enerji (Pvt) Ltd., Murat Sungar Bursa, who signed the agreement with HESCO (Hyderabad Electric Supply Company) in Pakistan, said that the estimated cost of 50 MW project was 120 million dollars. He added the company was also considering to further expand the project up to 250MW. He said incentives offered by Pakistan’s renewable energy policy was a major factor in the company’s decision to invest here. He said that capacity of the wind farm will be enhanced upon successful completion of 50 MW phase. Zorlu Enerji has become the first company to establish wind farm for power generation in Pakistan after signing Energy Purchase Agreement with Hyderabad Electric Supply Corporation for purchase of six MW electricity generated at the company’s facility in Jhimpir. NEPRA (Pakistan's power regulator) has awarded tariff of US cents 12.1057 Per KWH, which is cheaper than the electricity generated from thermal sources. The power generated from the first phase would be routed to the Jhimpir gird station by HESCO and would be sufficient to electrify 6,900 homes in Hyderabad region. Harnessing the strong winds coming from South West, the wind farm is first major commercial wind power project of the country, comprising five towers in the first phase with an installed capacity of 1.2MW wind turbine generator per tower.
The slowdown in the renewable energy sector is likely to be temporary. President Obama is expected to get the US Congress to approve $150b to support the US renewable energy sector with large government incentives. The US policy will likely boost the global renewable energy market as well.
As Pakistan grapples with its crippling energy crisis, it is important for the country to take advantage of its precious natural resources such as the high winds and the bright sunshine, and biofuels as byproducts of its sizable sugar-making industry. Such a strategy will lead to lower costs of generation by reducing the need to import oil. It'll also help reduce carbon emissions, a major environmental concern.
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