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Sunday, August 11, 2013

Shahbaz's SUNSHOT

The beginning of Solar PV Generation era in Pakistan 

Written by Engr. Hadeed Sher

Shahbaz Sharif's latest shot to the sun is tremendously awesome in terms of investment, job opportunities and curbing the power crisis. It reminded me the slogan which J F Kennedy gave to US nation "The MOON SHOT " that was the most important event in the lifetime of NASA. Shahbaz's SUNSHOT or the shot to the sun is about the harvesting of solar energy to get rid of the present energy crisis. It was indeed pleasant to hear that a lot of MoUs have been signed with various organizations of international repute to install generating plants based on solar energy. Since, harnessing energy from sunlight was area of research during my Post graduate degree and fantastically & luckily I got my doctoral research grant in the same field, I feel it is the right time to discuss the Shahbaz's SUNSHOT.

Pakistan has unfortunately been among those countries that never bothered to work with planning. Most of the institutions never recognize the importance of planning neither at departmental nor at ministerial level. This resulted in the depletion of natural resources and now we are spending a sizable amount of our budget on the import of petroleum products. This has several disadvantages in the wake of the feeble economy of Pakistan. Firstly, with the passage of time, the consumption of furnace oil for electricity production is not going to be decreased because so far the governments have failed to build consensus on major projects for water storage and electricity generation. The construction of dams requires time and a huge capital cost. Therefore, some of the easy solutions that our bureaucracy have, is to install thermal power plants or purchase it from neighboring countries like Iran or India. Therefore, we cannot expect to have the total production ratio tilted away from the thermal power generation in the next few decades. Secondly, the disadvantage is that with the fluctuating prices of petroleum products in international markets it is not possible for our government to make the utility prices stable. I am not an economic expert, but it's obvious that a rise and sometimes a fall in the petroleum prices shakes the economy of an ordinary man like a corn seed inside the popcorn machine. Thirdly, these resources are not infinite, some studies have mentioned that we will no longer be able to use this petrol as a fuel or as a source of electricity generation after 100 years. They are depleting fast and we should think about our future generations and we cannot just leave our future on these dependable resources.

So where lies the solution ? The question is as difficult as it seems to be simple. Meaning, we have to look for resources that are sustainable. Resources that last long and can safeguard the future of our generations. The available options are wind, solar, tidal, geothermal and hydal etc. However, solar and wind are the two most dominant technologies. ON shore and Off shore wind plants are considered the most economical but thanks to saeen Qaim Ali Shah sbwho has no interest in whatsoever is known as electricity generation. Anyhow, the Pakistan's vast land on its southern part has an abundant amount of sunlight available almost throughout the year that can be utilized for electricity generation. Although the program for harnessing solar PV was initiated long ago in Bhutto's regime, that was converted into PCRET by Musharraf, nothing serious has ever been done in this regard. While in India they are manufacturing solar PV modules, we are yet in a mood to decide how to cope with the growing energy demands. The most important step taken by CM Shabaz  is the establishment of manufacturing facilities of solar PV modules in Pakistan. Another one is the establishment of Quaid e Azam Solar energy park for generation of 300MW from a solar PV system in CHOLISTAN. Then another project for setting up of 400 solar power projects for industrial zones in Faisalabad, Sialkot, Gujranwala and Lahore. Another project will be set up in Faisalabad, Motorway and it will be 150MW. The Shahbaz's sunshot is not only limited to PV power plants but will also benefit the agriculture sector through solar pumps. The Punjab Irrigated Agricultural Productivity Improvement Project will also benefit the farmers by solar powered tube wells. The lighting load that normally covers around 10 percent of the total load will be gradually shifted to solar street lights.

These steps will not only help in curbing the power crisis but will have long lasting effects on national economy too. These projects will directly and indirectly provide employment to thousands of skilled workers and engineers and will save Millions in term of import bills of furnace oils. Besides these steps, the provincial governments of Baluchistan and Sindh should focus on the generation of electricity through OFF shore and Onshore wind plants. In my opinion the crime rate can be subsided greatly by providing the job opportunities and they relate directly to the uninterrupted supply of power to the industries. On a side note, we need to look on some other dimensions of the energy crisis that includes separate engineering discipline for energy generation, known as Energy Engineers. Special programs must be initiated that urge people to save electricity because a unit saved is actually a unit generated.