ISLAMABAD, May 8 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Solar
energy production in Pakistan is poised to take off - just as
the South Asian country is ramping up coal production to help
plug a crippling power crisis, energy experts say.
New high quality solar maps - essential to securing
financing for major solar projects - show Pakistan is one of the
world's best countries for producing solar energy because of its
arid climate and latitude.
“Pakistan’s solar potential is huge," said Jamil Masud, an
energy expert who helped draft Pakistan’s national renewable
“The government is waking up to its potential," said Masud,
a director of Hagler Bailly Pakistan, an energy and
environmental consulting firm in Islamabad. "With the prices of
(photovoltaic panels) falling drastically in the last four
years, the switchover to renewables will happen - gradually."
Pakistan's current national power shortfall is estimated to
be more than 6,000 megawatts, causing long power outages across
The country is building nearly a dozen coal power plants
over the next 15 years with Chinese investment, as part of its
attempts to end the crisis.
But Pakistan also has a range of major solar projects in the
pipeline, amounting to more than 4,400 megawatts in potential
power, said Amjad Awan, chief executive officer of the federal
government’s Alternative Energy Development Board (AEDB), an
autonomous body working under the Ministry of Water and Power.
Until now, the country's lack of detailed solar maps -
needed by major investors, especially U.S. companies - has held
back development of renewable energy, said Ali Habib, managing
partner of Shama Solar, a company based in Lahore.
That changed in March, when Pakistan became one of the few
developing countries to produce the maps. They were developed by
the AEDB and World Bank, drawing on data from nine solar data
stations and 12 wind masts installed across the country.
“This is credible data according to which banks can give
funding to potential projects,” said Awan. “The government can
now do the appropriate zoning and develop solar and wind areas.”
'BETTER THAN GERMANY'
The solar maps highlight which regions are most suitable for
solar power generation. The southwestern province of Balochistan
- a desert area with little cloud cover or air pollution - has
the country's largest solar potential, they show.
"The maps reveal that even areas ... receiving the least
average annual irradiation are better than Germany’s best
regions for solar power generation,” said Masud.
Germany is a world leader in producing solar energy, and
uses detailed solar maps to assess its own solar resources.
Pakistan's data has been made public as part of the Global
Solar Atlas website, giving commercial scale projects
ready-to-use seasonal and monthly data.
This means investors do not have to spend significant time
and money gathering data for their projects. Instead, "they can
instantaneously acquire certified data of 'bankable' quality
that should be acceptable to commercial financing institutions",
That can substantially lower the costs around projects,
which in turn encourages companies to set up large-scale solar
power facilities, he said.
SOLAR 'ALREADY TAKING OFF'
Frustrated with constant power cuts, consumers are already
installing small-scale roof-top solar systems for their homes
“Solar is already taking off in Pakistan – it’s going to
challenge grid-connected power,” said Fariel Salahuddin, an
energy specialist based in Karachi.
"Roof-top solar panels are growing organically and as for
the grid-connected solar projects, lots of pieces are coming
together like regulation, tariffs, investments and grid
capacity,” she added.
Pakistan’s National Electric Power Regulatory Authority
(NEPRA) has issued guidelines for net metering so consumers can
now sell excess solar energy they produce back to the grid,
One of the first licenses for net metering was issued to
Pakistan’s parliament building in Islamabad, which switched to
solar energy last year. Some banks have started financing home
solar systems, which are cropping up across the country.
The Islamabad Electric Supply Company has introduced net
metering, and other power companies in large cities such as
Lahore and Karachi will be following suit "in a matter of
months, not years” said AEDB's Awan.
However, the government still needs to simplify connection
rules and procedures for small-scale solar power to be more
widely adopted, Masud said.
"There are several procedural and commercial details to be
worked out before rooftop photovoltaic panels become a common
sight in Pakistan, but it’s only a matter of time before it
does,” said Masud.
Pakistan already has one major solar park - the Quaid-e-Azam
Solar Park in Bahawalpur, built with Chinese investment. It
produces 400 megawatts with plans to rise to 1,500 megawatts of
“Not just the Chinese, but many other companies from
countries like Germany and the United States are coming into
Pakistan to invest in solar energy,” said Vaqar Zakaria, the
chief executive officer of Haigler Bailly Pakistan.
“However, the support and incentives being offered for
coal-based power generation are far more attractive than those
being offered for investment in solar power,” added Zakaria.
However, despite its considerable solar and wind potential
and the rapidly decreasing costs of renewable energy, Pakistan
continues to focus on building its coal-powered generating
The government plans to add 10,000 megawatts of coal energy
to the country’s energy mix by 2020.
“Solar and wind have their limitations. Solar can’t produce
electricity at night," said Shama Solar's Habib. "Every country
needs a base load that can run all the time - and that still
comes from coal and gas or oil.”
(Reporting by Rina Saeed Khan; Editing by Alex Whiting.; Please
credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of
Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, climate change,
resilience, women's rights, trafficking and property rights.