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Solar energy, revolution in the making

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Islamabad (Imran Y. CHOUDHRY) :- Former Press Secretary to the President, Former Press Minister to the Embassy of Pakistan to France, Former MD, SRBC Mr. Qamar Bashir analysis :
According to a World Bank research, Pakistan could save up to $10 billion per year on imports if it switched to 100% solar energy. This will lessen Pakistan’s dependence on imported energy, making it more energy secure, while also lowering greenhouse gas emissions and combating climate change. Another World Bank report identified Pakistan as a potential solar energy powerhouse, citing the country’s average solar radiation of 5.3 kWh/m2/day, which is among the highest in the world. The report added that Pakistan could meet its present electricity demand by installing roughly 24,000 MW of solar PV capacity while only utilizing 0.071% of its geographical area.
According to a report by the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) in 2021, the total installed solar capacity in Pakistan increased significantly from 5 MW in 2012 to 2,327 MW by the end of 2020. According to a 2019 report by the Alternative Energy Development Board (AEDB), the solar energy sector in Pakistan could attract up to $40 billion in investment, leading to the installation of 30,000 MW of solar power capacity by 2030. According to a report published by the World Bank in 2020, the rooftop solar market in Pakistan could reach 1,500 MW by 2030, creating substantial business opportunities for solar companies and service providers.
Solar energy is presently the most clean, efficient, and cost-effective fuel for boosting economic growth, creating new employment opportunities, and contributing to the nation’s energy security and environmental sustainability. Around the world, it has already entered the second phase and will shortly enter the third. It is becoming an increasingly important component of a nation’s energy mix as an outcome of favorable regulations and ongoing investment. It is the fastest growing industry for assisting residential users, businesses, and industries in avoiding expensive power bills and giving excess electricity to the national grid to help the government reduce its payments for imported fuels such as coal, gas, and oil.
As a result of countries around the world investing significant resources to improve the efficiency and durability of solar cells, the earliest solar cells designed in the 1950s had an efficiency of a few percent, which climbed to 15% in the 1960s and 1970s. Solar cell costs continued to fall in the 1980s and 1990s due to economies of scale and the development of new manufacturing techniques, and by the end of the 1990s, solar cell costs had fallen to the point where they were competitive with other forms of energy in some applications. In recent years, developments in solar cell technology have increased the efficiency of solar cells to 26.1% by 2022, with a commensurate decrease in cost when compared to other kinds of energy, particularly in sunny nations like Pakistan. Solar cells are a promising technology that has the potential to play a significant part in the energy future. In comparison to other sources of energy, they are a clean, renewable, and cost-competitive, which means they do not emit greenhouse gases or other pollutants. They are also a distributed energy source, which means they may be deployed near where they are needed, reducing the need for transmission lines and other infrastructure.
Our government has also taken a number of initiatives to promote the use of solar energy, including the unveiling of the National Renewable Energy Policy (NREP) in 2019, which seeks to boost the amount of renewable energy in the country’s electrical mix to 20% by 2030. As a result, NREP has provided a number of incentives for solar energy production, including tax rebates, subsidies, and feed-in tariffs. It has implemented a Net Metering Policy, which allows households and businesses to generate their own electricity from solar panels and sell any excess to the grid. This regulation has made installing solar panels more affordable for homeowners and businesses. It has implemented the Solar Home Systems (SHS) Program, which gives loans to rural households to install solar home systems in order to improve the lives of millions of people in rural areas by giving access to electricity. The government is also improving the regulatory environment for solar energy by establishing the Alternative Energy Development Board (AEDB), which is in charge of supporting renewable energy development in Pakistan. It also passed the Renewable Energy Act (REA) in 2019 along with a legal framework for renewable energy growth in Pakistan. The REA has contributed to a more favorable climate for solar energy investment.
The general population, compelled and forced by the escalating electricity bill, is turning to solar panels in large numbers and meeting their own energy needs and supply excess energy to the WAPDA via telemetering, providing windfall benefits to the country in terms of reduced import bill, sustainable source of energy and job creation. It has a great flexibility and scalability to match energy needs of homes, businesses, and communities and to to provide electricity to remote and rural areas where access to traditional grid-connected electricity is limited. However, more work remains to be done to encourage the usage of solar energy in Pakistan.
We can set a standard. Germany is a pioneer in the development and application of solar energy. Solar energy will account for 14.2% of Germany’s electricity generation in 2021, which is the highest in the world. This is expected to go up to 50.3% by 2023. Germany is making progress on all fronts at the same time. It plans to generate 80% of its energy from solar, wind, biomass, and hydropower sources by 2030. Meanwhile, it is abandoning nuclear power and intends to reduce most of its coal capacity, relying primarily on gas facilities for grid backup.
Let us take a cue from our neighbor India, which aims to generate 50% of its energy from renewable sources by 2030. It launched the Jawaharlal Nehru National Solar Mission in 2010, with the goal of reaching 20 GW by 2022. However, India has accelerated its transformation, and as of early 2023, the country has already increased its installed solar capacity to 64 GW, exceeding and upgrading its renewable energy aspirations during the last decade.
Not only India, but the entire world, is moving toward renewables. Renewables have surpassed conventional electricity generation in terms of new capacity additions since 2013. Renewables will account for 84% of all new power plants by 2022. For example, 2021 saw the largest annual capacity additions worth 175 gigawatts (GW) of solar photovoltaic power, bringing the total global solar PV capacity to 942 GW. Developing countries led this rapid transition, with China leading the race by adding the highest annual amount of solar power capacity, while India and Brazil ranked among the top five countries.
We can achieve this level of renewable energy simply by following and implementing policies, strongly supporting it, and injecting financial incentives in the research and development (R&D) sector in the solar industry to create indigenous reservoirs of scientists and researchers to develop indigenous ecosystems to help drive down the cost of solar cells, in conjunction with the launch of a social campaign to raise awareness and educate the masses about converting houses, businesses, and other structures to solar cells.
We must make solar energy permeable at the grassroot level by launching a social moment by developing our own innovative strategies to involve all households both rich and poor, in this campaign, which can be lifesaving for Pakistan given the state of our economy, rising inflation, and ever increasing oil and gas import bills, which, if saved, will solve the majority of our foreign exchange woes.
In addition to our own strategies, we can learn from Bangladesh’s Grameen Shakti program, which has been subsidizing the acquisition of solar energy systems for households and businesses since 1996. Borrowers are split into groups of five to 10 persons in this model, and the groups meet on a regular basis to discuss their finances and provide mutual support. Borrowers begin by making tiny monthly payments; if they pay on time, they automatically become eligible for larger loans without offering collateral which incentivises even the poorest people to obtain financing. Since its start, the program has financed nearly 2 million Bangladeshi homes and businesses. These households and companies used the finance to purchase solar energy systems, allowing them to save money on their energy costs while also improving their quality of life. The Grameen Shakti model has been duplicated in various countries to give financing to households and companies to transition to solar energy. Offering tax breaks and incentives to businesses and industries which are meeting their energy demand by renewable sources and penalizing those who don’t could also be a part of overall strategy.
Countries around the world have repeatedly demonstrated that with the right vision and unwavering political will, we can bring about dramatic change in sectors or projects, including the power industry. Let us not waste our intelligence, collective wisdom, political and economic capital on futile pursuits such as settling personal scores, pursuing politics of vengeance and vendetta, and guiding and prodding the country toward impending calamity. We can become a developed country within a decade if we set the right course and then focus all of our intellectual and political capital on achieving milestones set by observing the norms of a civilized society that always keeps the constitution and the law of the land supreme, equal, and approachable to all.

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