“Businesses in the country are starting to catch on to the advantages of solar energy,” Ali Rafiq of Pakistan Solar Power told BR Research. He pointed out that Punjab University, Lahore University of Management Sciences and Shaukat Khanum Memorial Hospital are among some of the prominent institutions that are tapping solar power to meet part of their energy requirements.
“Askari Bank is another financial institution that has been doing a lot of work in terms of powering its ATMs through solar-powered systems” he said.
But local experts point out that the cost of implementing this technology is still relatively high. “A typical bank branch would require 3-4 kilowatts of electricity per hour, excluding its air conditioning requirements” Ali Kabeer at RENU Energy told BR Research.
Experts opine that relying solely on solar power may not yet be economically viable for such establishments. Various estimates by industry insiders suggest that the time needed to recover the cost of implementing solar-powered systems spans about a decade when compared to electricity from Wapda, and about half as long when compared to electricity obtained from diesel-powered generators.
They assert that the missing link for making solar energy economically viable for businesses, agricultural use and even residential areas is government support. Examples from other countries in the region support this contention.
About 10 years ago, the government of Bangladesh initiated a programme with the help of the World Bank, which sought to install 50,000 solar home systems in that country over a period of five years.
That initiative proved to be so successful that at present more than 50,000 solar home systems are being installed in Bangladesh, each month. This month Bangladesh is expected to complete installation of two million such systems, reports the World Bank. In that programme, WB funding helped bring down the cost of implementing such systems, thus making them affordable for the public at large.
In India, giant corporations are increasingly tapping solar energy, making solar installations “a market of around $1.4 billion” according to Ajay Goel, the head of Tata Power Solar Systems. Thanks to government subsidies in some Indian states, the investment entailed in the solar proposition is being recovered in 2-3 years.
Besides frequent power outages, it is this government support on solar-powered systems that has encouraged major companies like Maruti Suzuki, IBM and Dell to tap the power of the Sun.
Back in July 2009, Pakistan’s Ministry of Water and Power had announced plans to add 10,000 megawatts of electricity to the national grid from various solar power projects. While provincial governments of Sindh, Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa have all launched separate projects in this realm, the government has not yet presented a cogent plan to incentivise private sector to install solar-powered systems.
Policy responses that can provide a boost to solar energy in the country include financing support, tax breaks and the option to sell excess electricity to the national grid. Boxed in by the energy crisis, the Government of Pakistan can learn from the experiences of regional peers.