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“Democracy is an impossible thing until the power is shared by all,” Gandhi said this, and it supports the democratic system of government that we are all familiar with.

The masses in Pakistan have historically been on the receiving end of the power game, whether it be in terms of political power or electrical power, which is why power sharing is a crucial concept and we would apply it in a new context.

Production, profitability, and governance in the energy sector have always been dominated by the elite, with little or no input from the general public.

Today, we discuss unfolding this transaction and developing a system that would allow regular people to participate in the generation, profitability, and administration of energy and power.

Hence, when we talk about “democratising energy” we mean energy projects that are started, managed, and/or controlled by locals or unconventional energy firms. Many western nations like Germany, Denmark and the United States adopt community involvement models. By owning and operating wind farms, solar farms, and eco-villages, communities are taking part in a sustainable energy revolution.

Energy-related activities, a community focus, inclusive procedures, and local benefit sharing are characteristics of the democratisation of energy. Power generating and demand reduction are the two most frequent energy-related activities. The scope of a community energy (CE) project typically increases as it develops (e.g., in the case of wind cooperatives).

Like other developing nations, Pakistan has a sizable population without access to electricity. Pakistan now has one of the lowest per capita electricity usage rates at under 500 units. Low consumption is a sign of lower living standards and less opportunity for the poor to improve their situation, as lack of electricity prevents children from studying in the light and restricts or prevents access to knowledge and technology that could enhance their quality of life.

This indicates that expanding access to electricity is essential for including the general public in the democratic process of improving lives.

By 2030, Pakistan’s electricity demand would rise from 25,000 MW to 40,000 MW. 18,000–20,000 MW are available, leaving a 5000–7000 MW gap. Hydro and thermal energy are the main sources of electricity production in Pakistan.

Just 5% of all power is produced using renewable energy (excluding large hydro). By 2030, Pakistan wants to use 30% RE. Urban power outages lasting 8 to 10 hours and rural load shedding lasting 18 hours are the results of this severe electrical shortage whereas power remains cut for days in rural Balochistan.

Despite having ample reserves of oil, coal, gas, and unlimited renewable energy, Balochistan lacks power, in all sense of the word. The low level of electricity in the province is attributed to three primary factors; first, 85% of the people in the province live in rural areas and 90% of villages are unconnected.

These are outlying settlements. Such areas are expensive and ineffective to grid. Second, rural homes use 50–100 W of electricity each day.

Rural homes, which are often one-room cottages made of mud and straw, only need lights. Policymakers consequently think that grid connection is improbable because it is expensive to extend transmission lines for such a little load.

Diesel generators are not economically viable since it costs a lot to deliver fuel to outlying locations. Finally, the isolation, lack of infrastructure, and lack of energy-related data in rural Balochistan deter investors.

Solar energy is the ideal choice for off-grid power generation in rural Balochistan due to its plentiful solar irradiance. The largest average number of sunlight hours worldwide are found in Balochistan, according to the World Bank’s evaluation of Pakistan’s solar energy resources.

The province’s northern region, whose peak direct normal irradiance (DNI) is 2700 kWh/m2, is also recommended in the research as a location to produce solar energy. Also, the report contrasts these results with those from the Sinai Peninsula, a region with strong solar radiation absorption.

According to many research and advocacy groups, solar photovoltaic (PV) is the best electrification alternative in Pakistan due to the country’s high temperatures. Moreover, placing solar panels on every home is a more economical solution to raising the socioeconomic standing of rural Balochistan than extending grid lines. The Asian Development Bank claims that the only option to electrify secluded areas of Pakistan is through off-grid power.

Community-based energy production is not new to the world. It has supported the growth of renewable energy in nations like Germany, Denmark, and others. From 1979, communities have collaborated to create contemporary wind turbines.

The construction of solar (free field and rooftop) and biogas facilities was later funded by community collectives. Several people are investing in PV and biomass facilities to either supply the grid or supply their own needs.

These projects involve various degrees of community participation. Local participation and benefit sharing are necessary for an energy system transformation to be acceptable, especially in rural areas. With (shared) ownership and profit sharing, renewable developments that encourage fairness and acceptance can benefit both rural and urban populations. Value-added cycles can be created when profits are returned to local communities.

Community-owned renewable energy initiatives can help reduce poverty. Microgrids can deliver dependable energy to local towns and companies, stimulating the economy. Energy security can be increased with decentralised energy systems by lowering disturbances and outages. Backup power can also be provided by microgrids.

Decentralized energy systems are powered by renewable energy, which lowers greenhouse gas emissions and air pollution. Communities and people have more influence over their energy needs as a result of the democratisation of energy. It advances social justice to give more people access to inexpensive, reliable electricity.

In rural locations, decentralised energy systems could be more affordable than centralised ones. Pakistan should provide an enabling environment to aid community-owned microgrids and renewable energy initiatives.

Key ideas and action plans should be the foundation of national programmes for rural electrification. Government measures should support private investment by low-income communities. Rural populations can set up solar PV off-grid systems with simple microcredit. A legislative framework is needed for rural electrification in order to draw private investors.

Alternative Energy Development Board (AEDB) and Pakistan Council of Renew Energy Technologies (PCRET) should identify rural off-grid locations and energy resources. Government could encourage rural communities to invest in microgrids by offering incentives.

Government subsidies ought to be given to new rural microfinance initiatives aiming at a microgrid with a focus on the community. Non-profit organizations that help rural communities construct solar PV systems should be eligible for tax incentives and equipment subsidies in order to promote rural electrification.

Copyright Business Recorder, 2023

Kashif Mateen Ansari

The writer is CEO of a wind power project and can be reached at kashifmateen [email protected]

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