The increasing share of renewables in the country’s power generation mix is a healthy sign. And these signs have been getting global acknowledgment too lately. The latest Global Status Report 2019 by Ren21, an international policy network dedicated to building a sustainable energy future with renewables has highlighted Pakistan as the one of the three countries that added the most generation capacity in hydropower in 2018. China led in commissioning new hydropower capacity, followed by Brazil and then Pakistan and Turkey.
The report shows that Pakistan jumped up the renewable ladder by commissioning three much-delayed hydropower projects that had combined output of around 2.5GW leading to increase in the country’s total hydropower capacity by approximately a third, i.e. 9.8 GW. These three projects have been the 969 Neelum Jhelum power plant, the 108MW Golen Go power plant, and the 1410MW fourth extension to Tarbela power plant.
The focus has largely been on hydel and the construction of decades-delayed 800MW Mohmand Dam has also been highlighted in the report. Diversification in power generation especially from cleaner sources of fuel has also come from the RLNG partially replacing furnace oil – a dirtier fossil fuel.
But when you talk about the conventional renewables, one can see from the Global Status Report on renewables that despite interest and talks about solar and wind power energy, their share in the country’s generation mix has not picked up much. On the other hand, the country’s reliance on coal power generation has also increased in the last couple of year primarily due to aggressive Chinese investment under CPEC.
A key factor that has hindered growth and investment in solar power generation in many countries including Pakistan has been the need to drive down the project development costs that eventually raises quality concerns when it comes to solar PV technologies. The report highlights that countries like Pakistan face component quality issues due to the desire for cheap imported modules, and the lack of testing and standards.
So does renewable energy actually have a bright future in Pakistan? Excluding the hydro power generation, which is normally not clubbed with the renewables and taken separately, the share of renewable energy in the country’s energy mix hovers around 4 percent. Making renewable energy base load is not possible due to the variation and fluctuation in generation. Coal and gas (RLNG) will continue to be the base load. PTI government has also shown keen interest in increasing the share of renewables and not adding more coal power plants to the energy sector, but another one of its ambitious targets is aiming to achieve 30 percent of its total on-grid electricity supply from renewables excluding large hydropower by 2030. How that is viable cannot be judged until at least the government unveils its much awaited new renewable policy.