Growing economic links with China are helping Pakistan tap into its enormous solar energy potential
By Saleem Shaikh in Islamabad
One of the world’s largest solar plants has been opened in Pakistan with the aim of supplying clean, reliable energy and helping alleviate the country’s chronic power shortages.
The plant, spread over more than 200 hectares of desert land in the south of Pakistan’s Punjab province, will generate 100 megawatts (MW) in its initial phase and more than 300MW by the end of the year, according to government officials.
More than a third of Pakistan’s population do not have access to electricity, and power shortages are a serious impediment to economic growth.
Inaugurating the plant, Nawaz Sharif, Pakistan’s prime minister, said: “Since I became prime minister, my one goal has been to eliminate darkness in Pakistan and bring lights back to the country.”
Mushahidullah Khan, the Federal Minister for Climate Change, told the Climate News Network that the government is determined to make use of what it sees as the country’s enormous solar energy potential.
He said: “Tackling our energy crisis is the top priority of the present government as we believe it is vital in order to achieve economic growth, alleviate poverty, boost agricultural and industrial production and – through the provision of clean, solar power – reduce the country’s carbon footprint.”
The plant – called the Quaid-e-Azam Solar Power Park – was constructed in less than a year by China’s Tebian Electric Apparatus Stock Company, at a cost of US$131 million.
China has been forging ever closer economic links with Pakistan as part of a plan to link China’s western Xinjiang region to the Pakistan port of Gwadar on the Arabian Sea. The government in Islamabad says China is likely to invest more than $30 billion in solar and other power projects in Pakistan in the coming years.
At present, more than 60% of Pakistan’s power is generated from oil and gas, and about 30% from hydro power.
Pakistan is considered to be one of the countries in the Asia-Pacific region most vulnerable to the impacts of climate change.
In particular, the flow of water in the Indus river – upon which millions depend for hydro power and for irrigating crops – has become increasingly erratic due to changing rainfall patterns, glacial melt in the western Himalayas region, and the impact of widespread deforestation.
Government officials say they are determined to push ahead with more solar and wind projects throughout the country.
Asjad Imtiaz Ali, chairman of Pakistan’s Alternative Energy Development Board, said the development of solar and other renewable energies was hampered in the past by inconsistencies in government policy, and by a lack of understanding of clean energies.
“Solar energy is especially suited to remote areas in the country where connectivity to the national grid is difficult, such as Punjab, Baluchistan and Sindh provinces,” he said.
As part of the push for more solar projects, the government recently announced the abolition of duty on the import of solar panels.
This article was produced by the Climate News Network
Saleem Shaikh is a freelance climate change and science journalist based in Islamabad, Pakistan.