Rushing to Solar?

Rushing to Solar

Recently, Pakistan opened its first-ever solar power plant in the sun-baked lands of Bahawalpur. It is one of the first Chinese investments under the brimming partnerships, and this 100MW is a pilot project of the Government of the Punjab. Its two sponsors include the Quaid-e-Azam Solar Power (Private) Limited which is wholly owned by the Government of the Punjab, and the Chinese firm namely TBEA Xinjiang Sun Oasis Co. Ltd — one of the largest EPC solar plants contractors.

The 100MW solar power plant is up and running in record time. Najam Ahmed Shah, CEO of Quaid-e-Azam Solar Power (Private) Limited, highlighted that the idea was to walk ahead of all, work on security documents, get the tariff, and the know-how of the technology, and pave the way for private investors, who are now ready to invest in the remaining 900 megawatts, to follow suit.

Being the first hundred megawatts on a macro level, the solar project is symbolic and figurative, and a successful precedence will serve as a fillip for the private sector. Besides, another project by the Punjab government that involves setting up solar plants in 50 different sites near the load centres would also get a spur. Applause for that, but now comes the testing part: Will the success of 100MW sustain and be replicated to the remaining 900MW?

The Integrated Energy Plan (2015-2025), recently launched by the Energy Expert Group, classifies the local solar industry into 4 sectors namely Off-grid Solar Power for rural and village electrification, On-grid Solar Power for urban, commercial and industrial areas, Utility Scale Projects (IPP level projects), and solar/thermal heating. The Quaid-e-Azam Solar Park project is more of a utility scale project that calls for participation from the private sector. After successful inauguration, solar will get attention. However, one thing should be clear that solar plants are mostly off-grid around the world. Also, solar is mostly for peak load and not for base load, and relying completely or even largely on solar would be utterly wrong.

While the significance of these 100MW should not be underestimated, we should also be thinking about the resources spent on the inauguration of this pilot project alone that includes road and infrastructure. If that is how each megawatt is celebrated by a country that has a shortfall of 6000MW, add another slot for public sector inefficiencies.

In addition, an issue with solar is the stability of the grid; evacuation largely depends on how much the grid can sustain. While 100MW is the nameplate capacity, power evacuation is not uniform throughout the day and plant capacity factor of solar plant in general is around 16 to 17 percent only. In that case, the cost of transmission is likely to remain elevated as the transmission system needed has to be built for the full capacity. The Integrated Energy Plan (2015-2025) puts the state of national grid and the technical hurdles of capacity, equipment and responsibility to the integration of renewable in the energy mix as a prime challenge for renewable.

So while it’s a first and a kick-start, it’s not just about rushing into solar power, but moving ahead wisely and diligently to harness most out of it.

Courtesy: BR Research

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