Let the sun electrify the economy

.. by Dr Pervez Tahir

At the cost of repetition, let it be reiterated that something similar to the nuclear experiment has to happen. Money was not a problem. Beg, borrow or steal, no questions were asked. This was the policy that helped Pakistan achieve the nuclear threshold. Solar engineering, economics and policy still need innovation, research and development. We need to deploy the same zeal, the same consensus that was demonstrated in acquiring nuclear capability. Call it Solar 2030 Project to achieve cost-effective solutions to meet energy demand, make Pakistan one of the largest manufacturers and exporters of solar energy solutions and equipment. A congregation of Pakistani experts, including expatriates, should brainstorm and draw up technical details, followed by a meeting of political and other stakeholders for an agreement to keep their mismanagement on hold until 2030. Parliament should then pass a law to give effect to the agreement. The law should cover upfront allocation of a substantial sum of money for this project, as well as providing it with complete autonomy.

Countries take a long term view of energy security. Currently, there is a worldwide scramble to ensure energy security. The established, as well as the emerging powers, are investing to ensure that ready supplies are available to them in the future. China and Brazil have entered the solar field in a big way. Germany, with not much sun, is a lead player. Pakistan does not seem to have a plan to ensure energy security, just a collection of contentious projects. What is needed is a safe, secure and continuous source of energy located within the country. The only inexhaustible source we have is the sun. No upstream or downstream issues are involved here. The market right now is small, but the opportunities will know no bounds because this has the potential to become the cheapest alternative that can solve our energy problems. The economy needs a radical breakthrough to join the high-growth league, which can be provided by cheap energy and a niche in the export market. Solar power can help us break the boom and bust cycle of growth.

Solar is still a costly source of energy. The PTI government increased GST on the import of solar panels from zero to 17%. The GST on inverters and other necessary equipment, plus import duties were in addition. As 95% of the panels are imported and solar contribution to the total energy mix is still as low as 1.07%, the measure was a disaster. The coalition government has done well to restore the original position. In the past, the PPP and the PML-N demonstrated the courage to start the nuclear programme and to detonate. Solar detonation requires no less. Remember, solar is the only solution for the remote, off-grid areas such as Balochistan, merged districts of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, South Punjab and Northern Sindh. Agriculture, our lifeline, is already exposed to imported solar panels as a source to power tubewells and water pumps. Food security, poverty reduction, farm productivity enhancement and, above all, the environmental protection are all strategically linked to easy access to affordable solar energy. The goal should be to solarise each rural household by 2030. It is a realisable dream. Various rural support programmes have demonstrated in different areas the success of solarisation. It’s time to scale up.
(The writer is a senior political economist)

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