Plans to promote renewable energy must not ignore system’s constraints: Experts

Country’s transition to renewable energy should be gradual and orderly

ISLAMABAD   -  Pakistan’s ambitious renewable energy plans need to be coupled with close attention on addressing system’s constraints to reduce the volume of unserved energy on the one hand, and accommodate the intermittency of renewable energy on the other.

This was the consensus evolved at a webinar titled, ‘Emerging trends in Pakistan’s renewable energy sector: charting the agenda for 2030 and beyond’, which was organized by Sustainable Development Policy Institute here. Highlighting the current challenges being faced by the power sector and the milestones which need to be crossed to achieve a stable and sustainable energy ecosystem, speakers said that the addition of renewable energy is non-negotiable in today’s climate but this should be coupled with modernization of the grid.

Sadia Dada, Chief Marketing and Communications Officer at K-Electric, shared an overview of KE’s Investment Plan which had already been submitted with the regulator and outlines the company’s plans to expand the utility’s transmission and distribution capacity readying it to take on approximately 1200 MW of renewable energy by FY 2030 as envisaged under the utility’s Power Acquisition Programme (PAP). She maintained that these programmes are being made in alignment with national targets under the Indicative Generation Capacity Expansion Plan (IGCEP) and entail a long-term, optimal cost strategy plan for the expansive growth of power generation within a set of prevailing policies and technical and socioeconomic considerations.

“In the next seven years, we aim to reduce our reliance on imported fuels to 51% while increasing our dependence on green sources to 49%. We must look at our approach in a holistic manner because our priority is to maintain energy security for our customers. We’ve seen that climate change is impacting countries which were previously relying heavily on renewable energy, making it difficult to maintain grid stability.” She said cities like Karachi also present a unique case study, where we see power demands peaking twice in a 24- hour period, which requires a case-specific approach”.

Dr Irfan Ahmed, Energy Consultant, was of the view that renewable energy projects are front-loaded and require upfront heavy investments. He said that to deal with this issue Pakistan needed to be ‘self-reliant’ and would have to eventually go for local manufacturing as the country has foreign exchange constraints. He maintained that Pakistan’s electrical network is ‘bumpy’ and this leads to frequent damages to electrical plants and revenue loss, therefore, it is of paramount importance that we can repair the nonoperational plants locally and produce spare parts for their sustainable operations otherwise we would continue to face these problems.

Dr Khalid Waleed, SDPI Research Fellow, said that the country’s transition to renewable energy should be gradual and orderly so that it would not create more problems for the energy ecosystem. He further emphasized the need for creating a conducive environment and explore distribution generation models so that the balance between load and generation centers might be bridged effectively. This requires national dialogues to shore up investor confidence on transmission and distribution projects, he added. 

Fozan Waheed, Renewable Energy Expert, spoke about how sudden curtailments in wind power projects jeopardize the grid and make it prone to blackouts. Citing international examples, he mentioned that China invests up to USD 75 billion in their grid to ensure longterm energy security as well. He further said the sustainability and success of Pakistan’s energy sector rests in its ability to learn from the best practices of leaders in the energy space, introspect on the available resources and knowledge pool, and prepare a forward-looking strategy that incorporates these elements to address the country’s specific needs.

Abubakar Ismail, Head of Energy & Sustainability, Amreli Steels Limited, remarked that more and more industries are embracing solar power with increasing interest in wind and biomass energy sources as well, however, the current economic conditions pose significant challenges to investment across all sectors, including renewable energy. He added that to foster growth and development in the renewable energy sector, economic and political stability is imperative. He maintained that open access policies and the implementation of Competitive Trading Bilateral Contract Market (CTBCM) are crucial steps towards enhancing energy adoption in Pakistan and these measures would promote competition, efficiency, and transparency in the energy market, ultimately benefiting consumers and producers. The session was concluded on vote of thanks to all the participants by Ubaid ur Rehman Zia, the moderator of the session and Senior Research Associate & Head of the Energy Unit at SDPI.

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