Wednesday, May 21, 2014

India-Pakistan Solar Energy Race? Desert Solar Park among world’s Largest

Pakistan’s first large-scale solar power project, the Quaid-e-Azam Solar Park project, was recently inaugurated by Pakistan’s Prime Minister, Nawaz Sharif, representing one of the country’s first clear steps towards renewable energy.
The project is expected to start generating 100 MW of power by the end of the year, and 1,000 MW by the end of 2016 (when “complete”). The project comprises 400,000 solar panels and was built for a cost of about $131 million. Once completed, the project will generate around 2.5 times the power that the massive 392 MW Ivanpah solar-thermal plant in California does — making it one of the largest solar projects in the world.

The project might end up being a fair bit bigger than even that, though. After the inauguration, the Prime Minister immediately approved the expansion of the project — up to 1,500 MW capacity and 15,000 acres of coverage.
“If you come here after one and a half years, you will see a river of solar panels, residential buildings and offices — it will be a new world,” stated site engineer Muhammad Sajid, pointing towards the surrounding desert.
ClimateProgress provides context on why the project is important:
This is big news for a country suffering from chronic energy shortages that leave people without power for large chunks of the day on a regular basis. And then there’s the nearly half of the households that aren’t even connected to the grid, according to a World Bank study. When temperatures soar in the summer, electricity demand can fall short by around 4,000 MW.
The Prime Minister struck much the same note during the inauguration, having stated: “The dearth of electricity has pushed the country backwards and its entire industry and agriculture sector have suffered immensely.”
And the country is certainly well-suited to solar energy development — the only thing really in the way has been a lack of funding, something that’s been changing, as we’ve covered.
Back when this project was announced last year, it was noted that the project was intended to “overcome” the emerging energy crisis in the heavily populated state of Punjab. That’s what will be interesting to observe in this situation. In an environment like Pakistan’s, with an electrical grid like Pakistan’s, with a political situation like Pakistan’s, how effectively can a large-scale solar power project address energy issues? Can it do so at all? To some degree, but less so than smaller, decentralized systems could? Will the project become a target for anti-government militias or those looking to destabilize the region?

There are a lot of interesting questions with regard to the project. Some things to keep in mind.


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