Solar panels yet to take off
KARACHI: Energy-starved Pakistan, where sunlight is available for up to 10 hours for a better part of the year, particularly in Sindh, Balochistan and southern Punjab, can benefit immensely from solar energy technology, Inam ur Rahman, CEO Reon Energy Limited, told Dawn on Saturday. “While the potential is for 250,000 megawatts, through prudent policies the country may see about 10,000MW of solar power in the next five years,” he said. He added that vast land is available for utility scale generation, selling to Wapda, and for distributed generation, solar solutions for residences, commercial areas, and industries.Currently there is zero duty on imports of any solar panels. However ancillary solar equipment like inverters/charge controllers, etc, have to be brought in for specific projects in order to benefit from zero duty.
He said the country was at the introductory stage of solar technology as most users are still trying to understand how it can be implemented to their benefit.In the meantime, low quality equipment has been dumped in to the market creating uncertainty about the effectiveness of the solutions, he claimed.Since the equipment is tax-free and completely unregulated, some traders are bringing rejected panels and selling them as new which needs to be probed for consumer protection, he said. The government has not brought about a coherent policy on induction of solar power into the energy mix. “This means that there is a lot of dangerous and unfettered experimentation going on,” Mr Rahman said.He said the government must give a clear five-year policy for the integration and adoption of renewables in to the national energy supply, followed by proper implementation of the policy.
He said net-metering is an effective policy that is already in place by the government but there is a serious lack of implementation due to certain technical and commercial concerns at the distribution company level. As soon as it is implemented, Pakistan will see a rapid rooftop conversion on solar.He, however, did admit that not everyone could afford to buy solar equipment in one go.“The government also has to make consumer financing easily available for people to be able to purchase solar solutions similar to car and housing financing. The government should also encourage commercial banks to invest in solar solutions,” he said.Mr Rahman claimed that the cost of energy from a solar system is less than grid price today and the expected system life is 25 years. An investment has to be made in the panels, etc but it is all worth even in the short term.He said his company is working with banks to ensure that cheap and easy options are available for people to invest in solar systems.“The expected payback time is around three years and there is minimal maintenance required throughout the life of the solar energy system. Even if financed through a bank, the cost can be met in five years,” he said. Per hour cost of running an average-sized tubewell on diesel is Rs173 and on solar energy it is Rs83. Farmers can save over Rs314,400 per year on each tube well if they opt for solar tube wells, he added.
Solar panels in vogue Over the past five years, a rise has been noticed in the visibility of solar panels in cities as well as rural areas.
Dealers selling solar panels said people from interior Sindh are more interested in buying solar panels than those in Karachi.Many shops at main electronics market in Saddar have displayed the alternative energy options. The dealers now claim improvement in the number of buyers — mostly from small towns and rural areas — as compared to five years back when they started they dabbled in the business of solar panels. They claimed sales have now increased to 20-25 per cent compared to the negligible sales five years ago.They said rich people in rural areas purchase big systems costing over Rs one million while people having limited cash in rural areas facing long duration of load shedding usually prefer purchasing a small solar panel for running a single fan and an energy saver bulb. A shopkeeper estimated a one KVA solar panel set at Rs70,000-80,000 for running five energy savers and five fans. The set includes a 150 watt inverter, dry or water battery, wires and installation charges along with panels. For six fans and six bulbs, a two KVA set-up costs Rs110,000-150,000 depending on the brand of inverter, battery, wires and labour charges. A three kVa solar set for three fans and three energy savers, television, 0.5 horse power motor, fridge, etc, costs Rs180,000. The package comes with a one-year warranty. Another retailer offered three fans and eight energy savers solar option for Rs95,000 without warranty while the same option with warranty came down to Rs150,000. Claiming the panels are brand new and imported from China, the shopkeepers said there was hardly any shop in the Regal Area which was selling used solar panels.They said for Karachi weather, mono panels are being offered to customers while solar panels with the name of Polly are being sold for interior Sindh buyers.