7 May 2009: Renewables offer way forward in South Asia

President Obama’s meeting with the Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari on 6 May understandably focussed on how to combat the Taliban and control Pakistan’s nuclear weapons. There are no easy, cheap or fast solutions to these issues. But it is important to give Pakistanis reasons for hope and to help more of them to move beyond negativity and hatred. And Pakistan faces a major demand for energy – due to economic growth, it has doubled since 2000.

There is a gap of about 4,500 MW between the demand and supply of electricity, a shortfall of 40%. There are a number of reasons for concern about the supply side of the equation:

  • Its oil and gas reserves are diminishing.
  • The total estimated hydropower potential is more than 42GW out of which only 6.5GW has been tapped.
  • Pakistan is among the richest countries in the world in terms of available solar energy.
  • Wind generation is negligible.
  • Biomass contributes to 36% of the total supplies, but has not yet broken into the commercial energy market.

Commercial energy comes from gas (48%), oil (30%), hydro-electric (12.9%) and coal (8%). The country has one of the highest amounts of coal in the world, so rapid expansion of this is one option, but without CCS would cause major damage to the climate.

I lived and worked in Pakistan for a year from 1988 to 1989 and this taught me a few things, in particular:

  • Most Pakistanis are wonderful people.
  • Pakistani governments have not delivered what they have promised and what the people deserve.
  • There is abundant renewable energy resource, particularly solar and hydro.
  • Air conditioning in the summer in Pakistan is not a waste of electricity.

I was also on the Climate Advisory Board during 2002 to 2004 for Greenpeace India. Renewable potential in India is similarly enormous and should be rapidly expanded. Much of this should be small-scale, as 80% of India remains off-grid. Solar lanterns and cookers (the latter would prevent a million Indians dying from indoor air pollution every year), biogas from anaerobic digestion and small wind turbines are an excellent way to invest in both social and economic development and climate protection.

The implications of the above is that the developed world should increase aid to both Indian and Pakistan for renewable projects, not just for climate reasons but also to reduce conflicts. Even in these tough economic times, this makes sense for any number of reasons!

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