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Solar Panels ‘Floating’ On Our Lakes Could Be a Splash

The idea is not as provocative as  ‘China cutting’ and ‘land-grabbing’ are. Karachi, the capital of Sindh  and the country’s financial hub, could monetize its  stranded asset– the  sea, and Sindh, Punjab could do similar with its hundreds of eco-friendly lakes.

IRSHAD SALIM — Floating solar panel technology has been gaining traction as a favorable and cost-effective alternative to  land-based photovoltaic systems.

For the record, hydropower constitutes 53% of the global renewable  energy, while wind and solar power account for 24% and 18%,  respectively. Though in third place, solar energy has been touted as the  fastest-growing source of new energy globally by the International  Energy Agency.

A key reason for the increased rate of installations is the sharp  decline in installation costs of solar PV and floating panels, which are  transforming energy management and land utilization. Moreover, floating  solar panel technology has been gaining traction as one of the  favorable and cost-effective alternatives to land-based PV systems.

As more and more countries gradually recognize the effective  utilization of water bodies over land space, the floating solar panel market is expected to gain a further edge cost-benefit wise across myriad geographies. Pakistan is one of the countries with nearly 1100km  of sun-soaked coastline spanning east to west–the lakes dotting the country’s landscape notwithstanding.

The growing adoption of clean electricity generation and unavailability of land have been identified as the most-prominent factors impelling the implementation of floating solar panel technology  in the region.

Pakistan has both attributes working to its favor–but untapped. Its economic powerhouse- Karachi, is the ground zero of a huge population growth among global mega cities, and rising air and water quality issues, and lastly land scarcity.

The country is putting considerable efforts into reducing its reliance on fossil fuels as well as tackling the exponentially rising  air pollution in major cities—making Karachi and its vicinity one of the  most viable grounds for the clean energy revolution.

The country has installed several solar and wind power projects on  land in the rural areas of Sindh, with land acquisition and electricity evacuation to national grid being major activities on the critical path duration wise.

Karachi has a significant coastline which provides the floating solar power concept a great idea to look at not just on cost-benefit trade off level, but also on public policy level.

The right mix exists–what is needed is political will by stakeholders which has been the stumbling block in the mega city–Karachi produces more than 60 to 70 percent of the country’s revenue, say many experts.

The Chinese– Pakistan’s all-weather friend has cemented its position as world leader in renewable energy by building the largest floating solar farm in Huainan, Anhui. The 40-MW power plant comprises 120,000  solar panels. The region is also home to Longyangxia Dam Solar Park, the currently leading solar power plant and a previous POWER Top Plant  awardee.

With growing investments along the lines of such large-scale  projects, it wouldn’t be wrong to say that China through CPEC or Chinese state or private companies could be interested in such a public-private project—even K-Electric could be asked to look at it—Shanghai Electric is poised to take over as its major shareholder. It already has a vast transmission and distribution network in place, and needs more power to produce and sell with profit through the tariff already in place.

Even other  international players could be invited–security is no longer an issue in the metropolis, and ease of doing business environment is expanding.

Collateral benefit of all these could be new add ons to our blue economy, which is also being pushed forward on priority basis.

The scarcity of land space, the need to address climate change issues, and growing regulatory measures for effective utilization of  water bodies act as catalysts in the floating solar panel idea–rural Sindh with its dozens of lakes provide opportunities. With wind farms in Gharo and Jhimpir areas, a hybrid power system along with lakes based solar system could be developed cost effectively. Since wind power systems are already evacuating electricity to the national grid, these lake-based solar systems could piggyback the existing power evacuation system without or least incremental costs.

There are also serious talks ongoing for installing desalination plants for the mega city. The Sindh government or the local government or in partnership, should look into combining both projects badly needed by the city. Favorable regulatory framework already exist.

The two ideas are mutually inclusive qualitatively and financially  for the city of lights. Same idea can be duplicated elsewhere also along  other parts of the coastline of Sindh and Balochistan–once the Karachi  idea is implemented and operationalized successfully.

It’s not a crazy big idea, and definitely not as provocative as  ‘China cutting’ and ‘land-grabbing’ are. Karachi, the capital of Sindh  and the country’s financial hub could monetize its  stranded asset–the  sea, and Sindh could add further value to its lakes.

Keenjhar Lake, Haleji Lake, Lake Manchar, Drigh Lake, to name a few, are in my opinion waiting to be monetized for Sindh, Karachi, sans environmental issues and sensitivities. The hundreds of lakes in rest of the country (Punjab, KP, Balochistan, Fata, Azad Kashmir) also provide quantum opportunities.

The writer is a business consultant and analyst presently based in Islamabad.

The article’s first version was published in Nov 22, 2018.

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