Let’s Go Renewable – A Way to Develop Zero Energy Communities

The world energy report pointed that, the oil importing countries can be affected adversely during the oil crises in the international market and can also result in the surge in inflation. The energy sector has become the key determinant of the economic growth of a country due to its important and necessary role in the industrialization and the lifestyle of the people.

Pakistan is yet to achieve its access goal, as the national average electrification rate is 72%. According to a report of World Energy Outlook, the urban areas in Pakistan have 90% electrification rate whereas for rural areas this rate drops to 60%. Furthermore, World Bank survey found that 30 to 45% of households use kerosene as a primary or secondary source of lighting.

According to the National Electric Power Regulatory Authority (NEPRA) State of Industry Report 2016, more than 32,000 villages in the country continue to remain without access to the electricity grid, forcing the residents to use traditional sources of energy, including firewood, kerosene and diesel, for meeting their lighting, heating and cooking needs.

For most of these villages, sparsely distributed population and remote location make expansion of the electricity grid financially unviable. Among the provinces, Sindh has the highest number (13,541) of un-electrified villages, followed by Punjab (7,432), KPK (5,927) and Balochistan (5,802). On the other hand, Azad Jammu and Kashmir (AJK) and Gilgit-Baltistan have more than 90% electrification.

It is important to mention that connection to the grid does not equate to the availability of electricity. Due to dependence on imported energy resources in the country, it is very difficult for the state to supply electricity to the consumers according to their daily needs. The other problem is the shortfall (8 – 14 hours per day) in power supply to meet the required load in areas which are already connected to the grid.

According to the survey conducted by IFC Lighting Pakistan program, 71% of the country’s population has either no access to electricity or experience more than 12 hours of blackouts; especially in the summer season.

Despite of all the energy related concerns mentioned above, the nation is blessed with an abundance of renewable energy sources such as solar, wind, biomass, and hydro which can be exploited to address the above problems. The sun shines throughout the year and can easily fulfill, if not fully for sure partially, the power demands of individuals and communities. The power demands in remote areas is normally not much high and utilization of low-power-consuming appliances can further reduce the overall energy demand. In this way, load demands can easily be fulfilled by installing renewable energy technologies such as wind and small PV systems.

The concept of zero energy communities is to install renewable based power systems according to the power requirements of individual communities. The annual overall electricity production from the installed renewable energy system should be equivalent or more than the required demand of the community. In this way, the shortfall in energy supply could be minimized and at the same time, the environmental concerns could be addressed.  Such type of power plants will help in providing electricity to individual houses and the small communities depending on the size of the installed power system.

A zero energy community is a community with zero net energy consumption, meaning the total amount of energy used by the community on an annual basis is roughly equal to the amount of renewable energy created on the site or in other definitions by renewable energy sources elsewhere.

A recent study conducted by Mr. Rafique and his colleagues suggested that developing zero energy villages in Pakistan will be a feasible option both economically and technically.

The authors investigated the feasibility of developing a zero energy village situated near Toba Tek Singh, Pakistan; a district in the central Punjab Province near Faisalabad. The village has 150 domestic single family homes, 1 school, 1 clinical facility, 1 praying building, and 5 commercial shops. The total load of the village was estimated to be 975.52 kWh/day and accordingly a solar-based power system was designed/sized. The optimization results suggested that the proposed system is economically feasible.

According to the results of the energy production for the whole year, it was concluded that the proposed solar power system is capable to provide the required energy to the chosen village. The annual energy production is estimated to be 357.14 MWh against annual energy consumption of 351.18 MWh. Therefore, it turned out that the installed system can provide 6.04 MWh per year of excess electricity to the grid with the optimized solution.

The initiative of diversifying national energy mix can help to reduce the emissions of harmful greenhouse gases and to achieve a sustainable development in the country. The government incentives and grants can play an important role in development and promotion of PV technology in the country.

Different incentives should be provided to make this technology user-friendly in terms of its finances, permits, land acquisition, and power purchase agreement.

The renewable based power systems once installed and operated over a period of 1 to five years, can be compared with the currently installed fossil fuel based plants to understand the benefits of the proposed system and at the same time find out the advantages and the disadvantages in terms of economic and environmental concerns.

The solar power plant can provide energy in remote areas at relatively better rates as compared to grid electricity. The need is to encourage people and government institutions to invest in renewable based power plants in order to develop zero energy communities which will greatly help to achieve sustainable energy infrastructure in the country.

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