Open data reveals energy-starved Pakistan’s huge solar potential –specially in Balochistan

BE2C2 Report — Free, high-quality solar maps have revealed Pakistan as one of the world’s best countries for producing energy from the sun, but open data won’t be enough to spark a solar revolution, according to one expert.

Potential solar projects in Pakistan can now get free solar information as part of the Global Solar Atlas which revealed that the south-western province of Balochistan has huge energy generation potential thanks to its arid climate and latitude.

“Pakistan’s solar potential is huge,” energy expert Jamil Masud told the Thomson Reuters Foundation. “The government is waking up to its potential. With the prices of (photovoltaic panels) falling drastically in the last four years, the switchover to renewables will happen – gradually.”

The south Asian country is in the midst of an energy crisis, with a national shortfall of more than 7000 megawatts leading to long power outages across the country. Like neighbor India, Pakistan is building several coal-fired power plants and more in the coming years specially in Sindh’s Thar region where coal reserves are huge. This could jeopardize global climate change targets, Oxford University expert Ben Caldecott told Professional Engineering.

However, the country also has a number of major solar power projects totaling more than 4,400 megawatts in potential power in development, Amjad Awan, CEO of the country’s Alternative Energy Development Board, told Thomson Reuters. It’s hoped that the maps, which were developed by the AEDB and the World Bank, can accelerate that process by making it easier for solar projects to secure funding. “This is credible data according to which banks can give funding to potential projects,” said Awan. “The government can now do the appropriate zoning and develop solar and wind areas.”

However, one expert told Professional Engineering that openly available data won’t be enough to launch a solar revolution. “I’m not certain it makes that much difference,” said Chris Goodall, author of The Switch, a 2016 book about the potential for solar power to cater for the bulk of the world’s energy needs. “We know that the world has an enormous amount of sun in terms of convertible energy available to us, and in many places in the tropics that is barely exploited. Yes, it will encourage Pakistan to put more solar on the ground, but it was probably pretty obvious anyway that the sun shines a lot.”

Related article: Solar power to support Pakistan’s agriculture development– backed by banks, USAID

Google’s Project Sunroof is another program which is giving away solar data for free so consumers can work out whether it’s worth installing roof panels. The service launched in the United States in 2015, and is now being rolled out in Germany, which is one of the world’s leading producers of solar power.

The technology combines Google Earth, Google Maps, 3D models and machine learning to estimate how much sunlight will fall on the roof of a particular building, taking into account weather patterns, geometry and shade from nearby objects such as trees and buildings. “With Project Sunroof, we want to help people become even more aware of the solar potential that’s just above the rafters,” wrote Project Sunroof’s Project Manager Joel Conkling in a blogpost announcing the German launch.

Related article: Can crowdfunding help scale up solar power for Africa’s and So Asia’s poor?

New digital technology could also help when it comes to selling excess solar energy back into the grid, says Goodall. In Pakistan, the government has begun issuing licenses to do just that, and some banks have started financing home solar systems across the country. “There’s not an infrastructure required in the sense of physical wires because that’s already there,” says Goodall.

“What there is a need for information technology which records how much is going out of your system and where it’s being used. Advances in digitalization are making that easier and easier – we’ll see sales and purchase systems developing. It’s a perfect use of blockchain – highly distributed ledgers. That’s what we’ll eventually end up with – millions and millions of small producers, putting into a network and getting payment and paying via some sort of distributed ledger.”

BE2C2 is a business unit of Irshad Salim Associates  which produces reports, infographics, analytics and analyses based on data and information from sources readily available on the web and in the public domain.

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1 thought on “Open data reveals energy-starved Pakistan’s huge solar potential –specially in Balochistan”

  1. The map displayed in the article above is a very old map by NREL. The new maps produced by the World Bank in partnership with AEDB can be downloaded from the Global Solar Atlas at http://globalsolaratlas.info. These maps are at much higher resolution of 1km, and have improved accuracy. Thanks.

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