Last week Pakistan’s Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif inaugurated Pakistan’s first solar power park, which will start generating 100 megawatts of energy by the end of the year and a total of 1,000 megawatts by 2016. The Quaid-e-Azam Solar Park project has 400,000 solar panels, with a total cost of around $131 million. When complete the plant will produce about 2.5 times the power coming from the 392 megawatt Ivanpah solar thermal plant in California’s Mojave Desert, making it one of the largest solar parks in the world.
“If you come here after one and a half years, you will see a river of solar panels, residential buildings and offices — it will be a new world,” said site engineer Muhammad Sajid, pointing towards the surrounding desert.
This is big news for a country suffering from chronic energy shortages that leave people without power for large chunks of the day on a regular basis. And then there’s the nearly half of the households that aren’t even connected to the grid, according to a World Bank study. When temperatures soar in the summer, electricity demand can fall short by around 4,000 megawatts.
At the inauguration, the prime minister said “the dearth of electricity has pushed the country backwards and its entire industry and agriculture sector have suffered immensely.”
Pakistan is one of the most vulnerable countries in the world to the impacts of climate change due to its location, population, and environmental degradation. A recent study in the journal Nature Climate Change found that people are already migrating out of the Pakistan for climate-related reasons such as flooding and heat stress, which have negative effects on agriculture and can prove very costly.
“We need energy badly and we need clean energy, this is a sustainable solution for years to come,” Imran Sikandar Baluch, head of the Bahawalpur district administration in Punjab where the plant is located, told the AFP. “Pakistan is a place where you have a lot of solar potential. In Bahawalpur, with very little rain and a lot of sunshine, it makes the project feasible and more economical.”
At a meeting shortly after the inauguration, Sharif approved expanding the project from from 10,000 acres to 15,000 acres and increasing the capacity from 1,000 megawatts to 1,500 megawatts.