The German energy company Conergy is working with Hong Kong-based Ensunt to build a 50-megawatt solar plant in Bahawalpur, in the Cholistan region of Pakistan. According to a Conergy press release, when completed, the plant will be the biggest solar facility in the country; it will be owned by the Pakistani government and the DACC Power Generation Company Limited.
Pakistan relies heavily on hydroelectric generation, and is thus at the whims of variable river flows. Marc Lohoff, a Conergy board member, said in a press release that only 63 percent of the country's population even has access to electricity at present, and those that do face frequent blackouts. Just a glimpse at the Pakistan Ministry of Water and Power's "daily power situation" snapshots suggests a broad gap between electricity demand and supply, with substantial variations. For example, in early April the country's hydro facilities were generating at a capacity of around 2000 MW, while over the last few days in June it has been closer to 4500 MW. The most recent day's data indicates a shortfall of more than 6000 MW on a total electricity demand of almost 18 000 MW.
Critics of solar power may find it strange to look to the sun for a reliable answer to an intermittency problem, but when a shortfall is in the thousands of megawatts then beefing up the total capacity is a good first step. And Pakistan—in particular the Cholistan region—has ample and consistent sunshine. Conergy says that Pakistan gets about 8 to 9 hours of sunshine per day, with an annual insolation rate (basically, how much of the sun's energy hits a given spot) of over 1700 kilowatt-hours/m2. That's far better than, say, Germany, which has the most solar capacity in the world and recently set a record by getting half its power from the sun.
The new 50-MW plant will eventually supply power to more than 30 000 households in Pakistan. Says Conergy's Lohoff, "Due to the decentralized character of this form of energy and the high insolation levels, solar energy is ideally suited to close [the demand] gap and to supply the population with safe, clean, and affordable energy. At the same time, solar power can support the economic development of the country."
Image: Solar panels on a road in Pakistan, via wetlandsofpakistan