Pakistan starts reaping CPEC benefits

 18 Jul 2017 - 0:00


Islamabad:  Pakistan is beginning to reap the benefits of Chinese investment in renewable energy infrastructure, with the opening of the first wind power project constructed as part of the huge China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) , aimed at overhauling the country’s transport and energy systems.
The nearly 50 megawatt wind farm is located on over 680 acres of land in Jhimpir, near the shores of the picturesque Keenjhar Lake, around two hours’ drive from the city of Karachi.
Jhimpir is part of the so-called “Gharo-Jhimpir wind corridor” in Sindh province, a 180 km (110 mile) stretch of coastal land that the Pakistan Meteorological Department says has the potential to produce 11,000 MW of electricity through wind power.
The corridor is home to Pakistan’s earliest wind project, which began in 2009 with just a few turbines and was upgraded to an installed capacity of 56 MW by 2012. The new wind farm, which opened last month, has been developed by Sachal Energy Development, with financing from the Industrial and Commercial Bank of China.
Pakistan and China have signed around $57 bn of energy and infrastructure projects under the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC). Most of this investment is going towards coal-fired power plants, fuelled both by imported coal and by coal mines in Pakistan’s Thar Desert.
The CPEC projects aim to boost energy production in Pakistan to reduce shortages that lead to regular power outages.
The country can produce as much as 23,000 MW of power, but experts say that there is a shortfall of as much as 5,000 MW during periods of peak demand – and demand is increasing by the day given the rapidly growing population.
CPEC energy projects are expected to add around 17,000 MW to the national grid in the next few years through what are being called “early harvest” projects to overcome the energy crisis.
Most of these are coal-powered plants, such as the 1,320 MW Sahiwal plant in Punjab, which was inaugurated this month. But CPEC also includes some renewable energy projects. The Quaid-e-Azam solar park in Bahawalpur, in southern Punjab, is due to generate 1,000 MW, while a further 250 MW will come from the wind corridor in Sindh.
Zeeshan Ashfaq, a research analyst who works for the World Wind Energy Association, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation in an interview that Pakistan’s grid currently has more wind power capacity than solar power capacity.
“Today we only have 400 MW of grid-connected solar energy from Quaid-e-Azam solar park, whereas we have 640 MW of grid-connected wind energy already in Jhimpir”, including previously installed wind projects, Ashfaq said.  The Gharo-Jhimpir wind corridor, mapped in 2013 by the US  National Renewable Energy Laboratory, contains vast stretches of saline land, unsuitable for agriculture and dotted only with a few bushes.
“Thirteen projects are already operational here and others are in the pipeline. By the end of this year, an additional 200 MW of energy will be added to the grid,” Ashfaq said.  In June, the International Finance Corporation (IFC), a member of the World Bank Group, announced that it will provide $66m, and mobilize a further $172m, to help build three 50 MW wind power projects in the Gharo-Jhimpir wind corridor.  Triconboston Consulting Corporation, part of a Pakistani textile group that entered the renewable energy market in 2015, will operate the plants, which the IFC says will collectively form Pakistan’s largest wind farm. The World Bank has now started mapping Pakistan’s entire wind potential, looking at wind corridors in Punjab as well.
“With global pricing coming down, the market for renewables is kicking off. There is a lot of interest from investors”.