Challenging the persistence of baseload bias in Pakistan’s energy planning – research

Islamabad: On 31 January, chapter one of the series, ‘Busting the Myths’, was published by Renewables First (RF), an energy and environment think-tank.

The research claims to bust myths about renewable sources and their integration into the energy mix of Pakistan. The first chapter explains the reality behind the myths about baseload energy and the need for transition to renewable sources in Pakistan.

There is a widespread misperception that using renewable energy sources, such as wind and solar energy, will make the electrical system less reliable. This idea, called the “baseload” dilemma, contends that renewable energy cannot be relied upon as the main source of electricity since it is unable to deliver a continuous and steady source of power.

Numerous issues have contributed to Pakistan’s current economic unrest, but the power sector’s enormous circular debt of PKR 4,177 billion is at the top of the list (Dec 2022). Mostly because of issues, such as the import of pricey fuels for the energy mix. Which has revived the conversation about moving faster towards an innovative and cost-effective energy mix. Policymakers’ perspectives are changing significantly and as a result, this debate is in favour of an expedited transition through the use of renewable energy sources, which are also more affordable—the most recent tariff is as low as 4 cents/kwh. But opponents of the energy shift have been stoking concerns about the dangers of outdated energy systems, which might not even be real.

“One of the key problems about the proliferation of renewables is that the technologies like solar and wind are considered complementary (to the energy mix). People have assumed that these (renewable) technologies won’t ever be central to our energy sector,” says Muhammad Basit Ghauri, Author of the chapter and Program Associate at Renewables First.

“Their arguments are backed by an outdated understanding of the power sector. Often citing the baseload myth, which corresponds to the idea that higher integration of renewables will negatively impact the grid operations. Even though numerous researchers claim the contrary. Here we bust these myths by answering these queries through specific objective analysis,” he says.

The chapter discusses three myths:
1) Renewable energy resources like wind and solar undermine grid reliability.
2) Baseload power is necessary for reliability and resiliency in the electric grid.
3) Pakistan struggles with baseload generation capacity.
The reality of each myth is detailed along with global examples.

Muhammad Mustafa Amjad, Program Manager at Renewables First, explains why Pakistan has to invest in renewables, “We have no options! We have to make our electricity cheaper, our energy sources local, and reduce emissions for which renewables is the only option”.

Adding that there are various misconceptions around renewable energy sources amongst the public, policymakers and experts who believe that renewables cannot be integrated beyond certain capacity and cite baseload challenges, “Yet, at the same time we see that globally, in developing and developed countries, 100% of grids are running on renewables and they are being dealt with by a systematic approach. As Pakistan treads on its path of climate leadership, Renewables First is working on the common misconceptions around RE in Pakistan and trying to address them”.

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