Pakistan’s solar homeowners get green light to sell power to national grid

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LAHORE: Pakistan has approved rules allowing owners of solar panels across the country to sell power they create to the country’s energy grid, and moved to convert tens of thousands of water pumps in southwestern Balochistan province to solar power.

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The country’s Alternative Energy Development Board, a government agency, said solar panels owners throughout Pakistan can for the first time take part in net metering, a billing mechanism that credits solar panel owners for the electricity they contribute to the country’s power-short grid.

The board’s chair, Sardar Awais Ahmed Leghari, said the expansion of net metering – which is already in place in a few cities – and simplification of the approval process would encourage more consumers to install solar panels and sell excess power to the national grid.

That could boost generation of green energy in the country by 5,000 to 7,000 megawatts – potentially enough to nearly overcome the country’s electricity shortfall in the summer, a time of peak demand.

Right now 150 solar installations – including one at Islamabad’s Parliament House – are adding 4 MW of power to the grid through net metering.

The board hopes extending net metering will add 1,000 MW of solar power by 2021 and 4,500 MW by 2025.

“We are bringing the profitable business of electricity generation to people’s doorstep,” Leghari noted in a press release.

Solar installers say they hope the shift will lead to a surge in business.

“Net metering will offer an incentive to people to shift to solar power. It will be beneficial to them,” said Abdullah Iqbal, a businessman who deals in solar technology.

Right now, most people with solar panels use the energy for power and also to charge a battery that provides power at night, though the system is not highly efficient, Iqbal said in an interview with the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

Being able to sell excess power to the grid –and see a quick payback – will encourage more homeowners and businesses to adopt solar panels, he predicted.

“Previously, fewer people would go for solar. Now more common people will opt for it. Net metering will mean immediate benefits, from the very next month. More demand will mean more supply and a slide in prices of batteries, panels and inverters,” Iqbal predicted.

The new rules ease the previously complicated process for owners of smaller solar installations to connect to the grid.

Rehman Maqbool, a former National Transmission and Dispatch Company official, said the change made sense as “the previous rules were lengthy and cumbersome”.

Net metering will “help in increasing generation capacity, reducing fuel import bills, decreasing emissions of greenhouse gases and strengthening the national grid,” Maqbool said in an interview.

The Alternative Energy Development Board also announced a public awareness campaign to encourage as many people as possible to take part in the new solar buy-back plan.

It also approved a plan to convert all grid-powered water pumps in Balochistan province to solar power.

More than 30,000 electric water pumps, using more than 480 MW of power, run in Balochistan province to provide water for irrigation. The government pays more than 21 billion rupees ($325 million) a year to subsidise the operation of the largely fossil-fuel-powered pumps.

In the first phase of the project, expected to run through next year, solar power will be connected to run 10,000 of the pumps, the board said.

Reuters