August Issue 2009
Power to All
By Farieha Aziz | News & Politics | Technology | Published 14 years ago
There are still many villages in Pakistan that do not have electricity, mostly because of their remote location which puts them beyond the reach of the national grid. It is now logistically unviable to connect them to the national grid. However, electricity is being provided to many of these villages with alternative energy sources — mainly wind turbines, but also solar panels — through the initiative of government and private organisations who have, in particular, taken up the task of the uplift of the coastal communities of Pakistan.
Just recently, a charity organisation, Action for Humanitarian Development, installed a wind turbine in Kharochhan, a fisherfolk’s village south of Karachi, providing electricity to 100 of the 500 homes in the village. Village electrification has been an important part of the agenda of organisations such as the Alternative Energy Development Board (AEDB), Pakistan Council of Renewable Energy Technology (PCRET) and Indus Earth Trust (IET).
The IET, whose funding comes from the Pakistan Poverty Alleviation Fund, which in turn is funded by the World Bank and the government, is allowed to install wind turbine systems for community use only. Thus, the wind turbines they have set up power the mosque, school, a community centre and a health care centre too, if there is one. Government-funded, PCRET selects those villages that have no chance of being connected to the national grid in the next 10 years and provides electricity to the homes of the villagers.
The villages PCRET has worked in are located along the Sindh-Balochistan border near Karachi, 30km from the sea belt. Out of these, 13 are in Sindh and seven in Balochistan. After a thorough assessment made by a team of experts of how many houses there are per village and what the electricity needs per house are, the size of the turbine installed is then determined. Former project director, Majid-ul-Hassan tells Newsline that PCRET has installed turbines ranging from 500W up to 15kW, based on the needs of the community and the prevailing winds in the area. These turbines were imported from different countries to assess their viability and sustainability. The smaller turbines — 500W and 1kW — bought from China, were shown to local manufacturers in order to study the machines and then replicate their own.
The IET has worked extensively in villages in Keamari in Karachi. It has installed wind turbines (of 500W to 1kW capacity) in seven villages and three hybrid systems as well. Two out of the seven villages where wind turbines have been installed also have home solar lights, while all of the villages, with the exception of one where a hybrid system has been installed, have solar-powered street lights. The solar-powered street lights and the provision of home solar lights (outside the house) were installed mainly for safety purposes, to protect villagers from external threats such as scorpions, encountered in the dark when going to lavatories outside their homes. A total number of 657 households and 5,165 people have benefited from these projects.
The IET assists with the maintenance for the one-year warranty period, but after that, whatever repairs or replacements are required have to be made at the villagers’ own cost. “If there is a problem they don’t understand,” says Shahid Sayeed Khan, CEO IET, “they phone us and our engineer helps solve the problem.” The villagers appoint one person who is responsible for the maintenance of the system.
The AEDB, also funded by the government, has installed wind turbines in villages of Sindh and Balochistan. In 18 villages which had a total of 700 homes, 100 turbines of 500W each were installed, which electrified 580 homes in Sindh and 111 in Balochistan.
All three organisations employ the same policy as far as maintenance is concerned: the running and maintenance of the system is the responsiblity of the villagers, which is communicated to them prior to the installation.
But handing over the reins of power to the villagers has been disastrous in many cases. The systems of only 400 of the 700 homes electrified by the AEDB are still operational. Mohammed Irfan Yousuf, project director for wind at the AEDB, tells Newsline that the reason many of the projects have not produced the desired results, in terms of sustainability, is because the villagers didn’t maintain the systems. In other instances, as revealed by Khan, villagers have also misused the system which has led to its collapse. A 500W turbine installed for community purposes only — and specifically to support a certain amount of electrical load — was used by the villagers to provide electricity to their homes by extending wiring to their own houses.
Yousuf found the AEDB’s solar project — the installation of solar panels in each house — to be a far more feasible option, as each household was responsible for just themselves, which instilled a sense of ownership in them. The villagers must have a stake in the system and free-of-cost arrangements are not advisable. Hassan says in the villages where PCRET works, the person in charge is usually the union councillor. Like the AEDB, they, too, install a turbine for five to six houses and each group is responsible for maintaining it. In this case, the group maintains a reserve bank to cover the costs of repair and maintenance. For example, a 500W turbine is set up to power five to six households. The households drawing electricity from the turbine pool in a monthly sum of money and take turns to maintain the turbine, Hassan explains.
PCRET installed a 5kW turbine in Keamari for the community to come and charge their batteries and that is still functional. All those who wish to utilise the services pay a sum of money, which, in turn, is used to run and maintain the battery station. In Hassan’s view, the most successful cases have been those villages which are located further away from the city, or those selected without any political pressure. In the case of two goths, where PCRET installed a 5kW and 10kW turbine, the villagers used their political clout to get funds from the government to pay for the upkeep and repairs of the turbine, on a continuing basis.
Through a process of trial-and-error, the organisations learn to revise their strategies for each new project. Additional projects to electrify more villages have been planned, but these will begin once funding is available.
Farieha Aziz is a Karachi-based journalist and teacher. She joined Newsline in 2007, rising to assistant editor. Farieha was awarded the APNS award for Best Investigative Report (Business/Economic) for the year 2007-2008. She is a co-founder and Director at Bolo Bhi, an advocacy forum of Digital Rights.