Friday, October 30, 2009

Alternative Energy Means – What are we waiting for??

Pakistan is energy starved country – largely dependent on the hydro electric power for electricity needs and imported oil for running vehicles and power projects. We also burn most of our precious gas reserves for home use. And that’s about all. When in winters, water supply drops in our reservoirs, the country plunges into darkness. Now even in summers when we have abundant water, we are subjected to long spells of load shedding since we do not produce much as we consume more.

Our oil reserves remains far from being tapped – As against the proven oil reserves of some 28.8 million barrels, we are currently digging only 60-70,000 bpd while our consumption stands at 351,000 bpd. Thus we import the shortfall of 82% from OPEC. Likewise our dams and IPPs cannot produce enough electricity to fulfil our domestic and commercial requirements.
So what do we do? Well, frankly speaking, had we done a little bit, we wouldn’t have been that unhappier as today we are. Until very lately, when we have started “thinking” of wind energy, we have wasted decades in tapping this free source of electricity that is abundantly available along our coast and some valleys up north. We also missed a golden opportunity to further the biogas project once started with much fanfare.

We came close to using Ethanol in 2005 when the then government made a tall claim of introducing E-10 (ten percent ethanol mixed petrol) which would have made our environment much cleaner and fuel cheaper, while reducing our import bill of oil which runs into billions of dollars. and nothing much was required to be done as ethanol is made from the molasses, a by product of the sugar industry. But probably the mighty OMCs came into play their cards as it would have lowered their profits.

In fact, the Cow-Power in the form of biogas from cow manure can actually be used to produce electricity for our home appliances. Renewable Methane Fuel from biogas anaerobic digestion of manure, sewage, garbage produces methane which can be used to generate electricity for homes, farms, businesses. Biogas can be "cleaned" to yield purified methane that can be used in the natural gas pipelines. Methane is a green house gas that has 21 times the heating effect as carbon dioxide. So instead of letting it escape to the atmosphere and add to global warming, we can burn it and reduce global warming by considerable amount. Methane can be compressed for use in the automobiles as well.

Now the need of the hour is instead of making dung-cakes from the animal waste at individual level in / around our rural areas, we, through a process called anaerobic digestion manure can produce a gas which is mostly methane. This bio-methane can do all the same things natural gas does but it is better than natural gas because it is renewable. 4 to 6 cows can produce enough manure to provide enough methane for the average home. Generally speaking all one needs a large tank that must be filled with the right percentage of manure solids and water. And one would have to buy and install a generator. Then there are some technicalities involved in keeping the manure warm enough so the bacteria can digest it and produce methane. If someone is operating a dairy with 500 or more cows he will have enough manure to produce all the electricity needed for the dairy and may be able to sell extra electricity to WAPDA. Here the farmers / landlords of an area can get together and collectively produce electricity at least for the domestic use – decreasing use of WAPDA produced electricity to considerable extent.

In many European countries anaerobic digestion is used to produce methane and generate electricity from many types of waste, including human sewage and garbage. We can thus reduce our dependence on the imported oil, reduce global warming, reduce pollution, and improve the environment by anaerobically digesting waste, all kinds of waste.

But this wont happen unless we start talking of sources of alternative energy – and it would only then the collectively we would realize the benefits the alternative means of power accrue, which can ultimately rid us of the long spells of load shedding, footing a heavy bill of oil imports and paying a huge some to the IPPs (and now RPPs) and the oil companies.

In fact use of alternative energy, be it ethanol, methane or wind energy, should form of the mandate of our political parties who have leaders from the rural areas and who with little effort not only benefit themselves but the people of their own constituencies. We need to say we would rather pay a few cents more for home grown power than spend billions to buy oil from the OPEC.