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The grid and energy sustainability

In the ambitious quest for a sustainable future, the conversation about energy often revolves around the creation of energy utilizing various fuels, including renewable technologies. Pakistan is blessed with huge renewable potential, and now we have wind turbines churning in the wilderness of Jhimpir and solar panels glistening atop rooftops, manifesting a transition in progress towards sustainable and greener energy. Yet, beneath the surface of these striking images lies an intricate and critical component of our energy transition — the grid. It is here, within the labyrinth of cables and substations, that the true backbone of renewable energy’s potential is either empowered or constrained.

If we must transition to a reliable, sustainable, and affordable energy system with the integration of renewable sources, interestingly, it is not the generation that occupies the centre stage; rather, it is the grid.

Grid constraints in Pakistan are a result of problems like poor departmental management, a reliance on imported fossil fuels, high power generation costs, and antiquated monitoring techniques. The country has faced energy crises for the past many decades due to these challenges. Additionally, blackouts are critical issues affecting the stability and reliability of Pakistan’s power supply systems, emphasizing the need for a robust and reliable power infrastructure. Pakistan’s national grid has suffered major breakdowns, highlighting infrastructural weaknesses and the need for upgrades that the government struggles to afford.

The power sector problems in Pakistan, such as insufficient supply to meet rising demand, have led to a significant energy crisis in the country. This crisis has resulted in power outages affecting all major sectors of the economy. The poor infrastructure and underdeveloped management of the power sector have contributed to the ongoing challenges faced by Pakistan in meeting its energy needs.

The power sector problems in Pakistan, such as the depreciation of the rupee, underutilization of generation capacity, and inefficiencies in generation, transmission, distribution, and supply segments, have had a significant impact on the economy. The challenges have led to increased electricity prices, financial instability for power companies, and higher tariffs for consumers, affecting the overall industry’s financial liquidity and stability.

These difficulties have a significant impact on Pakistan’s industrial sector. Many businesses in Pakistan are struggling to remain competitive and profitable in the face of these challenges. The higher electricity prices and unreliable supply have forced many industries to cut back on production or even shut down operations entirely. This not only affects the companies themselves but also has a ripple effect on the economy, leading to job losses and decreased economic growth. To ensure a stable and reliable energy supply for businesses, many companies have looked towards renewable energy sources such as solar and wind power. Though as promising as it may look, this approach will further lead us into trouble as more and more of the existing generation capacity that has been put in place will become idle due to no demand from the industry, and this will enhance the capacity charge on consumers. Which in turn would result in increased costs and shrinking demand due to affordability issues.

Although renewables are becoming more cost-effective and hold a promise to offset the negative impacts of the high price of imported fuels in our energy mix, the transition to a fully renewable energy system will require careful planning and consideration of the potential consequences. It is crucial to ensure that the energy infrastructure is able to handle fluctuations in supply and demand and that adequate storage solutions are in place to address the intermittency of renewable sources.

While the promise of renewable energy captures the imagination, the reality of integrating these green sources into our existing grid reveals a more complex picture. The limitations of our current grid infrastructure are steadily impeding the dream of a sustainable economy and a decent lifestyle for the masses. This is a piece of infrastructure that, without urgent and intelligent upgrades, could jeopardize the pace of our economic growth and energy transition. This is a critical issue that must be addressed promptly to ensure a brighter future for all.

Innovation in the form of digitalization offers a promising path forward, enabling us to reimagine the grid as a dynamic, intelligent system capable of meeting the demands of the 21st century. There are virtual models that allow for the simulation of future scenarios, modelling live data to optimize performance and efficiency comprehensively.

Close monitoring and analysis of power production and consumption at the community level are imperative for a truly responsive and resilient grid. A modern grid is the way to sustainable energy in the future and the democratization of energy.

The dialogue on energy is often saturated with discussions of installed capacity. However, we are way behind in the electrification of the economy or transitioning our energy sector towards a more sustainable and green future. This narrow focus of our policymakers on the generation of power and reducing costs without looking into the complexity of the challenge at hand is the real problem. The crux of the matter, as we venture deeper into the era of electrification, is not solely how much we can generate but how effectively we can transmit, distribute, and utilize this energy.

Microgrids can help adopt renewable energy faster and would be far more efficient in bringing power to the unserved communities living in far-flung areas like Baluchistan. They can help distribute renewable energy on a local level and reduce strain on transmission lines. In the future advancements in battery technology will allow for more efficient storage of excess renewable energy, further reducing the need for costly transmission infrastructure. But as a first stop for energy storage, we can take the help of the common people by incentivizing the electrification of transportation; thus, the transport sector would provide storage through its batteries and help balance the grid during times of high demand. There are smart models and technology available for that, where we incentivize consumers to plug their vehicles into cheaper electricity at the time when renewables are generating. This would help reduce carbon emissions and create a more sustainable energy system.

But while microgrids and battery storage can help alleviate some of the transmission challenges, they cannot replace the need for a modernized grid. As renewable energy sources become more prevalent, they will require reliable transmission infrastructure to connect them to population centres. This is where smart grid technology comes into play.

Smart grids use advanced communication and control systems to better manage power distribution, allowing for more efficient and reliable transmission of energy. This technology can also help integrate renewable energy sources into the grid, ensuring a smoother transition to a cleaner, more sustainable future.

Furthermore, smart grid technology enables real-time monitoring of energy usage, allowing for more accurate forecasting and load balancing. Moreover, they have the potential to support the growth of electric vehicles by enabling a more efficient and widespread charging infrastructure. This will not only reduce greenhouse gas emissions but also decrease the dependence on fossil fuels for transportation.

Overall, smart grid technology plays a crucial role in creating a more sustainable and reliable energy system. By integrating renewable energy sources, improving efficiency, and supporting the growth of electric vehicles, it is a key component in transitioning to a cleaner and more sustainable future.

The transformation of our grid will require collaboration from all stakeholders: government, utility companies, and technology providers.

Digitalization stands as a beacon of efficiency, offering avenues to minimize transmission losses, align electricity flows with demand, and enhance the transparency of grid operations.

The transition towards a sustainable energy future demands more than passive acknowledgment of the grid’s role; it calls for active, informed engagement in redefining what the grid can and should be.

We stand at a watershed moment in our energy history. It is incumbent upon policymakers, industry leaders, and society at large to champion the evolution of the grid. Only through a concerted effort to upgrade, digitalize, and reimagine our energy networks can we unlock the full potential of renewable energy. This is not merely an investment in infrastructure but a foundational commitment to a sustainable, equitable future.

Kashif Mateen Ansari, "The grid and energy sustainability," Business recorder. 2024-04-05.
Keywords: Social sciences , Economic growth , Renewable technologies , Renewable Energy , Energy system , sustainable energy , Energy issues , Pakistan

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