Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Jatropha Curcas: Is It the Cure for Pakistan’s Electricity Shortage?

Over 1,000 people (as of press time) have died of heatstroke in Pakistan, and with the solution to the ongoing power outages observed to still be a long ways to go, this macabre number can very well go up in the following days.

Industry experts in the country have put forward possible solutions to the enduring energy supply shortage. Some of the primary solutions brought to light were creating a large-scale in-house power-generator subsidy to commercial and industrial users, and replacing the present electric supply lines to fill in the 20-35% line-waste. A third, rather unorthodox option, was harnessing the potential of a plant known as Jatropha Curcas.

The first two proposed solutions were instantly met with opposition, mainly grounded on the issues of large capital expenditure and duration. For instance, subsidy to the commercial and industrial generators can cost the country hundreds of billions, while the replacement of present supply lines can, in addition to costing a fortune, take more than three years, even a decade.

But how can Jatropha Curcas support the country’s quest to mitigate the effects of power shortage?
Experts suggest that if the crop is planted in the vast barren tracts of Sindh, Balochistan and the Punjab, for example, over the next six months, the cost will not be more than PKR 50 billion, while the cheapest biodiesel can be extracted through privately run plants for generators and national grids within two years. They added that each Jatropha mini-tree can offer the fuel for 40 years.

When Jatropha seeds are crushed, the resulting oil can be processed to produce a high-quality biofuel or biodiesel that can be used in cars or jets, while the residue can be used as biomass feedstock to run power plants, as fertilizer or as animal fodder.

With its avowed benefits, the Jatropha option can potentially gain ground in the coming months. While the procedures are being fine-tuned, the approvals obtained, the financing secured and the technology optimized, there are existing supplemental power options that Pakistan can employ, which can replicate the functions of its permanent energy infrastructure or support the operations of its budding electricity supply facilities.

Rental power plants represent a fast-track, large-scale solution to the energy woes hounding not only Pakistan but any given country in the world. Temporary power plants are a reliable, sustainable and cost-effective answer to power shortages no matter its magnitude. They are equipped with the latest technology, allowing them to be configured to produce the exact amount of electricity as required, and to be connected to a site’s existing power infrastructure regardless of its condition or age. They can be transported from and to anywhere in the world, and can be installed and commissioned in as little as days, not months, not years. Most importantly, they can offer the government and the tax-payers notable savings, because hiring rental power plants do not involve a large CAPEX.

They key to combatting power shortages not just in Pakistan but in any other country in the world is to strike a balance among all the available sources of energy. Conventional, alternative and renewable sources should complement each other to strengthen a country’s overall energy mix. While the Jatropha option holds tremendous potential, the technology still requires time to mature, hence other available supplemental sources, like rental power plants, can represent an excellent support.


Robert Bagatsing
Altaaqa Global
Tel: +971 56 1749505

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