Pakistan is experiencing a rise in urbanization. The 2017 census has shown that our cities are growing at a rate of three percent per annum, the highest in South Asia, some experts believe the number to be higher. Moreover, it is mostly the youth migrating from rural to urban areas. Common observations inform us that the scale of urban population is on an exponential rise. Apart from numbers, the Pakistani population has become increasingly enthralled with latest developments in facilities, services and lifestyles as evident on social media.
A fundamental pre-requisite to make these aspirations a reality; is inexpensive, environmentally-friendly options for energy. From livelihood to housing, energy plays a pivotal role in functionality and economic viability. There are many options for alternative energy resources. However, the government response to such projects, in terms of implementation and materialisation has been far from desirable.
For example, wind energy is a sustainable, viable option with enormous potential for Pakistan, especially along the coastal belt. According to pre-feasibility studies done by the Alternative Energy Development Board (AEDB), the Gharo-Keti Bandar wind corridor has the potential of producing 50,000 MW. However, only a few enterprises have set up such projects utilising only 6 percent of the generation potential. An interim target was set to mobilise generation of at least 9,700 MW by 2030. Given the relatively slow performance, these targets appear to be a remote possibility. Electrification of some 40,000 villages, legislation of relevant statutes, local development of solar panels and establishment of solar thermal plants were some of the other stated goals. Very little progress has been made in terms of implementation. Other technological approaches, such as ‘waste to energy’ power plants can enhance the energy sector and protect the environment.
As lifestyles in urban as well as rural areas are rapidly changing; domestic and other solid waste has increased phenomenally. Karachi alone generates more than 12,000 tons of solid waste each day. With advancements in science and technology, many processes are now known to generate energy using the waste. Common typologies that can be considered in this regard include, incineration; gasification; thermal deploymerization; pyrolysis; and plasma-arc gasification. Such approaches not only prevent waste accumulation but also generate much-needed electric power. Hence, feasibility studies must be undertaken throughout the country.
Urban organic waste can be transformed into plant food and compost. Development of extensive solar parks can change the destiny of local population in regions where sunny days and high temperatures are common;. Intelligent generation and use of renewable energy can change lives. Notably the expansion and consolidation of renewable energy will also increase the international competitiveness of Pakistani products. With rising global concerns on climate change; corporations are eager to set up shop in countries with renewable and environmental friendly energy consumption. Currently, thermal generation accounts for more than half of total power output, which releases an abominable amount of carbon emissions.
A related area for exploration is bio-fuels. A lot of debate has taken place to question the moral and ethical justification of using food crop outputs into bio-fuel technologies. This is a valid concern but research has shown that waste lands can generate botanical species for bio-fuel development. Millions of hectares of land in Pakistan is infested with water logging and salinity. Threshold analysis of available wastelands, review of their productivity and choice of the concurrent process can lead to extremely positive results. Some experimentation and laboratory scale work is already underway at local universities, which need support from concerned government agencies.
Architecturally, design modifications can give rise to very useful permutations and combinations. For instance, tall buildings finished with solar panels will enable buildings to become self-sufficient in electricity generation and utilisation. Moreover, buildings can adapt waste management and water cleansing mechanics, within their design. This will lead to independent urban units, managing their waste and energy needs.
However, such innovations can only bear fruit if willing minds are able to adapt, train and educate themselves and the public. A strong regulatory role by government is an integral component of this.
(The UN celebrates World Cities Day on October 31)