Muhammad Waseem is an electrician who runs a shop in the auto market right next to the University of Engineering and Technology (UET), Lahore. For years, he has assembled and provided conventional Uninterrupted Power Supply (UPS) systems, powered by electricity and supplied through national grid, to his customers.
Though he tries his best to provide quality products to his clients, he often receives complaints, and most of the time these happen for no fault of his. Sometimes the voltage is too low to charge the batteries, and at other times these are overcharged or overheated. In the latter case, the batteries suffer harm, and you receive inflated electricity bills too.
Waseem has also lost customers who used to come from the city’s peripheries, chiefly villages, because they could not charge their UPS systems due to endless power supply failures. So, the UPS powered by electricity supplied through grid did not remain useful for them.
Last year, he decided to deal in solar-powered UPS. It was the time when the prices of solar panels had come down due to a fall in their global prices, relaxations and incentives offered by the government, and import in large quantities due to the increase in the trend of installing solar power systems among people.
Initially, Waseem says, people were reluctant but now they are coming in in hordes to buy solar-powered UPS systems. Many of his customers have got their conventional systems converted to solar power after incurring a minor loss.
The rural customers have benefitted the most because the power outages they suffer span over hours and they are without power for most of the day.
Muhammad Ali, an importer of solar panels, says it is a highly viable option, as there is one-time upfront cost and maintenance which is quite simple. “You just have to wash the panels to ensure dust does not settle there,” he tells TNS.
Regarding the prices, he says it depends on the nature of consumption and demand of the consumers. “If they need solar power only during the day, there is no need to install batteries so the prices come down. This suits the offices, shops, schools etc because they close down by evening. In case they want to continue, they can switch to the electricity supplied by Lesco for the remaining hours. In case a customer wants them back, the cost of batteries is added.”
In Lahore, Hall Road has become the hub of this business, and people from all over the province can be seen purchasing solar equipment from here. A visitor can see advertisements on boards and banners hoisted everywhere quoting prices and the load that certain solar systems can bear. The price might be different due to the type of solar panels used that are got from China, Germany, and the US.
An interesting fact is that the panels imported from China come with a 10-year warranty where others don’t.
A single KVA system may cost you around Rs95,000. This system includes four 150-watt, A-grade solar panels with 10 years’ warranty; a wet 200-amp battery with six months’ warranty; and panel structures/stands and inverter with six months’ warranty. This system is enough to power one laptop, one TV set, four ceiling fans, and eight energy savers for a 24-hour period of time.
For those who want to have increased dependence on solar power can opt for a 4-KVA system that can cost up to Rs347,000. This system has twelve 250-watt, A-grade solar panels with 10 years’ warranty, four 100-amp dry batteries with six months’ warranty, solar structures, and a hybrid inverter with six months’ warranty. It can power eight ceiling fans, 18 energy savers, one tonne inverter AC, and one computer.
The solar panels can work for two years and wet batteries if installed need replacement after two to three years. Dry batteries on the other hand have much longer life.
Then there are gadgets like mobile battery chargers, laptop chargers, power sockets etc that are charged by solar power and suit the individuals who remain outdoors or travel long distances on a regular basis. Those interested can buy these from Hall Road or retailers having outlets across the city. Other products on offer include portable systems with capacity to power an LED, small fan and a charger, solar lamps, solar geysers, solar stoves, solar cookers and so on. OLX, an online portal, sells second hand solar powered products and prices are like Rs 800 for a 37 watt solar fan, solar LED garden light for Rs 2,000, solar iron 12 volt for Rs 2,400, solar powered alarm siren for Rs 1,199 and so on.
Apart from the cost, the fact that the power supply is uninterrupted has made people install solar power systems, especially when there are fears about load shedding spanning 12 hours or more in a day. Mudassar Ahmed, a marketing executive who has installed a solar power system in his house, says there has been a slight increase in the prices of solar panels. The reasons he cites are that first summers are approaching and second people fear there will be worst form of loadsheddig once the PML-N government steps down in a month or so. This has led to an increase in demand and prices of solar panels and other equipment, he adds. Ahmed asserts his fear is not unfounded and a proof of this is that unbearable load shedding has already started in Karachi. Lahore may face a similar situation as PML-N government will not be there during summers to give electricity on a priority basis to the city as it has been doing in the past, he speculates. He adds the incentive that people can sell excess energy produced by solar power system to Lesco has also created an interest among consumers. The schools that remain closed during weekly holidays and vacations stand to benefit from this offer a lot.
There are complaints also about the quality and performance of solar-powered systems and difficulties in maintenance that keep many people away for availing the option. Muhammad Ramzan, who owns a solar company, says this is for the reason the market is flooded with unbranded and low quality imported solar panels and components. “Because these are cheap, people buy them in large quantity and complain when they don’t perform well,” he says. “The high-quality solar power systems may cost more but hardly there are any complaints about these.”
He urges the government to ensure that a minimum quality standard for this business is maintained.
Usman Ahsan, of another solar power company, says the prices have come down at the international level, and the recent price hike is due to the devaluation of Pakistani currency. “The panels are mostly imported and only one or two companies have tried to manufacture these in Pakistan but their quality is not good.
“People are becoming more and more interested in installing solar-powered systems, as there is an increase in awareness and availability of expertise in this technology,” he adds. “However, there is a need to further promote this [technology].”
Ahsan suggests that the State Bank of Pakistan (SBP) should follow a policy to provide financing facility to households for the purpose.
The bottomline is that the country must devise a comprehensive policy and tap its potential to produce solar energy in huge quantities. This is imperative as the whole world is concentrating on it. Recently, Tesla Inc., a company based in the US, launched its solar roof project. They have come up with a glass roofing tile that will generate electricity for a home by way of a solar cell embedded in each of its tiles.