According to Finance Act 2014, the federal government has amended SRO 575 2006-07 and imposed a tax of 32.5% on import of Solar Panels. It must be noted that Solar Panels were placed in a special category with no tax since 2006. This was done to encourage the adoption of this Alternate Energy in the country. The government instead of taking steps to promote Solar Energy has taken the worst possible decision, at a time when the country is facing an acute energy crisis. The only possible explanation for this action is that the government intends to encourage local production of Solar Panels, which at the moment is minimal. What is troubling is that the Alternate Energy Development Board (AEDB) which is tasked with increasing the Alternate Energy contribution in the country to about 5% by 2030 was not even consulted.
The breakdown of the imposed tax is as follows.
General Sales Tax 17%
Import Duty 5%
Commercial Importer 3%
Income Tax on the Import 5.5%
Hardest hit are the importers who had imported Solar Panels in bulk and now have to pay taxes amounting in millions of rupees (5-6 million per container). According to sources there are about 60 to 70 containers at the port which are waiting for clearance by customs. Also suffering are Solar solution providers who do not have enough equipment now to fulfill their commitments. It must be noted that energy demand reaches its peak in summer months and this is the time when Solar businesses make their profits. Also to be hit is the agriculture sector where Solar Pumps have become quite popular in recent times.
The government has recently shown considerable interest in Solar technology with the launch of Quaid-e-Azam Solar Park in Bahawalpur. Previously, the Gillani government had also taken some steps to promote Alternate Energies in the country, such as starting Wind Energy projects in Jhimpir. It is hoped that better sense would prevail and the government would revisit the Fiance Act 2014 which has created this mess!
Note: Since this article was published on July 29, 2014 there has been another article that totally refutes the imposition of any additional taxes on solar equipment. According to this article titled Demystifying the Tax on Solar Panels "if an importer verified the import (through the Engineering Development Board) as a unique product not manufactured or available in Pakistan, the importer would not have to pay custom tax". The news item about imposition of tax may have been untrue but it did have some effect as the 60-70 containers stuck at Karachi were immediately released.
Pakistan did realize the potential of Alternate Energies quite early and National Institute of Silicon Technology (NIST) was formed in 1981 to conduct research in the area of Solar Energy. Later on Pakistan Council for Appropriate Technology (PCAT) was formed in 1985. These two organizations were merged together under the umbrella of Pakistan Council of Renewable Energy Technologies (PCRET) in 2001. The government of Pakistan also formed the Alternate Energy Development Board (AEDB) in 2003. Although these organizations have been working in the Alternate Energy sector for more than 30 years but there are not many achievements to be proud of. Some pilot projects have been initiated by PCRET and AEDB in remote parts of the country but there is no holistic approach to overcome the energy crisis besetting the country (one interesting initiative that has been taken by the Government of Pakistan in recent times is the Quaid-e-Azam Solar Park in Bahawalpur).
One interesting initiative undertaken by PCRET is indigenous development of 3rd Generation Solar Cells using Nanotechnology. However,the Solar Cells developed using this technique have very low efficiency (around 1%) as compared to international standards (around 10%). Nonetheless, this is an important step towards indigenous development and it is hoped that the efficiency of these Solar Cells can be improved with time so that they are of some practical use. Some of the products developed by PCRET in the area of Solar Thermal are Solar Desalination Plant, Solar Water Heater, Solar Cooker and Dehydrator.
As per PCRET website the total installed capacities of various Alternate Energy technologies in Pakistan are:
1. Installed 538 Microhydel Power Plants (5-50 KW capacity) with total capacity of 7.8 MW, 70,000 houses electrified.
2. Installed 155 small wind turbines (0.5 KW to 10 KW) with total capacity of 161 KW in Sindh and Balochistan, electrifying 1560 houses and 9-coast guard check posts.
3. Installed 300 Solar PV systems with total capacity of 100 KW electrifying 500 houses, mosques, schools and street lights.
4. Installed 4000 Biogas Plants (size 3&5M3/day, producing 18000 M3/day).
5. Developed 6-models of efficient smokeless cook stoves for cooking and space heating.
6. 100,000 mud stoves have been built in rural houses; saving 36500 tons of fuel wood per year.
7. Installed 21 solar dryers with total capacity of processing 5230 Kg of fruit per day.
The government of Pakistan has recently launched the Quaid-e-Azam Solar Park in the Cholistan desert near Bahawalpur. The project aims to produce 100 MW of electrical energy by end of 2014 and 1000 MW by end of 2016. This is a small step in the right direction. Countries like India, China and Germany are much ahead in the game with installed solar projects of 2600 MW, 20000 MW and 36000 MW respectively. Let us take a closer look at the price that we will have to pay for the energy produced.
The cost of the 100 MW project is around $131 million, that is the price per Watt is $1.31. That seems to be quite good, lets look closely. We know that 400,000 panels are to be installed in the first phase to produce 100 MW of electrical energy. This means that each Solar Panel would produce 250 W and the cost of each panel would be $327.5 or Rs.32750.
Assuming that there is peak solar energy available for six hours daily, each solar panel would produce 1.5 kWhr of energy each day or 547.5 kWhr of energy per year. This amounts to 13687.5 kWhr of energy over a 25 year period (assuming that the performance of the Solar Panels does not degrade over the 25 year period). Now assuming that each unit of energy (kWhr) is sold at Rs.15 the total energy produced by the Solar Panel over its life period amounts to Rs.205312.5 i.e the revenue earned from selling electricity is 6.27 times the investment (205312.5/32750=6.27).
Solar Park Bahawalpur
In other words the investment is recovered in 4 years and you have free electricity for the remaining 21 years. Please note that the above calculations do not include the operational costs, if any. Also, the above analysis assumes that the performance of the Solar Panels does not degrade over its life time.
Final Comment: The location of the proposed project does not seem to be optimum as Bahawalpur is receiving 2000 kWhr per squared meter per year as opposed to vast expanses of Balochistan that receive 2200 kWhr per squared meter per year.
The map below shows the solar energy falling on a horizontal surface of area 1 m2 during one year. It can be seen that areas of Balochistan and Southern Sindh are most gifted while Peshawar, Lahore and Islamabad also have quite favorable conditions. Lets assume that we are installing a Solar System in Karachi where the annual irradiation is around 2000 kWhr/m2. This means that there is an average daily irradiation of around 5.5 kWhr/m2. This means that a Solar Panel of area 1 m2 would receive 5.5 kWhr per day or 1 kW for 5.5 hours daily. If the above Solar Panel has an efficiency of 20% we can produce 200 Watts of electrical energy from it for 5.5 hours each day.
Solar Resource Map of Pakistan
1. The above map is for energy collected by a horizontal surface. A suitably tilted surface or a tracking one can obtain significantly more energy.
2. The received energy not only depends upon the relative position of the Sun and Earth but also on the atmospheric conditions such as cloud cover during different seasons.