Jhimpir’s Wind Farms

An edited version of this article was first published in The Express Tribune on Dec 24, 2012.

Jhimpir/Karachi – Driving from Karachi to the Nooriabad Industrial Area, it is hard not to notice a constant feature to the left side of the Super Highway. Transmission lines sag between evenly spaced towers along the road for several kilometers before moving away toward the distant northern skyline.

This is Pakistan’s national grid and soon it will carry significant power from an alternative, free resource: Wind.

By February 2013, two wind power projects in Jhimpir – a village in Sindh’s Thatta District – are expected to add around 106 Megawatts (MW) to the transmission system.

Pakistan’s ‘Gharo-Keti Bandar wind corridor’, which includes Jhimpir, can generate potentially up to 50,000 MW of electricity. The country’s Alternative Energy Development Board (AEDB) has already signed up 12 wind power projects in the Jhimpir area. Wind power, however, cannot be a complete substitute for Pakistan’s energy needs. But for a country reliant on thermal power generation with expensive imported oil and for a nation suffering at the hands of load shedding, wind energy might offer some relief.

The Land of Wind Turbines

From the Nooriabad Industrial Area, a dirt road leads 25 kilometres southeast to Zorlu Energy Pakistan’s wind turbine farm in Jhimpir. The sun hangs low over the monotonous landscape: vast stretches of uncultivated land dotted with bushes and a few shade-giving trees.

Then suddenly, the wind turbines appear. Three-bladed structures, mounted at right angles at the top of 85-metre high towers, point into the wind.

The 1148-acre wind turbine farm by Zorlu, a subsidiary of the Turkish firm Zorlu Enerji, started with five turbines in 2009. Later, with a $36.8 million loan from the Asian Development Bank (ADB) and credit from other banks, the project was upgraded to 33 turbines.

Mumtaz Hassan, country manager of Zorlu Energy Pakistan, said the $143 million project will be all set to supply 56.4 MW to the system once it gets the remaining formal approvals from the National Transmission and Despatch Company (NTDC).

“We are ready with the construction,” Hassan said. “So we are targeting the end of January (2013) to start dispatching electricity to the national grid.”

Another wind energy project, by the Fauji Fertilizer Company Energy Limited (FFCEL), in Jhimpir will start contributing 49.5 MW to the national grid from December 24.

That’s not all.

Naeem Memon, deputy director of the AEDB, said 12 independent power producers have been allocated land in Jhimpir and another 12 are being considered there.

The wind projects are pricey: A 5o MW turbine farm costs around $135 million and the sublease rates have gone up since the Sindh government took over land allocation from the AEDB in April.

Even then, if the plans come through, Jhimpir would look like the land of wind turbines.

Windy is Good

The Ghaaro-Keti Bandar wind corridor stretches around 70 kilometres along Sindh’s coast and 110 kilometres inland. Identified by the AEDB and Pakistan Meteorological Department in 2005, it shows promise with average wind speeds of around 7.3 metres per second (m/s).

“It is safe to say that 40,000 to 50,000 MW can be generated only from this corridor,” Memon said.

The AEDB has issued letters of interest to 47 companies for 5-350 MW capacity wind power projects.

Only the first 12 projects in Jhimpir are getting a “wind-risk” guarantee. If the wind speed is lower than 7.3 m/s, the Pakistani government will pay the difference of energy not produced, Memon said. The guarantee will not be offered to future projects because AEDB has sufficient wind forecasting data now, he said.

Altogether, the 24 wind projects in Jhimpir will generate almost 1000 MW of electricity with 700-800 MW expected by December 2014, Memon said.

It all sounds great. But there are some caveats .

“Not a Substitute”

Wind is unreliable because of intermittency and speed variability.

“Wind power is not a substitute, it is a secondary source.” Zorlu’s site manager, Murat Aziz, put it frankly. “If you invest in wind without increasing capacity from other sources of electricity generation, the system will collapse when the wind stops.”

For example, if wind contributes 35 per cent of a country’s installed power capacity, then that percentage will have to be compensated by other sources when the wind dies down.

Experts suggest wind capacity should not be more than 10 per cent of total installed power capacity. Memon said the 1000 MW expected from Jhimpir would only be around 2-3 percent ofPakistan’s total installed capacity of 21000 MW.

Putting two dozen power plants in the same location might also result in power transportation issues and a more-supply-than-demand situation which might trip the grid.

But for now, Hassan and Memon are confident that maximum wind power generation can be achieved in Jhimpir during the peak load summer months.

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