Chinese state media reports that a Chinese company has built the power plant in Bahawalpur, in the Punjab province of Pakistan.
The Quaid-e-Azam Solar Park is a 229-hectare facility in the Cholistan desert, and has been hailed as an early part of China’s Silk Road program. According to China Daily, 100-megawatts of capacity have been installed in just three months, at a cost of $215 million. The investment is part of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), a $46 billion scheme planned by Chinese President Xi Jinping, according to The Nation.
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Huge solar power plant forms part of China-Pakistan Economic Corridor
TBEA Xinjiang SunOasis Co. is responsible for the solar project, one of the first parts of the economic corridor. The CPEC is an integral part of China’s Belt and Road initiative, which includes the Silk Road Economic Belt and the 21st Century Maritime Silk Road which Xi proposed in 2013.
The aim is to support infrastructure development in countries along the routes in an effort to drive trade. Pakistan is seen as the link between the belt and the road, and the Quaid-e-Azam park is the first step in making that connection.
Since it came online, the plant has generated 39 million kilowatt-hours for the Punjab, according to TBEA’s director of international business, Hou Peng.
Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif officially opened the plant on May 5. He was elected on a ticket which included fixing Pakistan’s energy crisis. The country regularly suffers because of energy supplies which do not meet demand, disrupting healthcare, manufacturing and education.
Energy crisis holding back Pakistani development
Electricity supply problems have damaged the economy, with international companies leaving Pakistan and wiping as much as $9.2 billion off of the country’s GDP.
The energy crisis is also responsible for high poverty levels, militancy and riots. Disgruntled residents have carried out roadblocks, strikes, and even attacked the residences of energy officials.
Addressing the energy crisis in the Punjab is an important step in improving the situation on a national level. The region contains 55% of the Pakistani population and contributes 60% of its GDP, while consuming 68% of the country’s energy.
Heatwave deaths due to poor energy security
More work is urgently needed to improve energy supplies on a national level. During a recent heatwave in Karachi, the death toll was increased due to power outages which left many families unable to use air conditioning or fans.
As TBEA engineer Gao Xin, who works on the solar project, relates: “I was in Karachi on the hottest day of the year, it was so humid and more than 1,000 people died there because of a heat wave. The city was beyond anything I expected.”
Gao claims that TBEA is perfectly placed to establish new power plants in order to alleviate Pakistan’s energy crisis. “It’s a good market for us, and a good way to improve Pakistani living conditions and aid Pakistan’s development,” Gao said.
Drive to double current energy capacity
It is hoped that the CPEC will drive further improvements in living standards. The project will link Gwadar Port in southern Pakistan to the northwestern Xinjiang region of China.
President Xi’s April visit to Pakistan resulted in agreements aimed at driving common development. 30 out of 51 agreements are related to the CPEC project, and the pace of development looks set to be rapid. According to the schedule, 25 projects will be completed within 3-5 years.
21 of the agreements are directly related to energy needs, and aim to add 16,400 megawatts of electricity capacity through cooperative gas, coal and solar energy projects. If the goals are met, it will almost double Pakistan’s current capacity.
The CPEC is a sign of the close relationship enjoyed by Pakistan and China. The two traditional allies have recently announced a string of deals which provide evidence of ever tighter cooperation.
Pakistan’s Navy is to buy 8 submarines from a Chinese company, significantly boosting its capabilities. The two nations also work together on the JF-17 Thunder fighter jet.
India is apparently concerned by the relationship between two of its historic rivals. Prime Minister Narendra Modi criticized plans for the CPEC because it runs through the disputed region of Kashmir.
Politicians in New Delhi have also become concerned by increasing Chinese naval activity in the Indian Ocean. The addition of 8 Chinese-built Pakistani submarines will provide a further headache for India.
However the accession of both India and Pakistan to the Chinese- and Russian-led Shanghai Cooperation Organization provides hope that historic rivalries can be put aside in the interests of regional peace and prosperity. As Russia turns towards Asia, and China looks to increase its influence in the region, India and Pakistan could stand to benefit from better regional cooperation.