Why bright is right for Pakistan’s solar energy evolution 

How has Telenor Pakistan managed to save 4.3 million litres of diesel and reduce their carbon emissions by 7.9 percent in under a year? The answer is right above our heads. 

Here’s something you may or may not know about Pakistan: it experiences almost 3,000-3,600 hours of sunshine per year. In contrast, and for context, Telenor’s home market of Norway experiences on average approximately 1,700.

As you can probably imagine, 3,000 hours of annual sunshine is the sort of stat that has solar energy enthusiasts rubbing their hands in excitement, largely because it represents viable potential to do one very important thing: transition energy sources from fossil fuels to viable renewable solutions.

A Thunderbolt from the blue

Whisper it: modernisation can sometimes be a big, corporate word and what it really means can to be hard to pin down. Ultimately, though, it’s about progress; about doing things better (ideally), and using new tools, techniques and knowledge to do them.

Project Thunderbolt – a joint energy optimisation initiative initiated by Telenor’s Asia businesses – marks Telenor Pakistan’s transition from fossil fuels to renewable energies to power their network. It’s one of those rare tangible examples of modernisation, aiming as it does to apply new thinking, new techniques, and new technologies to make something work better. Oh yeah, and it also stands to have a positive impact on Telenor’s emissions in the countries where it operates.

“I can honestly say that, as a company, we’ve always believed that doing good is good business”, says Sohaib Tariq, Team Lead for the project in Pakistan. “Actually we’ve always had a real interest in renewable energy since we started working with it in 2011. Knowing that the transition would be complex was never going to stop us, either, because we knew that the change represented a benefit to the environment, the potential to address the grid crisis, AND the chance to provide better connectivity to our customers.”

Timing is everything

It would be nice to have timing on your side when you’re kicking-off an industry-first energy transition project. That wasn’t exactly the case here.

Sara Nasir, Power Planning Specialist at Telenor Pakistan

Due to no fault of their own, the team watched both a global pandemic and extreme weather conditions (the north of the country had been subjected to both monsoons and landslides) stand in line to scupper their plans. They weren’t about to let that stop them, though. “We definitely faced some serious challenges,” remembers Sara Nasir, Power Planning Specialist “But I would say the greatest strength of the group was the ability to not just explore, but to execute on solutions.”

Those solutions, and the ultimate ambition of transitioning from fossil fuel energy to renewables, carry with them huge potential to reduce environmental impact (by the end of 2020 Thunderbolt resulted a 7.9 per cent reduction of Telenor Pakistan’s total carbon emissions). It will result in one other vital benefit, too: providing quality connectivity to customers, as Sara explains:

“To provide seamless connectivity our network requires un-interrupted power. That means that the system needs to be powered under any circumstances, making the availability of renewable energies ideal to help us improve the network availability.”

The future is bright (and maybe windy, too)

Energy transitions and network quality are results-based businesses, and Shoaib’s team know that better than most. At time of writing, though, the numbers are promising:

  • By end-of-year 2020, Thunderbolt resulted in a reduction of 9,623 tCO2 of Telenor Pakistan’s total emissions, the equivalent of planting 60,000 trees
  • Solar solutions have been deployed to 1133 of Telenor Pakistan’s network sites 11,966
  • The project has saved the use of 4 million litres of diesel in 2020.

The natural question, of course, is: what next?

“We see huge potential here,” notes Sara. “Pakistan’s equatorial position means plenty of sunlight, but we see even more opportunities in the long run with avenues for other renewable sources such as hybrid, wind, wheeling etc. The future is bright.”