The city of Lahore is renowned as the literary, educational and cultural heart of Pakistan and has a long history of beautiful architecture dating in particular from the Mughal period with buildings such as the Badshahi Masjid and the Shahi Qila or Lahore Fort.
|Shakeel and Rehan from Akhuwat on the roof where the solar panels are located|
Although on a much more modest scale the new, purpose built headquarters of Akhuwat, Lendwithcare’s partner in Pakistan, continues this custom of bold, innovative design while respecting historical tradition. The seven storey offices, completed in 2014, is the first large building in Lahore that can be run exclusively on solar power as up to 48 kilowatts of electricity can be generated from the 160 large solar panels located on the roof of the building. The energy is stored in 136 batteries all housed in a special control room on the top floor. When fully charged the batteries can power the entire building, which houses almost 70 staff, for almost eight hours or the whole of the working day.
Furthermore, rather than install air conditioning units that are expensive and use lots of electricity, the narrow, open plan design of the building incorporates natural ventilation systems to simultaneously cool and channel fresh air throughout the building. Even during the hot summer months in Lahore when the average daily temperature routinely exceeds 40 degrees centigrade, the temperature inside the building remains much lower at around 25-30 degrees centigrade.
|Shakeel from Akhuwat in the control room|
Dr Amjad Saqib, Akhuwat’s Founder and Executive Director, explains that the motivation to install solar power was not only an attempt to reduce carbon emissions and promote the use of renewable energy, but also in fact a response to the daily reality of frequent and often prolonged electricity cuts in Pakistan or ‘load shedding’ as it is referred to locally. Load shedding means that households and businesses alike receive electricity continuously only for a few hours each day, with power outages longer in rural areas. Whereas larger buildings and businesses can afford to rely on generators for power when there is no network electricity, small businesses are often forced to simply down tools and wait for the power to return. The costs to the economy in terms of lost production are staggering; one estimate is that annual gross national product has been reduced by 7%. Arguably nothing causes as much frustration and inconvenience for ordinary Pakistanis as load shedding.
Dr Amjad explains “I am convinced that solar energy can offer a practical and affordable solution to the thousands of microentrepreneurs that Akhuwat supports”. Therefore, to enable them to continue working during the frequent bouts of load shedding, Akhuwat intends in 2015 to start providing loans of between 20,000 and 100,000 rupees (approximately £130-£650) for small businesses to purchase and install solar power systems. Since monthly electricity bills are often in the range of 2,000 to 3,000 rupees a month, Akhuwat estimates that the investment in solar power for most borrowers will actually pay for itself after a couple of years as their electricity bills will be much lower.
Such loans should soon be featured on the Lendwithcare website.
By Dr Ajaz Ahmed Khan, Microfinance Advisor at CARE International UK