scale & accelerate
On a mission
Rana Uzair Nasim - CEO of Gharo Solar Limited
A windy revelation
For Rana Uzair Nasim—or just Uzair, as he's often called—it all started during a field trip to a wind farm somewhere in California. He was doing a Master’s in Management Science & Engineering at Stanford, and for a class on general energy resources, the professor took the class on a field trip to both a wind farm out of town and a rooftop solar project in San Francisco—one of the first in the city, in fact. And that’s what kickstarted it all. “It was my first exposure to renewable energy,” he says. “And it just really opened my eyes to the possibilities renewable energy could offer.”
And it did indeed kickstart something for Uzair, because in 2017 he helped set up one of the earliest solar projects in Pakistan, his home country. A smaller project clocking in at around 18MW in capacity, it was set up to sell electricity to a national government-owned power purchaser. Eager to keep expanding, Uzair's company partnered with K-Electric, the country’s only privatized and vertically-integrated utility company (providing services such as generation, distribution, and transmission). And within just 2 years, they had developed the Gharo Solar project—a 50 MW solar PV power plant in the province of Sindh, which provides electricity for around 190,000 people.
solar PV power plant provides electricity for around 190,000 people
And within just 2 years, they had developed the Gharo Solar project—a 50 MW solar PV power plant in the province of Sindh, which provides electricity for around 190,000 people.
Harnessing innovation for sustainable power
Because Gharo Solar used bi-facial solar panels, the project was able to increase total energy generation. “It was the first time this technology was used in Pakistan,” Uzair says. In fact, it was also one of the first investees in FMO’s portfolio that used this technology. And by using single-axis solar tracking—which allows the photovoltaic panels to follow the sun’s path from east to west—they were further able to maximize the collection of solar energy.
But that wasn’t the only reason why Gharo Solar was such a one-of-a-kind project, and Uzair continues to list the challenges they faced, all very matter-of-factly. “Gharo Solar was set up in a coastal area, which meant there were high corrosion levels. Underground water was basically at ground level, and that posed difficulties for building the foundation. And since we'd been based in the Punjab province before, moving to Karachi meant we were outsiders. We really had to work hard to collaborate well with the local community.”
FMO made first contact with Gharo Solar in 2018, and eventually provided USD 22.5 mln in financing for the development
An extraordinary, inclusive approach
And he’s right—FMO made first contact with Gharo Solar in 2018, and eventually provided USD 22.5 mln in financing for the development, construction, and operation of the plant, and the general sentiment within FMO regarding Gharo Solar has been nothing short of positive. In fact, the word used to describe the project’s ongoing efforts on community benefit sharing was “exemplary.” Despite the impressive success and countless hurdles that Uzair’s has seen, Uzair remains relatively reserved and straightforward in his mannerisms: fully cognizant of what’s been achieved, yet just slightly understated.
of the overall labor was hired by contractors within a 2-kilometer radius.
The word used to describe the project’s ongoing efforts on community benefit sharing was 'exemplary'.
Despite the steep learning curve with international standards, and the knowledge and translation gap, Uzair is emphatic that it’s paid off. “At first, it was like throwing darts at the wall and then just hoping it would stick. Some of it was a translation or knowledge gap, but it often felt like we were dealing with so many different guidelines and regulations on an international level. But ultimately, due to our collaboration with FMO and the technical assistance they offered, it’s actually provided us with a competitive edge.”
That’s because now, their implementation of international standards has helped Uzair’s company attract foreign investment, which is now especially needed given the fragile state of the Pakistani economy—especially given that Uzair has no plans on slowing down.
“All our project modules were assembled by local villagers with no prior module experience, and 30% of the overall labor was hired by contractors within a 2-kilometer radius.”
Tribune | June 5, 2023
Can Pakistan capitalise on solar as it becomes popular
Pakistan’s renewable energy landscape
Over the years, Uzair has spent a long time helping to bring renewables on the table in Pakistan—on a solar mission, as he calls it. That’s because Pakistan has the potential for 40 gigawatts of solar power and aims to generate 20% of its electricity through renewable sources by 2025. However, Pakistan hasn’t even scratched the surface yet. But why?
“Solar and wind used to cost a lot more, and a lot of power capacity was contracted under thermal generation. Now, we’re slowly getting more renewable energy capacity coming online, but there’s just not enough space in the immediate term to deal with such a massive surge of renewables.”
There’s also the economy issue: Pakistan’s economy has gone through several crises, and without enough foreign exchange generated, there’s nowhere near enough funding to be funneled towards the capex needed for new projects.
But there’s also one other issue Uzair brings up after a moment of silence. “There’s been good work done on our regulatory framework, but we haven’t quite figured out what model we should use in the long term for deploying solar and wind at scale.” Pakistan originally used a feed-in tariff (a price-driven policy where the government offers a guaranteed, above-market purchase price for RE producers), but there’s been a shift away towards market-driven sources that provide more control over the RE supply. “Large-scale competitive options haven’t taken off here, and without something like a running auction program, it’s hard to bring big capacities online.”
potential solar power in Pakistan
“Large-scale competitive options haven’t taken off here, and without something like a running auction program, it’s hard to bring big passes online.”
Still, he doesn’t seem that disheartened. “Good work is happening, even if it’s piecemeal. I think we need better coordination so there’s a more competitive market, instead of having all the electricity on the generation side get contracted by a central entity.” But overall, he’s convinced that they’re on the right path: “There are aspirational visions in place. I think everybody gets it, really. We’re at a crossroads since we have really exciting opportunities to reconfigure our electricity and energy usage.”
The way forward for diversifying Pakistan’s energy sector, in Uzair’s vision, is this: use renewables to go from a net hydrocarbon importing country to a country that uses renewables to reduce its hydrocarbon usage, reduce energy prices, and supercharge its economy. “In other words, I think renewables can offer a pathway in the medium term for us to escape the boom-to-bust cycle Pakistan is currently in.”
Amnesty International | Aug. 31, 2022
Pakistan: Deadly floods reminder to wealthy countries to remedy unfettered climate change
UNDP | Dec. 29, 2022
Pakistan Floods 2022: Resilient Recovery, Rehabilitation, and Reconstruction Framework (4RF)
Al Jazeera | Sept. 16. 2022
Mapping the scale of damage by the catastrophic Pakistan floods
The road ahead
Of course, none of this is possible without a just and inclusive transition, especially given that countries like Pakistan—which accounts for only .4% of historic emissions since 1959—have suffered the worst ravages of the climate emergency. And while it remains important for Pakistan to contribute to the UN SDGs, he believes more needs to be done by international players like DFIs and MDBs to make a significant difference.
Following the devastating 2022 floods in Pakistan (which is estimated to have affected over 33 million), the Pakistani government worked with the United Nations and other bilateral and multilateral partners to create what’s been termed the 4RF Framework: Resilient Recovery, Rehabilitation, and Reconstruction. While it aims to foster long-term resilience, and roughly USD 16 bln has been set aside, it only scratches the surface of the support that’s needed—not unlike Pakistan’s renewable energy potential.
affected by 2022 floods in Pakistan
“It is absolutely important to invest in renewable energy,” Uzair affirms, “but it’s important to simultaneously build resilience through other factors like food security. After all, the agriculture sector in Pakistan is one of the biggest contributors to our GDP.” The way Uzair sees it, international partners like impact investors need to broaden their horizons to shift the needle within Pakistan. “Take financing instruments: within Pakistan, equity financing is much higher risk, so most DFIs prefer to offer debt and provide equity very selectively. But if you want to maximize your additionality, offering different financial instruments, or offering financing in more sectors like sustainable manufacturing or agriculture can make a world of difference.”
Of course, Uzair is aware of the challenges these partners face in balancing both impact and long-term sustainable growth. Whether DFIs can rethink their portfolio concentration and provide additional or more innovative sources of funding to the level that Uzair would hope for in an ideal world remains to be seen. But maybe, just like something was kickstarted all those years ago in California, conversations, and exchanges like these can help kickstart something else.
"If you want to maximize your additionality, offering different financial instruments or providing financing in more sectors can make a world of difference.”
I want to reconnect with like-minded professionals from around the world and catch up with all the folks at FMO. I’m really interested in the sessions on green hydrogen, especially since I believe there’s tremendous potential for that in Pakistan, especially since, like the rest of the world, our team is looking at early-stage opportunities in utilizing green hydrogen to produce green chemicals. All in all, I can’t wait to be back and exchange ideas with other people at the conference.