Coal-powered energy – the best substitute

Published: November 19, 2012
According to last estimates made in 2011, coal deposits in the country are up to 185 billion tons. DESIGN: FAIZAN DAWOOD

According to last estimates made in 2011, coal deposits in the country are up to 185 billion tons. DESIGN: FAIZAN DAWOOD


Since Pakistan came into being, people have been facing loadshedding due to shortage of power supply, with frequent outages affecting economy in many ways.

Uncountable working hours have been lost, leading to an increase in poverty and economic loss of billions of rupees to the country. Surprisingly, it is happening despite the fact that only about 60% of the population has access to electricity. According to the World Energy Statistics 2011, published by the International Energy Agency (IEA), Pakistan’s per capita electricity consumption is one-sixth of the world average.

World average per capita electricity consumption is 2,730 kilowatt hours (kwh) compared to Pakistan’s per capita electricity consumption of 451 kwh.

According to the Pakistan Energy Year Book 2011, the country’s installed power generation capacity is 22,477 megawatts and demand is approximately the same. The country needs to redesign the electricity portfolio and substitute oil and gas with an abundantly available indigenous fuel source. It must develop indigenous energy resources to meet future electricity needs and can overcome energy crisis by utilising untapped coal reserves.

Fortunately, Pakistan has a very inexpensive source to get energy through coal. Coal is economically viable and a long-term solution to balance the demand and supply chain of electricity in the country, which has the fifth largest coal deposits in the world.

According to last estimates made in 2011, coal deposits in the country are up to 185 billion tons. The largest deposits are in Thar desert, which is about 850 trillion cubic feet spanning over 10,000 square kilometers, surprisingly more than the oil reserves in Saudi Arabia having a collective quantity of approximately 375 billion barrels.

At present, 40.6% of world’s electricity is being generated from coal and it is the single largest contributor to world electricity generation. By looking at the electricity generation mix of the countries that are blessed with coal, it is evident that coal is the largest contributor.

Countries like Poland, South Africa, China, India, Australia, Czech Republic, Kazakhstan, Germany, USA, UK, Turkey, Ukraine and Japan are generating 96%, 88%, 78%, 78%, 77%, 72%, 69.9%, 52.5%, 52%, 37%, 31.3%, 27.5% and 22.9% of electricity from coal respectively. In comparison, Pakistan generates only 2.27% of electricity through coal.

However, coal reserves of only Thar can generate 20,000MW of electricity for the next 40 years without loadshedding and at a rate Rs4 less than the current cost of electricity production. The government has given the task to experts to enhance energy efficiency by focusing on coal and ensure large scale power generation through this resource.

How coal produces electricity

Technically, producing electricity through coal is a simple process. In most coal-fired plants, chunks of coal are crushed into fine powder and are fed into a combustion unit where they are burnt at a very high temperature. Following this, the burning coal is used to generate steam that is used to spin one or more turbines to generate electricity.

However, during the process, sulfur dioxide and nitrous oxides are produced as well, which cause an increase in smog, ozone depletion and acid rain. Nitrous oxide is also a very powerful greenhouse gas. Even before power is produced, the transportation of coal also poses health risks due to coal dust and emissions from vehicles.

Lastly, heavy metals from coalmine waste can seep into groundwater and rivers. Despite the negative aspect, the significance of coal is not easy to ignore.

Recently, work on a 50MW Underground Coal Gasification (UGC) project has started, which is expected to cost Rs8.898 billion with foreign exchange component of Rs5.847 billion. It has been approved by the Executive Committee of National Economic Council (Ecnec).

If successful, the project will encourage investment from leading international companies.

At the International Coal Conference 2011, Pakistan had invited investors from around the world, encouraging them to pour money into coal power projects as the country initially requires $1.2 billion to build power generation infrastructure in Thar. Japan is keen to finance transmission lines from the Thar coalfield to the national grid and Chinese companies have expressed interest in developing coal-based power plants in Thar and Badin.

The writer comments on economic and energy-related issues

Published in The Express Tribune, November 19th, 2012.


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Reader Comments (12)

  • just_someone
    Nov 19, 2012 - 4:04AM

    I am not quiet sure if you understand the main issue related to Thar coal, which is sort of akin to the whole reaction to the water-kit debacle in Pakistan. Thar coal is a low quality coal for power generation because of its high water content. This makes is unsuitable for power generation. Yet, the whole country has fooled itself into thinking this can be our savior. That is completely untrue.
    We should definitely develop coal technologies but depending on Thar coal to feed it is not reasonable. We will require import of coal to fire these plants just like we do with oil. Yes, it will be cheaper but still not indigenous.
    Recognizing this, we should aggressively develop hydro, wind and nuclear power generation. These are clean and extremely cheap for a poor nation as ourselves where almost no one pays for electricity.


  • Disappointed
    Nov 19, 2012 - 10:13AM

    appears like a primary research assignment of a BBA student!


  • S
    Nov 19, 2012 - 12:54PM

    @just some one,u r right but the point here is underground gasification, which is what makes it viable however that required huge investment and skill


  • Mj
    Nov 19, 2012 - 12:56PM

    “he largest deposits are in Thar desert, which is about 850 trillion cubic feet spanning over 10,000 square kilometers, surprisingly more than the oil reserves in Saudi Arabia having a collective quantity of approximately 375 billion barrels.”

    This has been debunked again and again. Kindly do better research instead of parroting oft-repeated falsehoods.


  • W
    Nov 19, 2012 - 1:57PM

    Whats new info in this article..?????

    Dont Know why published on main page…


  • Talha
    Nov 19, 2012 - 2:11PM

    dude author at least cite the sources of your statistics on coal reserves, their generation capacity and cost of production per megawatt hour. Recommend

  • Cautious
    Nov 19, 2012 - 8:19PM

    This reads like a std planted Thar Coal article which appears on a regular basis. Yeah you have lots of coal and yeah the rest of the World uses coal more than you – but you coal is inferior quality and expensive to mine which is exactly why the major international coal companies aren’t interested. If you don’t believe me take a close look at the few companies that are interested in Thar Coal and ask yourselves what other major coal operations they are involved in (none) – what mining assets do they have other than a lease on a tract of Thar Coal (none) – and why they can’t pull together financing to move ahead.


  • TN
    Nov 19, 2012 - 9:13PM

    Keep on dreaming about Thar coal!
    We don’t have money, experts and technology to utilize the coal resources.
    Plus our high government official are the main hindrance for foreign companies.
    We strongly believe that the foreign investors should just work for us and forget about their investors. The case of Reko project is a prime example.
    No foreign donor will lend us because private equity is available but our BIG BOSSES keep creating hurdles.


  • Faiza Hai
    Nov 21, 2012 - 2:09PM

    Dear Readers
    Thank you so much for your comments. Your appreciation and criticism both are important. I want to clear few points here, first of all its not a BBA research assignment but very highly research article and all figures and information given in this article is original otherwise we all know that highly reputable newspapers like express tribune never publish articles with wrong information. The article is something informative in it that is why its on the main page.
    Secondly its a suggestion not a dream we all know that there are many hurdles but at least we all can try and its our responsibility to raise our voice, share ideas and give suggestions where its possible. We are still developing due to many reasons and one of the main reason behind all the crisis is that we find very easy to criticize rather than trying something new or giving those people a chance who are saying something new.
    Please think about it. Thanks again for your comments please keep sharing your views and opinion.


  • Faiza Hai
    Nov 21, 2012 - 2:46PM
  • Disappointed
    Nov 21, 2012 - 3:39PM

    Good to have your response Faiza. You might have summarized past news on this subject well and your numbers also appear to have a support, however, you may need to understand that readers are a lot more aware on this topic which is in the limelight for quite some time now. At the risk of being redundant, let me rephrase it: it might be a new subject for you but not for most of the readers who are interested in the energy related news. Similarly, announcing it the ‘best substitute’ in the title also shows the naivety. The Rs. 4 thing is also ridiculous, especially in the absence of a transmission system, if you know at all what it is. So please next time when you think coming out on such a specialized topic, please either leave it on experts or try to build some understanding of the issue. Same is suggested for the editors also who let this kind of stuff publish. This might be a bit harsh for you but not more than that when I opened the link for some news.


  • Faiza Hai
    Nov 21, 2012 - 9:13PM

    Dear Disappointed,
    I am not sharing the links just because i want to support my points but i am sharing because i want readers to get more information about this project. We should encourage our government if they are trying something secondly i am also thankful to Express Tribune that they are giving chance to those writers who are discussing something constructive. Criticism is always good if its logical, illogical criticism is just a waste of time !!!!


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