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.