thar By Rubab Mahboob: Thar coal can energise Pakistan

ENERGY, BY all means, is considered as lifeline of a countrys socio-economic and human development but its scarcity certainly results in grinding halt to almost every sector of life. Pakistan like other Asian countries is also faced with acute energy shortage, especially of electricity, the main source of energy. The power crisis did not emerge overnight as the issue had been prevailing since 2006 following the previous regimes least interest to address this grave public and countrys problem.
Currently, Pakistans power generation is up to 60 per cent through oil and gas that proved to be very expensive, owing to the ever increasing prices of petroleum in the international market. This phenomenon has enlarged the circular debt (a chain of furnace oil and generated electricity payments between generation companies and PEPCO, and oil companies and PEPCO) that ultimately left the electricity managers with no other option but to raise the power tariffs for consumers. In addition to increasing electricity through hydel component, a very inexpensive energy source, the government is also focused on exploiting the potential of other indigenous resources like wind, solar and coal on priority basis, before stepping ahead for electricity import from neighbouring countries. After hydropower, the coal is another economically viable and long-term solution to balance the demand and supply chain of electricity in the country. We are the luckiest that God has also blessed Pakistan with ample deposits of this black gold measured up to 185 billion tons. Out of these black treasures, 3.3 billion tons are in proven/measured category and about 11 billion are indicated reserves, however, its bulk found in Sindh. The Thar Desert in Sindh province contains the largest coal deposits of about 850 trillion cubic feet spanning over 10,000 square kilometers, which is more than oil reserves in Saudi Arabia and Iran having a collective quantity of approximately 375 billion barrels. As per the recent statistics worked out by the energy experts, the countrys energy demand would cross the figure of 100,000 MW by the year 2030.
In the given energy scenario in Pakistan, coal is the only available indigenous and inexpensive alternate energy resource, which has the potential to not only ensure self-sufficiency in energy sector but also turn Pakistan into a power exporting country. Globally, the coal component contributes 41 per cent in electricity generation. The UK generates 16 per cent share of electricity through coal, China 67 per cent, Canada 24 per cent, India 64.6 per cent and Pakistan only 2.27 per cent. The experts are of the view that only two per cent of the Thar Coal can generate 20,000 MW of electricity for next 40 years without a single second of load-shedding, and one can well measure that how much energy Pakistan would have on utilization of the entire coal reserve. While, the coal power generation will cost Rs 5.67 per unit against Rs 9.27 by the Independent Power Producers (IPPs). In the governments efforts for energy enhancement, the PEPCO has a pivotal role to do away with this dilemma by adopting all possible measures. While, Pakistan has tasked Dr Samar Mubarakmand to play a key role in enhancing the energy efficiency of coal and taking all possible measures to ensure coal power generation at a larger scale.
A 50MW project of Underground Coal Gasification (UGC) has successfully been put to operation and the government has also approved Rs 900 million for another 100MW Thar Coal Gasification project. Pakistans coal power generation is expected to increase up to 20,000MW under the Vision-2030 Strategic Plan, and the share of coal in energy mix is likely to increase by 19 per cent by 2030 and 50 per cent by 2050. At the International Coal Conference 2011, the Pakistan government had invited the local and foreign investors to come forward to invest in the Pakistans coal power projects, as the country initially required $1.2 billion loan annually to build power generation infrastructure in the Thar Desert. The government has also devised a plan to generate 10,000 MW of electricity from Thar Coal by the year 2020. The Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) is keen to finance for transmission lines from Thar Coal field to the national grid with the help of NTDCL.
The Sindh Coal and Energy Department has been able to attract two large Chinese energy companies like China Three Georges Corporation and Orient Group in Thar Coal Projects and also signed a memoranda of understating (MoU) with them. Both the companies have shown interest in developing coal-based power plants in Thar and Badin coal fields as well. The Sindh Engro Coal Mining Company (SECMC) has completed a feasibility report by engaging worlds renowned company RWE of Germany and Sinocoal of China for coal plants. The first Mine and Power plant is expected to be commissioned by 2015-16 with an estimated cost of $3.6 billion. Besides, various institutions are collaborating under the Thar Coal Energy Board led by the Sindh Chief Minister to maximize coal power in Thar to reduce dependence on oil import for power generation. Since Pakistan has no new mega hydel power project to be ready for generation in near future, the coal could prove to be an ultimate solution to end the persisting energy shortfall in the country.

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