PERILS OF COAL BASED POWER GENERATION

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“In the nineties the government opted for oil based power generation which proved deadly for the nation. The circular debt continues to spiral from this misadventure.”

 

 

It is widely believed that the obsolete coal based Chinese plants are being shifted to Pakistan. Due to global warming, combustion of carbon based dirty fuels is being discouraged worldwide. Western financial institutions have stopped funding of coal combustion projects after the Kyoto Protocol. Due to severe environmental degradation even China has decided to reduce its reliance on coal based cheap power, only India remains defiant as it seriously lacks resources for the transformation to clean fuel.

Unfortunately Pakistan is being trapped into the perils of coal based power generation mainly because of narrow self interests and ignorance of the decision makers. In the 21st century burning of coal should be declared a crime as it challenges the very existence of living species. In an international conference on clean energy in Istanbul in 2014 it was reported that if Global warming continues at a rate greater than 2.0 Co annually half of the existing living species would perish by the end of the century. That is why in the recently concluded Paris Conference on climate change it was resolved to limit global warming to below 1.5oC. The Interior Minister is in New York to sign the Paris protocol with 175 other countries while the government of his party is creating coal combustion based plants in the country.

 

“Energy security is important for a nation. Reliance must be on indigenous resources. While hydropower is suitable for a country with rivers, fuel is also needed to turn the wheels of the nation.”

 

Despite the fact that Pakistan has world’s second largest coal deposits (16.1 %) it is being imported and then transported up-country for power generation. Almost all existing coal based plants are either located at mouth of mine in case of indigenous fuels and at the port for imported source. The plant being built in Sahiwal with Chinese technology and financing will be unique. Imported coal will first arrive at the port, a jetty will unload it, and then it will be transported through Railway bogies to the site. While the logistic framework is not in place the plant is being erected at an accelerated pace right in the middle of rich agricultural land. Only the Engro plant at Thar is based on indigenous coal for which a mining company has been formed in joint venture with the Sindh Government (Sindh Engro Coal Mining Company). Financial closure was expected in June 2012 as claimed by the company but it did not take place till April 2016. Finally, it was made a part of CPEC (China Pakistan Economic Corridor) with both financial and technical collaboration from China. Digging for coal has finally started which will then be followed by two 650 MW coal fired power plants.

Late starters have an advantage as they can learn from the mistakes of others. The concept of ‘Leap Frogging’ is also applied. While the world is moving away from the burning of coal, Pakistan is blindly moving in this direction. Combustion of coal is the most undesirable option of power generation in the 21st century. It is like going back in time at least by a century as most of these plants were established around the middle of last millennium.

As a nation we have run out of fuel. The Sui-gas fields were discovered in 1953 which fuelled the nation for over half a century. It was the world’s largest (12 TCF) deposit at that time. The resource has been grossly mismanaged especially during the regime of Pervez Musharraf as it was spread too thin. Use of CNG as an auto fuel proved to be the last nail in the coffin. Instead of opting for hydropower by building the Kalabagh Dam, oil fired power plants were also converted to natural gas resulting in acute gas shortages and load shedding. The present government then decided to import Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) from Qatar instead of relying on its own resources.

With about 200 billion tons of coal, it is our energy future but with appropriate use of technology which is environment friendly. Above ground gasification of coal is an established process being used worldwide. Underground Coal Gasification (UCG) is still not commercially viable and suitable only for deep un-mineable deposits. Thar is a shallow, watery deposit for which UCG is not appropriate. London based UCG Association has already declared the un-suitability of this approach for Thar. Mining should start without delay to extract this black gold. Pakistan was once an energy surplus nation now it has been rendered deficient mainly because of mismanagement and lack of direction.

Energy security is important for a nation. Reliance must be on indigenous resources. While hydropower is suitable for a country with rivers, fuel is also needed to turn the wheels of the nation. Coal based Synthetic Natural Gas (SNG) can provide the much needed energy and also substitute the imported Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG). Low grade lignite coal similar to the Thar deposit can be mined and then gasified through a process called Integrated Gasification Combined Cycle (IGCC). Recently a 540 MW plant has been commissioned in Kemper County, Mississippi in USA based on local lignite coal. In addition to power generation anhydrous Ammonia is also produced which can be used in the manufacture of urea fertilizer.

In the nineties the government opted for oil based power generation which proved deadly for the nation. The circular debt continues to spiral from this misadventure. The present administration is working towards another debacle of obsolete coal based power generation which must be checked before it is too late as it has the potential of blackening our face and choking our lungs. Pakistan needs clean energy from its indigenous resources.

1 COMMENT

  1. Sorry oldie, but your 'wide believe' is wrong. Pakistan has opted for sophisticated CFB and USC coal fired technology with SOx NOx capturing system. So better find some other excuse to rant.

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