Sunday, May 29, 2011

Thar Coal: Salvation Paradigm Edited by Shamim-ur-Rahman

Long hours of load-shedding across the country tell all about our economy and management of the energy sector. If we take a holistic view of Pakistan’s energy crisis circular debt and the power crisis are interlinked issues that cannot be resolved unless all the stakeholders — consumers, power generation and distribution companies and the government — decide to firmly resolve them in a comprehensive manner. The problem of inter-corporate circular debt has turned out to be a chronic one. Pakistan is mainly relying on hydel, gas, furnace oil and nuclear sources for generating electricity. Despite plenty of sunshine and wind corridors the solar energy option is still being debated and the wind power turbines set up by a Turkish company are churning out only 7MW, though the potential in the Gharo corridor alone is said to be several thousand megawatts.

Pakistan, being an agricultural country, has also failed in harnessing bio-gas for power generation. The Alternative Energy Board seems to have been reduced to a mere debating society. Desperately looking for alternatives, Pakistan has negotiated deals with Iran for import of gas and has also signed an MoU for importing gas from Turkmenistan via Afghanistan. India is also part of the TAPI project.

But these projects have suffered due to lack of peace in Afghanistan and the polemics of the new Great Game in the region. In order to overcome this situation planners are also looking at options for importing LNG in the public and private sector. But will this be sustainable and affordable is the big question.

Frankly speaking, these projects may serve the country’s needs if completed, but they will increase the burden of foreign debt and turn the country into an energy corridor for international investors, whereas Pakistan needs projects that are based on indigenous resources to transform the region into a hub of pulsating energy and serve as a bridgehead for overseas investors to produce and export their products to the Middle East and other countries.

The country has remained deficient in supply to meet electricity demand and load-shedding has become a routine, which is seen as the only measure of the performance of the electricity sector. The current situation is certainly the worst of all times.

Due to long hours of supply cuts, the effect has been devastating on all sectors of the economy.

Since electricity availability is a major driver of overall economic growth, it is no surprise that economic indicators also reflect dismal performance.

Pakistan’s major problem has been the reliability of the energy source owing to which uninterrupted power supply to consumers has remained a big issue. Except for making statements the decision makers have not taken timely corrective measures, owing to which seasonal outages have badly hurt the country’s economy.

Suffering from enormous problems due to pressure on hydro sources and inability of the government and other stakeholders to pay for imported fuel and depleting sources of gas is mind boggling, Pakistan has lagged far behind in developing hydroelectric sources due to politicisation of the issue and lack of will, which apparently got subverted by a strong oil lobby in the country.

Experts believe that a way out of the present crisis for Pakistan is to have a “comprehensive energy policy focussing on affordability and reliability.” They are of the view that Pakistan’s energy plight cannot be overcome unless decision makers act prudently and opt for the least-cost option.

Experts believe that only abundantly available indigenous resources will extricate Pakistan from the energy crisis. Pakistan’s effective power generation capacity is 14,000MW and is expected to increase to 26,000MW by 2020. An additional 12,000MW are required by 2020, 1,000MW are expected from hydro-power (Neelum-Jhelum), 2,000MW from gas/RFO projects (new IPPs), and 500MW from Renewable Energy, 500MW from nuclear power, and 1,000MW from revamping old plants (Guddu etc). For the remaining 7,000MW, there are only two options: imported fossil fuels or Thar coal. (Source: Ahmad Mansoor, Engro Power Gen.)

Diamonds in the rough?

Pakistanis are perhaps all too familiar with the term power crisis. To us, these are not mere words but a stifling, suffocating reality that manifests itself through lengthy electricity breakdowns and hours of all-enveloping darkness. Whether it is the domestic user sweating away without power in the sweltering summer or the industrialist counting his losses due to the closure of his units, all strata of Pakistani society are affected by the power crisis. Hence whenever there is talk of a possible solution to resolve this crisis, people are all ears. Several solutions have been proposed, including building more dams and tapping nature’s inexhaustible fuel source in the form of renewable energy. Another proposed suggestion to help ease Pakistan’s power woes has been to exploit the hitherto untapped treasure lying under the sprawling sands of the Thar desert: coal.

In Thar Coal: Salvation Paradigm, senior journalist Shamim-ur-Rahman has collected and edited a set of essays focusing on the power crisis in general and discussed the potential use of Thar coal for power generation in great detail. Stakeholders as well as experts in the field have contributed to the analysis.

In Pakistan, the problem appears to be with the fuel mix. There is a shortage of local natural gas (which accounts for 32.4 per cent of the fuel mix as per 2008-09 figures) while oil (35.5 per cent) is not only imported, its price fluctuates quite a bit, posing issues of affordability. The hydel source (30.3 per cent) depends on the vagaries of nature while the share of nuclear power is negligible. Renewable energy barely figures. Hence, there is a need for an affordable and reliable indigenous fuel source. The book argues that Thar coal is that source.

It is stated that the Thar coal reserves amount to 175 billion tons. If compared to oil, this staggering figure is supposedly “more than the oil reserves of Saudi Arabia, Iran, UAE and Iraq combined”. This, according to Dr Samar Mubarakmand, who authored the chapter “Pakistan’s Energy Scenario”, can generate 50,000 megawatts for 800 years.

In an energy-starved country like Pakistan, these figures are incredibly tantalising. Even if a significant fraction of the above amount is produced, it can go a long way in ending the crippling stranglehold of power shortages.

The government has already initiated projects to explore the potential of tapping Thar coal. However, traditional bureaucratic lethargy seems to be affecting these projects. The short-sightedness and complacency of successive governments has brought us to the precipice at which we stand today. Therefore, there needs to be a thorough debate at the national level about the potential of Thar coal as a dependable fuel source. Once this debate has reached a conclusion, if it is found feasible than all efforts should be made to exploit Thar coal in the shortest possible time.

While Thar Coal: Salvation Paradigm adds valuable insights to the debate, it could have done with tighter editing in some parts. It would also have benefited from greater focus on the environmental impact of producing power from coal, a topic only briefly touched upon. Overall, the book is a timely effort and those in decision-making capacities might want to consult it in order to help evolve a long-term strategy to extricate Pakistan from the clutches of the power crisis. REFERENCE: non-fiction: Diamonds in the rough? Reviewed by Qasim A. Moini | Inpaper Magzine Yesterday The reviewer is a Dawn staffer

Thar Coal: Salvation Paradigm (DEVELOPMENT)
Edited by Shamim-ur-Rahman
Al Hasan Academy, Karachi
ISBN 978-969-8467-51-7
120pp. Price not listed
Courtesy: Daily Dawn
Mr. Shamim-ur-Rahman is a Senior Correspondent with Daily Dawn - Pakistan.

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