Thar coal - a panacea to Pakistan’s energy deficiency

ISLAMABAD   -  Being 28th largest reserve, the Tharparker coal can prove to be a panacea to Pakistan’s energy deficiency by producing billions of tone oil and cheaper electricity for domestic, commercial and industrial consumers.

Blessed with 175 billion tons of coal, the reserve is equivalent to 50 billion tons of oil which is more than Saudi Arabian and Iranian oil reserves.

These reserves are equal to 2,000 trillion cubic feet of gas which is 68 times higher than Pakistan’s total gas reserves. Since the outgoing coalition government had specifically focused on the development of this project, experts pin hopes that its culmination would help overcome energy deficiency and save hefty and precious foreign exchange spent every year on the import of fossil fuels like coal, oil and liquefied natural gas (LNG).

In many countries, coal is used as a cheaper source for generating electricity as global coal reserves are estimated to be around one trillion tons, while coal-fired based power plants contribute nearly 37 per cent of global electricity generation. According to Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Sindh Engro Coal Mining Company (SECMC) Amir Iqbal, unlocking indigenous Thar coal reserves can generate approximately 100,000 megawatts (MW) electricity for the next 250 years. “This project alone can ensure energy security of Pakistan besides reducing power tariff significantly.”

He said coal is considered a cheap energy resource in Pakistan to catch up with future energy requirements of domestic and commercial consumers as during the last five years coal-based power production had also witnessed a significant increase.

“We need to shift to local coal resources to scale down fuel import costs as even in India coal-fired power plants produce more than two third of total electricity,” Amir Iqbal informed. He said India import 200 million tons of coal annually besides utilizing 500-600 million tons of domestic coal while Pakistan’s coal production stood at merely 14 to 15 million tons per annum.

“SECMC is extracting 7.6 million tons coal per annum from Block-II and its capacity is being expanded to 11.2 million tons,” Amir said and informed that Thar coal has total of 13 blocks but only two blocks were being mined presently.”

Terming coal reserves the future of Pakistan, Amir Iqbal said Thar coal could not only be used for power generation but also ferried to different parts of the country for use in cement and steel industries. “Once, Thar coal is connected with railway network, it would be open all across the country and pave the way for its economic prosperity.”

Statistics show that the average coal consumption in power plants is approximately 0.62kg/kWh. However, the new efficient power plants utilize 10% less coal as compared to ordinary plants.

Energy sector experts have also emphasised the significance of utilising indigenous Thar coal in addressing Pakistan’s energy needs as they opine that rising oil and gas prices in the international market make it even more crucial for Pakistan to rely on its own coal reserves.

“Energy crisis in Pakistan remains a pressing issue with energy efficiency not being prioritized,” remarked former Chief Economist of the Planning Commission, Dr Pervez Tahir. “Even the private sector contributes to the problem through the use of outdated boilers and equipments.” He said as the major chunk of our energy mix comes from thermal besides also relying on fossil fuels, therefore despite climate concerns Pakistan’s energy crisis was so dire that it could not survive without coal energy.

Since uninterrupted power supply is considered crucial for the development of industrial, agricultural and domestic sectors, its smooth supply to domestic consumers is equally important.

“The present government has already added 5300MW cheap electricity to the system from Thar coal reserves in just 10 months besides 720MW and 1100MW from Karot Hydropower and K-3 Nuclear Power Plants,” said Minister for Power Division Engineer Khurram Dastgir.

The minister informed that total power generation from Thar coal stood at 2640MW with the formal commissioning of 1320MW Shanghai Electric Thar Coal Project under the CPEC.

Rising fuel prices and new energy situation after Ukraine war had also necessitated Pakistan to utilize its indigenous resources like hydel, solar, wind and Thar coal as it has already announced not to build any new power projects depending on imported coal and ensure 60 percent of its power through local sources by 2030.

Khurram Dastgir said the PML-N government led by the then prime minister Nawaz Sharif had successfully added over 10,000MW electricity to national grid through China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) projects during 2013 to 2018.

“Efforts of the then PML-N government had not only controlled load-shedding but added surplus power to the system,” he remarked. “The criminal negligence of Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf government had delayed number of projects dragging the country to the verge darkness once again.”

The federal government in collaboration with the Sindh government has also chalked out a policy framework on the Thar Coal mines project aimed at connecting it with other coal-powered power plants in the country producing 4,000MW.

Since, the energy crisis continues to haunt our domestic, commercial and industrial consumers, therefore it is direly needed to ensure continuity of policy and diligently pursue the agenda of making Pakistan energy self-sufficient to secure a better future for our coming generations.

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