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Alternate best vital energy source: coal

Published on 28th Jan, Edition 05, 2013


It has been estimated that there are above 847 tonnes of proven coal reserves throughout the world. It is anticipated that at the present level of coal production the coal reserves are to last for a period of over 130 years. On the other hand the proven oil and gas reserves are to last around 42 and 60 years respectively at current production level. Coal reserves are available in and round 70 countries.

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.

At present 41 percent of world’s electricity is being generated from coal and it is the one 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.

About 50 percent of electricity was generated through using coal at across the world. Pakistan’s share of coal in the energy sector is negligible. For generating electricity it depends primarily upon oil (43 percent) followed by natural gas (38 percent) and hydro electric power (10 percent).

Share of coal on the energy sector is around 48 percent in the universe. China share of coal in the energy sector stood at 70 percent and 40 percent by India. Japan where 28 percent electricity is generated using coal is the world’s largest steam coal importer. In Denmark also about 46 percent electricity is generated from imported coal.

The largest proved recoverable reserves of lignite coal in the global are in Australia followed by USA and China. Total Lignite Coal Reserves are estimated to be 150 billion tonnes.

In the past 50 years, coal has represented the country’s primary energy consumption. It is recognized that coal will, in principle, remain China’s principal energy source in the future. All types of coal have been searched, mostly low sulfur, low to medium ash content, and medium to high thermal.

Coal is the most significant & ample fossil fuel in India. It accounts for 55 percent of the County Energy need. The increasing demand of India for energy for supporting the economic growth is met by a combination of renewable, nuclear and conventional sources of energy.

Ministry of Coal has planned to increase the coal production by an average of 36 million tons per annum in the 12th five year plan. It is estimated that coal production will grow at a compound growth rate at around 9 percent during 2011-12 to 2013-14.

It is also anticipated that the demand for thermal coal and coking coal by power and steel sectors, respectively, will gain momentum in near future. The size of Indian coal industry was estimated at Indian rupee 800 billion by the end of fiscal year 2012.

Coal is mined in every state in Australia and it plays a key role in the country’s economy. According to the Australian Coal Association, coal is the country’s largest single export with markets in China, Japan, Korea and Taiwan. Coal is also used to generate more than 80 percent of Australia’s electricity. The coal industry in Australia employs 130,000 people.

Sufficient coal reserves are available in Pakistan to generate cheap electricity and gas for meeting rising demand of the region. Coal reserves can provide electricity to the country for more than 500 years.

Thar coal project will become operational in December 2013. Thar Coal project would lead to vast investment from the leading international companies. Several foreign companies willing to participate in the project have demonstrated involvement.

With the completion of this project, the nation would get relatively low and abundantly power supply to settling the current energy crisis. Many countries including Australia and China and multi-national companies are taking enthusiastic interest in the energy sector of Pakistan.

Unexploited coal reserves must be tapped to address the Pakistan’s energy crisis. The country must turn to coal to ease the energy crisis which is blocking the economic growth, trade and industry.

Thar coalfield has 175 billion tonnes of extremely high water-content, low energy coal. This kind of low-grade, watery coal is found in abundance in other countries, such as Indonesia, the world’s biggest exporter.

In the past this kind of coal use was not found to be economical but high gas and oil prices and new technology to dry out watery, gaseous coal or leave it in the surface but extract the gas from it rather has motivated projects around the world. For the first time in Pakistan that the coal gasification has launched on commercial basis and cheap electricity would be available in future.

Government of Pakistan has declared the Thar coal fields as a Special Economic Zone, with tax breaks to attract investors to develop coal gasification and mining as part of its strategy to rid of the energy crisis. The private sector is seriously considering investing in coal-fired plants. Two Chinese firms are also looking to build gasification and coal mining projects in Thar.

Thermal coal imports are likely to increase by 1 million tonnes to 4.5 million tonnes in 2013 and 6 to 7 million by 2017, most of which will be consumed by the cement industry. There are several large coal-fired power plants under construction and more being converted from fuel oil, such as Karachi Electric Supply Company’s (KESC) joint venture with Hong Kong-based Bright Eagle Enterprises (BEE).

Imports of low-grade coal are likely to be part of the very short-term solution with the development of Thar a longer-term prospect. Some converted plants are co-firing coal with biomass from rice husks or waste car tyres and blending imports with local coal but the need for more imports will remain as more independent power plants develops and sugar, textile and steel mills shift to coal at their captive plants.

The government has decided to convert the existing thermal plants – capable of producing 4,200 megawatts (MW) of power – to coal to produce cheaper energy.

According to the Pakistan Energy Year Book 2011, the country’s installed power generation capacity is 22,477 megawatts and demand is more or less the same. Pakistan in this context needs to restyle the electricity function and replace oil and gas with sufficiently available indigenous fuel source. It must develop indigenous energy resources to meet future electricity needs and can overcome energy crisis by utilising unexploited coal reserves.

Luckily, Pakistan has a very inexpensive source to get energy through coal. Coal is now economically feasible 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 about 850 trillion cubic feet is spanning over 10,000 square kilometers, astonishingly more than the oil reserves in Saudi Arabia having a collective quantity of approximately 375 billion barrels.

Coal reserves of only Thar can generate 20,000MW of electricity for the next 40 years without load shedding and at a rate Rs4 less than the present cost of electricity production.

According to coal experts only 2 percent utilization of Thar coal can produce 20,000 megawatts of electricity for 40 years. To develop the Thar coal for energy purpose huge investment is required initially.

A long time back the Coal reserves could have been utilized productively but unfortunately the strong lobby for oil import was opposing tooth and nail both inwardly and somewhat outwardly the utilization of Thar Coal for generating electricity.

The cost of the project is a heightened issue as it would require initial funding starting from one billion dollar to three billion Dollars plus the infrastructure cost the Government will have to incur in developing the desolate region. Pakistan Business Council estimates the import bill for petroleum products will reach over 120 billion dollars by 2020.

In the forthcoming months with an interim government expected soon, the Government both at the federal and provincial levels needs to work hard to start executing the Thar project. It may mentioned that without developing Thar coal, Pakistan will fall into international oil pressures and have an energy mix with very little indigenous component.

Available information shows that the 450 megawatt coal power plant based on Lakhra Coal field is one of the possible options to produce extensive electricity. Lakhra Coal Development Limited has 44 coal mines fully developed capable of producing 50 tonnes of coal per day. Average annual production is one million tonnes. Most of the production is used in the Wapda power plant at Khanote (Sindh) and in brick kiln industry. Imported coal is being mostly used in Pakistan Steel Mill and some cement plants.

All this does not mean that abundant Thar coal reserves have to be ignored at all cost. Taking into circumstances the current energy shortage and difficulty in getting at exorbitant rates imported oil and gas the use of indigenous Thar Coal for generating energy cannot be ignored. It is a very good sign that famous professional company like Engro Pakistan has come forward with great zeal to help in generating electricity from Thar Coal field. It is expected that the Engro Thar project will be completed by December 2013.

At present the people of Thar are living in utter poverty. There is bonded labor and violation of human rights. The people of Thar are deprived of even access to safe drinking water. They need electricity, better education, transport facilities, health care, housing and employment for their better standard of living. Thar coal has a very large content of water which can be used for the locals. With the development of Thar Coal fields and the establishment of Thar Coal and Energy Board it is anticipated that the Tharis will prosper economically, politically and socially.


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