A review of national energy resources shows that the future development and use of resources for power generation will be strongly influenced by the necessity to control environmental pollution. Currently, power generation capacity from all resources is 37,261MW, whereas the demand for electricity continues to grow fast. It is projected to have an installed cumulative power generation capacity of 79,449MW by the year 2040, according to the government plans.
It is heartening that total foreseeable energy resources will easily meet anticipated projected requirements for a considerable time. Pakistan has huge deposits of coal, and abundant and inexhaustible resources for hydropower and renewable energy like solar and wind power. Only the known recoverable resources of liquid hydrocarbons and natural gas appear at this time to fall short of anticipated requirements, which at present are being met through imported sources.
The main issue is to meet the growing demand for energy and in the most effective and least-cost manner, to be able to assure competitive availability and to minimise environmental pollution in the course of developing and using energy resources. Pursuant to these goals, the recently-approved National Electricity Policy 2020 will focus on adding power generation capacity on nuclear and optimally utilising indigenous resources of hydropower and renewable energy. Understandably, the policy aims to address the impacts of climate change also.
In the wake of international commitments and obligations to control CO2 emissions, the development and use of fuel resources in Pakistan will be strongly influenced, in future, by the urgent need to restrain critical increase of environmental pollution. This includes automobile exhaust gases, sulphur dioxide, and other products of fossil fuel burning and damage to scenic and land values. Power generation industry is another source of pollution. Currently, there is heavier reliance on coal (imported and indigenous) and oil and gas including RLNG for power generation. Thus, thermal power plants constitute 60 percent of total power generation installed capacity.
The clean energy ie hydropower and renewable or alternative energy has about 30 percent and 2 percent share, respectively, in the energy mix, while nuclear energy constitute 8 percent of power generation through all resources. The government plans to increase share of renewable energy from existing minimal to 60 percent by 2030. The planned transition from coal-based to clean energy is a herculean job and not expected to be achieved, given the present situation of power generation mix.
Power generation industry, including its different phases of construction, operation and decommissioning of power plants, produces a very large number of CO2 emissions, causing increase in the earth’s levels of atmospheric CO2, which enhances the greenhouse effect and contributes to global warming. Coal-fired power plants are a major source of hazardous air pollutant emissions. These produce nitrogen oxides and sulphur dioxide emissions, besides CO2, contributing to smog and acid rain, and formation of fine particulate matter.
Share of coal-based power generation in overall generation mix these days is over 12 percent, not including a significant number of small coal-fired power plants that are installed by the cement and chemical industries across the country and coal used for heating purposes. Ironically, the share of coal-based power generation is likely to increase exponentially in coming years as a number of large capacity power plants utilising indigenous Thar coal will be commissioned, and, at the same time, old inefficient thermal power plants will be shut-down. Last year, Prime Minister Imran Khan had announced to shelve the under-construction coal-based power plants. But there has been no practical action to put on hold these projects as these are being implemented under the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) programme.
Specific technologies are employed to mitigate adverse impacts of coal mining, transportation and combustion. However, the present technology employed for limiting air and water pollution is inadequate to keep pace with projected increase in coal mining and combustion as envisaged. Hydropower does not directly emit air pollutants; however, the development and operation of hydropower projects cause global warming, emissions and local pollution, besides posing various ecological and biological impacts. Currently, construction of major dam-and-hydroelectric power projects like Mohmand, Diamer-Basha and Dasu is in progress.
On the other hand, nuclear reactors provide a potential means of decreasing future air pollution. However, these produce other kinds of deleterious wastes, and continued care will have to be exercised to avoid radioactive contamination in reactor operations, waste product handling and fuel processing. Pakistan plans to construct a number of nuclear power plants, attaining a cumulative nuclear power generation capacity of 8,900MWe by 2030. Also, the decommissioning of the obsolete KANUPP-1 is on cards.
Wind power does not produce toxic pollution or global warming emissions, but has other limitations for developing large-scale power generation and power evacuation. The pollution caused by open wire electric transmission is a special area for the government’s concern in long-term.
The government has evolved policy framework to address various aspects of climate change. Nonetheless, present efforts and existing programmes in this area need to be supplemented and strongly supported. The government should encourage pollution control technology. At the same time, it will be imperative for the government to substantially direct its research and development efforts towards mitigating the harmful side-effects of power generation industry. For the purpose, R&D programmes aimed at both the assessment of hazards to health and environment, and the economical abatement of damages are needed on priority. The R&D efforts should be aimed at reducing environmental damage from energy resources and developing substitute sources and processes that do not pose environmental problems.
The government has doubled the budgetary allocation for the science and technology sector, enhancing it to Rs31 billion, under the development budget 2021-22, with focus on applied research. Allocation for Research Division of the Ministry of Science and Technology under the Public Sector Development Programme (PSDP) is Rs8.341 billion for 24 ongoing and 20 new schemes. It is ironical however that none of the schemes cover research and development in the area of climate change, in general, or the energy sector, in particular. Pakistan is also expected to receive $100 billion per year assistance from global communities as indicated by Pakistan’s representative during the International Summit on Climate Change held on April 22 this year. Therefore, funds for the research and development in energy should not be an issue.
The writer is the retired chairman of the State Engineering Corporation