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The other side of coal


April 5, 2017

Dr Farrukh Saleem, in his article titled ‘Coal power’, published in these pages on March 26, raised a series of concerns about the effectiveness of relying on coal power. The article compared Pakistan and China – two countries have vastly different levels of economic growth and varying energy needs.

While it is true that the Chinese government has made concerted efforts in recent years to decrease the growth of coal power plants in the country, one would do well to understand where China’s economy and energy mix currently stand.

China is the world’s second largest economy with a total installed energy capacity of around 1,800 GW that successfully meets its rising demand. Coal accounts for 73 percent of China’s power generation mix in 2013. Its coal power generation capacity is expected to increase by 19 percent over the next five years while the country is expanding the use of renewable resources.

Coal accounts for only 0.1 percent in Pakistan’s energy mix. The government decided to install coal power plants because the cost of not having power – as Pakistanis know painfully well – is atrociously high. Pakistan was grappling with a severe power deficit in 2012 which had crippled the country’s economic and social life. The government addressed the monumental challenge on a war footing.

All fuels have been tapped to rebalance the skewed energy mix. The portfolio of more than 10,000 MW is currently being implemented. It includes both base loads and renewable resources, including RLNG, hydro, coal, nuclear, solar and wind power. Loadshedding has already been minimised and expected to decrease even further this year.

A basic understanding of an energy mix shows that thermal fuels and large hydel power are primarily used as base load fuels whereas renewable resources, such as solar and wind power, are used to cater to peak load. This leads to an optimal energy mix. The Sahiwal Coal Power Plant will provide 1,320 MW of valuable base load power to areas which fall within the proximity of load centres. Based on supercritical coal combustion technology – which minimises noxious emissions – modern and effective safeguards have been adopted in this plant to protect the environment.

Large coal-fired power projects are successfully functioning in advanced economies. Coal contributes to 33 percent of the energy mix of the US. Similar coal-powered plants are functioning in India as well. According to statistics provided by IEA, international coal consumption rose at an annual rate of 4.2 percent, by more than 70 percent from 4,600 Mt in 2000 to approximately 7,876 Mt in 2013. It is expected that the coal demand growth will be slowed down but continue to increase by 0.8 percent through 2020 (IEA) and by 0.6 percent till 2040 (US EIA).

The availability of modern and effective environment damage mitigation measures has made the super and ultra-super critical coal combustion technology acceptable. Punjab’s decision to invest in coal power was taken after the public’s interests was accounted for.

In addition, the stakeholders delved into a much-debated energy policy question: should the government initially provide power to all or delay universal electricity access in favour of investing only in alternative energy sources?

Punjab believes in attaining an optimal energy mix by investing in traditional power as well as newer technologies, so that it can actively contribute towards federal efforts to resolve the energy crisis.


The writer is the
spokesperson for the
Punjab government.


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