How coal can help the country avoid power shortage

As a nation we have run out of fuel. In 1955 when Sui gas fields were discovered in Dera Bugti area of Balochistan, it was believed that our energy future had been secured. With 12 TCF (trillion cubic feet) of natural gas it was the largest deposit of the world at that time. Karachi being the capital of ĎAsli Pakistaní was the first to receive the gas, other cities followed. Today the country has one of the best distribution networks of underground pipeline spread over 20,000 kilometers. There are two major companies, Sui Northern Gas
Pipelines Ltd (SNGPL) and Sui Southern Gas Company (SSGC), that manage the system and distribute gas.

Ad-hocism that took over the country in October 1958 has continued unabated till today. This gift of nature was grossly mismanaged and misused; today the deposit stands at 2 TCF. New deposits have not been developed and a nation that was once energy surplus faces acute shortages. A few years back I was involved in the development of fiberglass CNG cylinders for cars. Pak-Suzuki at that time was the largest CNG car maker in the world. Steel cylinders worth $50M were being imported from Italy to be fitted in the cars. All the cylinders that were supplied were prepared in New Zealand. On inquiry it was revealed that New Zealand had converted their entire transport to CNG and then they ran out of gas. Everything was then converted back to gasoline and diesel. Pakistan committed the same mistake. Gas was used for fertilisers, transport, domestic and industrial use, power generation, heating, cooling as if the supply was unlimited.

Today Pakistan faces serious power and gas shortages. At peak demand power is short by about 5,000MW while gas shortage is about 1,200 mmcfd. In the current energy mix, the use of gas is projected at 47 percent by 2030, which is why liquefied natural gas (LNG) is being imported from Qatar. It is a costly three-step process. Natural gas is first compressed into a liquid and then shipped. The liquid is then depressurised to return to the gaseous state. Recent studies carried out at the National Taiwan University compared Synthetic Natural Gas (SNG) produced by coal gasification with imported LNG. The cost of producing SNG was $11 (USD/GJ) while for LNG it was $14-17 (USD/GJ).

Despite huge coal deposits (200 billion tons) the government decided to import LNG. The entire project has been controversial, including capacity payments of $280,000 per day for the terminal at Port Qasim. The country continues to suffer due to the capacity payments allowed to IPPs in the nineties. It seems no lessons have been learnt.

USA has the largest coal deposits of the world with 24 percent, Pakistan being second with 16.1 percent. Despite environmental issues coal continues to be the major source of energy in America whereas in Pakistan it is minimal. Only 5M tons of coal is mined every year in the country while precious foreign exchange is spent on its import. The government has planned to increase the usage of coal to 15 percent by 2030. This figure should be increased to 30 percent to reduce dependence on imported gas. The quantity of coal being mined should be increased to 50M tons by 2020 and 500M tons by 2030 to convert Pakistan into an energy surplus nation.

SNG holds great promise for a coal rich nation. Local coal can be gasified using the latest IGCC approach (Integrated Gasification Combined Cycled). The existing gas distribution network can be used for transmission of locally produced gas. The pilot plant used in Taiwan was based on imported coal. In Pakistan the price can be further reduced by using indigenous deposits.

In Lakhra WAPDA established 50X50X50 coal fired plants based on mouth of mine power generation concept. Unfortunately, the Chinese plants were not designed according to the available coal and as such the boiler gets choked. At a given time only one 50 MW plant can be kept operational remaining two have to be serviced. As 1.33 billion tons of coal is readily available at site, the existing plants should be modified to deliver full capacity and additional plants can also be established making Lakhra the hub of coal power generation in the country.

Not too far from Lakhra is the Thar coal deposit where estimated reserves are of 175 billion tons which is one of the largest single deposits in the world. Mining and hydrology are the major challenges there. Considering the size of this energy resource a development master plan must be developed.

Pakistan is moving in the direction of coal in the 21st century which poses serious environmental challenges that have to be addressed. The country needs affordable energy for its development and growth. Coal based energy roadmap has to be developed together with development of additional gas resources. Shale gas is another option that should be considered. Hydel power potential also remains untapped. In USA, there is a separate department for energy that formulates short, medium and long term plans to ensure sustainable supply of this most important resource. Pakistan can also follow the same approach.