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Old Friday, August 04, 2006
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Default Power vision in Pakistan

WATER and power are no more synonymous. However, Wapda makes us believe that water and power are inseparable and that the present energy crisis in the country is because we have failed to build large dams. Wapda and the proponents of big dams use this argument in favour of building Kalabagh and other large dams.

We need to look at the larger picture and think out of the box. Pakistan produces about 19,500 MW of electric power; Wapda provides about 11,363 MW, or 58 per cent of this. The remaining power is supplied by the KESC, nuclear and IPPs. There is currently loadshedding of up to 700 MW a day because of shortage and poor transmission capabilities. Electricity demand is expected to grow by eight per cent a year during the period 2005 — 2015, requiring an annual installation capacity of about 2000 MW for the next 10 years.

The worldwide electricity production, as per the World Bank, is as follows: coal: 40 per cent; gas 19 per cent; nuclear 16 per cent; hydro 16 per cent; oil seven per cent. Pakistan’s power production is gas 48 per cent; hydro 33 per cent; oil 16 per cent; nuclear two per cent, and coal 0.2 per cent.

There has been a global trend to shift away from oil because of its rising price expected to reach $100 a barrel by the end of this year depending on the international geopolitical situation. Despite the lowest cost of hydroelectric power, there have been environmental, ecological and geopolitical concerns over the building of large dams.

The supply of natural gas in Pakistan has been depleting over the years, and the country is now looking at the option of importing gas from Qatar and Central Asia. This leaves the possibility of exploring nuclear, coal and other alternative energy sources.

Nuclear energy and coal form the lowest source of power production in Pakistan. On the other hand, the world average for nuclear energy is 16 per cent and for coal 40 per cent.

Let us first consider these two potential sources of electric power production for Pakistan. The US obtains 20 per cent of its electric power from nuclear energy with 104 reactors; France 78 per cent with 59 reactors, Japan 24 per cent with 54 reactors, the UK 23 per cent with 31 reactors, and so on. Even India has signed a civilian nuclear cooperation agreement with the United States to develop its nuclear capability for power generation and economic development. It has currently six reactors in operation with a capacity of 3750 MW, and another six with a capacity of 3,340 MW are under construction and should be completed by 2007.

The new agreement will further boost the nuclear power generating capacity of India. Today, nuclear power plants have average capacities of 600 — 1,000 MW.

Pakistan only produces two per cent of its power through two reactors (Karachi and Chashma at 137 MW and 300 MW respectively). Pakistan is a nuclear technologically advanced country with capabilities to produce fuel, yet falls behind most other countries, including India, in terms of nuclear power production.

Regarding coal power generation, the US produces 51 per cent of its power using coal, Poland 96 per cent, South Africa 94 per cent, India 68 per cent, Australia 77 per cent, China 79 per cent, Israel 77 per cent, UK 35 per cent, Japan 28 per cent, while Pakistan produces only 0.2 per cent of its power through coal.

Pakistan has the world’s seventh largest reserves of coal, after the recent discoveries in Thar. The total coal reserve in Pakistan is about 175 billion tons.

The current coal production is only 3.5 million tons per year, which is mostly used for the brick and cement industry. Coal has typical problems, such as a high sulphur content (it produces sulphur dioxide, the source of acid rain), mineral matter content (leading to ash and pollution problems), carbon dioxide emission (contributing to global warming) and high moisture content.

However, technologies are available to minimise all of these. Conversion technologies are currently under development to convert coal into environmentally-friendly methanol and hydrogen gas to be used as clean fuel. The US is working on a major initiative called future gen to produce “zero emission” power plants of the future.

There is large-scale application of coal for power generation around the world. The largest coal-fired plant in the world today is at Nanticoke, Canada, with a capacity of 3900 MW. In the US, which is the largest consumer of coal-generated power the power plant at Coal Creek has a capacity of 1,100 MW. Coal-fired power plants of 500 MW are the norm today and many are currently under construction around the world. In Pakistan, there are plans to build only two 300 MW coal-fired plants at Thar.

In addition to the option of using nuclear plants and coal for power production, alternative energy sources are also available, including wind and solar. Wind energy is the fastest growing energy source in the world. It grew at an astonishing 43 per cent in the last one year alone. Total installed capacity worldwide is 60,000 MW. Technologies have greatly improved in the last two decades, making wind energy very feasible as compared to other sources of power. In the 1980s, the cost of wind energy production was 40 c/kwh; today it is only four c/kwh (Rs 2.40 per unit as compared to Rs. 4.00 for fossil fuel) and therefore it is growing very rapidly. Ecological issues continue to be addressed for large wind farms.

The world’s two largest growing economies — China and India — are capitalising on wind capability. By 2010, China will set up plants of over 5,000 MW of wind power. India last year alone set up 1,430 MW of wind power plants and is expected to add another 5,000 MW by 2012. The world’s largest producers of wind energy today are Germany at 18,440 MW (equal to Pakistan’s total power output), Spain 10,000 MW, the US 9,150 MW and India 4,430 MW (at number four). The Indian government is envisaging a capacity addition of 5,000 MW of wind power by 2012 by extending major financial incentives to the wind energy sector.

Denmark is obtaining 15 per cent of its electric power needs from windmills and it is expected to grow to 50 per cent by 2012; Britain, France, Ireland and Canada are countries which are rapidly expanding their wind energy potential. Large-scale wind farms today include a 300 MW plant in Oregon-Washington, while an under-construction 520 MW capacity in Ireland will be the world’s largest. China has announced that it plans to build a 1000 MW wind farm in Hebi by 2012.

Smaller windmills are also very feasible for remote villages, and in desert, mountainous and coastal regions, cutting down on the cost of power transmission and distribution networks. In remote farmlands, they have been successfully used for decades in the United States and Europe.

In Pakistan, smaller windmills are now visible, such as the ones at Gharo, where SZABIST set up an experimental research station many years ago. The Sindh government has recently announced plans to build a 50 MW wind farm in the vicinity in the coastal region at Gharo.

Solar power (photovoltaic or thermal) is another alternative energy source option that is generally considered feasible for tropical and equatorial countries. Even though the accepted standard is 1,000 W/m2 of peak power at sea level, an average solar panel (or photovoltaic — PV — panel), delivers an average of only 19-56W/m2. Solar plants are generally used in cases where smaller amounts of power are required at remote locations. PV is also the most expensive of all options making it less attractive.

However, costs have halved in the last five years because of better production technology and growing demand. A typical solar power plant today will pay for itself in five to 10 years.

Japan is the leader in solar PV power plants with over 1,200 MW of installed capacity, followed by Germany (794 MW), the US (365 MW) and India (86 MW). Typical solar (PV) power generating stations are in the 300 — 600 KW capacity. The world’s largest PV solar power plants are in Germany and Portugal with a capacity of 10 MW and spread over 62 acres. In 2005, Israel announced the building of a 100 MW solar power plant.

Thermal-based solar power plants using reflectors are also in use today, the largest of these in California with a capacity of 350 MW. These are, however, not very popular, like other types of solar power options.

It is, therefore, very clear from the above that Pakistan needs to aggressively pursue ways to increase its power-generating capacity. The best options available today are nuclear and coal, followed by wind and solar. Hydroelectricity can only be pursued after all environmental, ecological and geopolitical issues are settled with a consensus among all four provinces.

Pakistan needs to set up at least a dozen nuclear power plants, large coal fired plants, wind farms and solar plants in the next 10 years to generate about 20,000 MW of electricity. We need to invest at least a billion dollars a year in developing the infrastructure and establishing power plants using nuclear, coal, wind and solar technology. We need to cut back on non-development expenditures by at least one billion dollars a year to invest in energy needs.

Industrialisation around the world has taken place because of the abundance of reliable and cheap electrical power (infrastructure, human resource and government incentives follow). Reliable and cheap availability of electric power in Pakistan will lead to large-scale investment in industry, creation of jobs, elimination of unemployment and poverty, greater manufacturing and exports, trade surplus and the reduction of deficits. It
will lead to a prosperous Pakistan.
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