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Tapping Local Thar Coal Reserves

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan, being an energy-deficient country, spends hefty and precious foreign exchange on import of fossil fuels like coal, oil and liquefied natural gas (LNG) to generate electricity for meeting domestic and commercial demand of consumers.

In many countries around the world, coal is used as a cheap source for generating electricity, though the process has some repercussions for the environment.

The global coal reserves are estimated to be around 1 trillion tons, while coal-fired based power plants contribute nearly 37 per cent of global electricity generation.

Pakistan is blessed to have the world’s 28th largest coal reserves with 175 billion tons in Tharparkar alone, equivalent to 50 billion tons of oil which is more than Saudi Arabian and Iranian oil reserves.

These reserves are equal to 2,000 trillion cubic feet of gas which is 68 times higher than Pakistan’s total gas reserves.

Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Sindh Engro Coal Mining Company (SECMC) Amir Iqbal told APP that unlocking indigenous Thar coal reserves can generate approximately 100,000 megawatts (MW) electricity for the next 250 years.

Thar coal alone can ensure energy security of Pakistan besides reducing power tariff significantly, he observed.

He went on to say that in Pakistan, coal was considered a cheap energy resource to catch up future energy requirements of both the domestic and commercial consumers, adding in the last five years coal-based power production had also witnessed a significant increase.

The CEO said in order to scale down fuel import costs, the country needed to shift towards local coal resources.

Even in India, coal fired power plants produce more than two third of total electricity. India import 200 million tons coal annually besides utilizing 500-600 million tons domestic coal while Pakistan’s coal production stood at mere 14 to 15 million tons per annum, he added.

Amir Iqbal said currently SECMC was extracting 7.6 million tons per annum coal from Block-II and its capacity was being expanded to 11.2 million tons.

Thar coal had total 13 blocks but presently coal was being mined from two blocks, he added.

Terming coal reserves future of Pakistan, Amir Iqbal said Thar coal could not only be used for power generation but also in cement and steel industries.

However, he said Thar coal had not yet been connected through railway network. Once, Thar coal was connected with railway network, it would not only open to the entire world but also pave way for economic prosperity of the country, he remarked.

In power plants, the average coal consumption is approximately 0.62kg/kWh. However, the new efficient power plants utilize 10% less coal as compared to the ordinary plants.

Energy sector experts emphasised the significance of utilising indigenous Thar coal in addressing Pakistan’s energy needs. They pointed out that the global increase in the price of oil and gas makes it even more crucial for Pakistan to explore its own ample coal reserves.

Former Chief Economist of the Planning Commission, Dr Pervez Tahir was of the view, “The energy crisis in Pakistan remains a pressing issue with energy efficiency not being prioritized.”

“Even the private sector contributes to the problem through the use of outdated boilers and equipment,” he added.

He pointed out that majority of the energy mix was thermal, primarily relying on fossil fuels and acknowledged the difficulties in discussing coal due to climate concerns, but emphasised that Pakistan’s energy crisis was so dire that we could not survive without it.

The government is also mulling over a multi-pronged strategy to cope with upcoming power shortage issue during summer despite economic turmoil and rising fuel prices following International Monetary Fund demands.

“We are taking pragmatic steps to overcome load-shedding by focusing on generation, transmission and energy conservation to provide maximum relief to people,” stated Minister for Power Division Khurram Dastgir Khan.

Since uninterrupted power supply is considered crucial for development of industrial, agricultural and domestic sectors, its smooth supply to domestic consumers is equally important.

“The present government has already added 1,980 MW cheap electricity to the system from Thar coal reserves in just 10 months besides 720 MW and 1100 MW from Karot Hydropower and K-3 Nuclear Power Plants,” he added.

The minister informed that total power generation from Thar coal stood at 2640 MW with formal commissioning of 1320 MW Shanghai Electric Thar Coal Project under the CPEC.

“Another 330 MW Thal Nova Thar coal project has already been synchronized in February that would help reduce load-shedding in summer and cut the power tariff.”

Rising fuel prices and new energy situation after Ukraine war also necessitated Pakistan to utilize its indigenous resources like hydel, solar, wind and Thar coal as it has already announced not to build any new power projects depending on imported coal and ensure 60 percent of its power through local sources by 2030.

Khurram Dastgir said the PML-N government led by the then Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif had successfully added over 10,000 MW electricity to national grid through China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) projects during 2013 to 2018.

“Efforts of the then PML-N government had not only controlled load-shedding but added surplus power to the system,” he remarked.

“The criminal negligence of Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf government had delayed number of projects dragging the country to darkness once again,” he mentioned.

Meanwhile, National Transmission and Despatch Company (NTDC) has completed the construction of 220 kilometers long 500kV Thar-Matiari transmission line from Shanghai Electric Company Limited (SECL) to Matiari Converter station in record time on the directives of prime minister Shehbaz Shairf aimed at timely evacuating power generated from local Thar coal.

It is the most important project for Pakistan’s future energy needs through which coal-fired power generation in Thar wold be integrated to the National Grid System.

The project has been completed with an estimated cost of Rs 15 billion by the NTDC’s own resources. The transmission line is undergoing testing and will be energized soon.

The federal government in collaboration with the Sindh government has also chalked out a policy framework on the Thar Coal mines project aimed at connecting it with other coal-powered power plants in the country producing 4,000 MW.


M M Alam

M. M. Alam is a Pakistan-based working journalist since 1981. Karachi University faculty gold medalist Alam began his career four decades ago by writing for Dawn, Pakistan’s highest circulating English daily. He has worked for region’s leading publications, global aviation periodicals including Rotors (of USA) and vetted New York Times as permanent employee of daily Express Tribune. Alam regularly covers international aviation and defense-related events including Salon Du Bourget (France), Farnborough (United Kingdom), Dubai (UAE). Alam has reported thousands of events and interviewed hundreds of people in Pakistan, UAE, EU, UK and USA. Being Francophone Alam also coordinates with a number of French publications.