Reliance on imported oil for electricity generation criticised

Published May 23, 2014
PAEC chairman Dr Ansar Parvez speaks at Energy Forum on Thursday.—White Star
PAEC chairman Dr Ansar Parvez speaks at Energy Forum on Thursday.—White Star

KARACHI: While most electricity in the world is generated from coal, Pakistan has been relying on oil to produce power despite the fact that the country has large coal reserves among other natural resources and its nuclear power plant that started work in 1972 is entirely self-sufficient and doesn’t owe the government any money.

These views were expressed at the Seventh PowerGen & Energy Forum 2014 on ‘Energy that Makes Pakistan Powerful’, organised by Energy Update and Pakistan Atomic Energy Commission at a hotel on Thursday.

Explaining the basic concept of power generation, PAEC chairman Dr Ansar Parvez said the power utility must have spinning reserves to ensure that electricity remains available to its consumers. “While the oil, gas and coal reserves in the world are fast depleting and will be gone by 2100 or 2200, nuclear power is constant,” he said before pointing out that mostly coal was used across the world for power production but Pakistan used oil, which was very expensive, to meet its electricity needs.

Elaborating, he said: “When you organise a dinner party at home, you have a main dish, maybe biryani or pulao, along with several add-ons or side dishes including a curry, salad, etc. The main dish is like nuclear power for you and the rest are the other energy sources such as oil, gas, coal, hydro-power. But right now it is like serving dinner that has been bought from an expensive restaurant, which is what you are doing by making power from oil.”

Also, he added, the Karachi Nuclear Power Plant (Kanupp), which was old and might not be working continuously, was entirely self-sufficient and didn’t owe the government any money.

About the different safety measures taken to control the spread of radiation in case of an accident, he said that anyone living right next to a nuclear power plant would receive 10 micro sievert radiation a year, which was equal to what one faced on a flight from say Islamabad to Karachi. “It is that safe,” he emphasised.

Dr Atta-ur-Rahman agreed that Pakistan had a big problem relying on imported oil for making power. “We have other natural resources such as coal, wind water and gas to make power,” he said.

“Pakistan also received a big setback in 1994 when the government decided that Wapda would not make power plants, opening the door for corruption and kickbacks. So the energy sector in Pakistan is a sad story of mismanagement and bad planning,” he said.

“Pakistan has the fifth largest water system in the world where you can have small hydro plants, instead of having huge ones, at several places. And these plants can be manufactured locally,” he said.

Coming to coal energy, he said that 50,000 megawatts could be produced by just Thar coal alone. About gas, he said, it was regretful that more gas reserves had not been explored. Other sources of energy Dr Atta mentioned were methane gas that is usually present on the ocean floor and shale resources. “According to a report it’s estimated that there are 586 trillion cubic feet of shale reserves in Pakistan,” he said.

“There has also been a lot of progress in the world on solar cells such as non-crystalline cells, compound cells, etc. Also there will be paints that will provide energy. So there is lots of research going on including converting water and even cellulose into energy,” he said.

Meanwhile, managing director of the Thar Coal Energy Board Ejaz Ahmed spoke about Thar coal and its importance. “It will be a game changer for the country,” he said.

In his concluding remarks, Senator Taj Haider also spoke about Thar coal and the water surrounding it hundreds of feet deep in the ground. “If while mining the coal, we are also able to reach that water table, we can turn Thar green,” he said.

Published in Dawn, May 23rd, 2014

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