With a new 330 MW mine-mouth coal-fired power plant in Tharparkar, Pakistan has now reached 990 MW of power fueled by the local lignite. Thar coal production is being expanded and plans are in place to convert three more imported anthracite coal fired plants to burn domestic lignite as soon as its production is expanded and a rail link is completed to transport the fuel to the rest of the country. Plans call for using Thar coal in three coal-fired plants currently burning imported coal: Sahiwal Coal Power, China Hub Coal Power and Port Qasim Coal, each of 1,320MW installed capacity. These power plants may require some limited equipment changes to burn domestic lignite. It is worth noting that Pakistan contributes less than 1% of the global greenhouse-gas emissions. Using the higher polluting domestic Thar lignite is crucial to Pakistan's desperate need for cheap energy to spur industrialization for economic growth without running into recurring balance of payments crises.
|Pakistan Electric Power Generation Fuel MiX. Source: Arif Habib
Lucky power plant in Karachi has been designed to use Thar Lignite Coal when it is available in sufficient quantity. Until that time, it will operate on imported lignite coal. Domestic lignite production is being expanded in a bid to replace costly fossil fuel imports that are depleting Pakistan's foreign exchange reserves and exacerbating circular debt in the power sector, according to Nikkei Asia.
SECMC (Sindh Engro Coal Mining Company) has commissioned a study for converting the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor coal plants in Hub, Jamshoro and Sahiwal to indigenous lignite. A 105km long Thar Rail project is being planned to connect Thar coal fields with Main Line (ML-1) at the New Chhor Halt Station to transport lignite to the power plants in the rest of the country. The transportation of lignite by trucks to Karachi and Kallar Kahar shows its movement by road and rail is feasible and safe despite higher moisture.
|Pakistan Electric Power Generation. Source: Arif Habib
|Cost Per Unit of Electricity in Pakistan. Source: Arif Habib
Construction of 1,100 MW nuclear power reactor K2 unit in Karachi was completed by China National Nuclear Corporation in 2019, according to media reports. Another similar reactor unit K3 is now in operation. It will add another 1,100 MW of nuclear power to the grid in 2022. Chinese Hualong One reactors being installed in Pakistan are based on improved Westinghouse AP1000 design which is far safer than Chernobyl and Fukushima plants.
The biggest and most important source of low-carbon energy in Pakistan is its hydroelectric power plants, followed by nuclear power. Pakistan ranked third in the world by adding nearly 2,500 MW of hydropower in 2018, according to Hydropower Status Report 2019. China added the most capacity with the installation of 8,540 megawatts, followed by Brazil (3,866 MW), Pakistan (2,487 MW), Turkey (1,085 MW), Angola (668 MW), Tajikistan (605 MW), Ecuador (556 MW), India (535 MW), Norway (419 MW) and Canada (401 MW).
|New Installed Hydroelectric Power Capacity in 2018. Source: Hydroworld.com
Hydropower now makes up about 28% of the total installed capacity of 33,836 MW as of February, 2019. WAPDA reports contributing 25.63 billion units of hydroelectricity to the national grid during the year, “despite the fact that water flows in 2018 remained historically low.” This contribution “greatly helped the country in meeting electricity needs and lowering the electricity tariff for the consumers.”
|Pakistan's Current Account Balance vs International Oil Prices. Source: Arif Habib
Recent history shows that Pakistan's current account deficits vary with international oil prices. Pakistan's trade deficits balloon with rising imported energy prices. One of the keys to managing external account balances lies in reducing the country's dependence on foreign oil and gas.
|Pakistan Power Generation Fuel Mix. Source: Third Pole
It is true that Pakistan has relied on imported fossil fuels to generate electricity. The cost of these expensive imported fuels like furnace oil mainly used by independent power producers (IPPs) has been and continues to be a major contributor to the "exaggerated external demand driven by its rentier economy" referred to by Atif Mian in a recent tweet. However, Pakistan has recently been adding hydro, nuclear and indigenous coal-fired power plants to gradually reduce dependence on imported fossil fuels.
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