In the post Paris conference era where the international community is expected to take collective action for cutting their emission levels, Pakistan is on its way to increase share of coal into its energy mix. The country is building four 660MW coal power plant units with Chinese assistance. Two units of 1,320MW coal fired-power plants at Gadani coastal area are under construction in Balochistan. Similarly, Jamshoro Coal Power project of 1,200MW is to be built with ADB assistance. Coal fired power plants in Sindh province alone would contribute approximately 8,000 MW to the national grid. Hubco and Gwadar coal power plant in Balochistan province would have a potential of producing 1,500 MW. Whereas, till now only 6.27% of energy was generated with coal, this shift toward increased coal production for overcoming the country’s power crisis can have long term implications. At such critical juncture, where an international effort is on-going for dismantling the coal infrastructure, we to the contrary are seeing a significant rise of coal into the newly added energy mix
Coal is an inexpensive yet dirty form of energy, significantly contributes to the energy mix in many Asian countries. Fuel-hungry economies in China and India have more than tripled their consumption and production of coal over the last quarter century .The rising trend of coal-fired power plants in Asia is quite worrying as according to the World Resources Institute estimates, globally, approximately 1,200 new coal power plants are currently proposed, with 76 % of the new capacity proposed in China and India. The real dilemma lies in the evaluation of costs where environmental damages and other externalities are not reflected in the prices. If priorities in the energy sector of Pakistan also ignore the environmental cost of Coal fired power plants, the country would soon become a significant contributor to carbon emissions in the region.
The Energy Sector is one of the leading sectors that contribute to air pollution. If we look at ambient air quality in the country, than we, would find that air quality has already deteriorated to alarmed levels in metropolitan cities. As per global 2011 report on air quality data analysis on 1100 monitoring stations in 91 countries, some cities of Pakistan have the worst air quality with PM10 levels above 200 μg/m3. The 2014 Environmental Performance Index ranks Pakistan at 148 among 178 countries, and 127 in terms of human health from environmental damage and air quality. Karachi has been reported to have the highest average mass concentration PM 2.5 as 668 μgm−3 amongst a chosen set of 18 mega cities. Urban air pollution has turned into a serious problem in big cities of Pakistan where an estimated 35% of the population is living. Coal-fired power plants are considered to be one of the main sources of air pollution in the region besides industrial activities and pollution arising by vehicles.
In the existing scenario, the positive effects of access to electricity on the well-being of people could be reversed by its very production through coal. The by-products of coal generated energy such as sulphur dioxide, oxides of nitrogen, arsenic, chromium, nickel and so forth have serious health consequences. The presence of these mentioned suspended particulate matter in cities of Lahore, Rawalpindi and Islamabad are four to seven times higher than levels recommended by the World Health Organization. 22,000 premature deaths are estimated to be caused amongst adults and 700 deaths among young children due to dangerous levels of particulate matter in the country. The total health costs are between Rs.62-65 billion, or approximately 1% of GDP.
Pakistan is positioned in an area of one of the top most solar insulation in the world. Wind and solar energy in Pakistan stand out for larger and possibly grid-scale potential .Being in the sunny belt, Pakistan has potential for more than 100,000 MW arising from solar energy alone. The mean global irradiation falling on the horizontal surface in Pakistan is about 200–250 watt per m2 a day, with about 1500–3000 sunshine hours in a year. Under the prevailing conditions, Pakistan is ideal for solar energy applications. Despite the huge potential of solar and wind energy in the country, the government has started one solar power plant in Punjab and one wind plant in Sindh. This gives rise to the question: what variables are responsible for setting the priorities of concerned authorities in the energy sector. At present Pakistan is not characterized by substantive environmental regulations, nor is the external cost of energy sufficiently estimated. In the absence of proper data on external cost of different energies, the total cost calculated is highly deceptive. In the given scenario coal, apparently a cheap source, seems the most feasible option for energy generation. The external cost of coal, which has colossal health, environmental and economic implications are totally ignored. Bridging the gap between supply and demand in the country’s energy sector requires that it be subjected to strict environmental regulations.
We are already being claimed quite vulnerable to climatic changes. The soaring temperature, rising sea level and frequent floods are clear indicators of these changes taking place in the country. Turning a blind eye to these problems can put our agriculture sector at high risk which has a major contribution in GDP. Pakistan is lucky in terms of having enough room for adding Renewable energy into its power base. Decentralized and off-grid energy generation could immensely help in electrifying rural areas of Pakistan. For this purpose the organizations established for pursuing environmental green energy should be made more vibrant. The government should make the most of opportunities as offered by the ADB, particularly in terms of low interest loans, for setting up environmentally clean energy infrastructure. The external cost of coal fired power plants must be analysed before setting up coal plants. Similarly substantial developments could be made on health front through generation of energy by environmental friendly substitutes. A slow transition to RE would significantly help in emission abatement, mitigation of climatic changes and energy independence of the country.
Nailah Saleh is a current M.Phil Public Policy student at PIDE, Islamabad