The Coal Rush

Enterprise - - Contents - By Hus­sain Ah­mad Siddiqui

On Novem­ber 11, 2016, Pak­istan rat­i­fied the Paris Agree­ment on Cli­mate Change, which is aimed at low­er­ing planet-warm­ing green­house gas emis­sions. None­the­less, the gov­ern­ment con­tin­ues to de­velop var­i­ous coal-based power plants of cu­mu­la­tive ca­pac­ity of over 6,900MW (megawatt) to be com­pleted by De­cem­ber 2020, in gross con­flict with its commitment on cli­mate change. Elec­tric­ity gen­er­ated from fos­sil fu­els such as coal is the largest sin­gle con­trib­u­tor glob­ally to the rise in car­bon emis­sions, which is caus­ing in­crease in the earth’s tem­per­a­ture, and the air pol­lu­tion con­tribut­ing to smog.

All the 6,900MW coal-based power gen­er­a­tion ca­pac­ity is coming un­der the China-Pak­istan Eco­nomic Cor­ri­dor (CPEC) framework. The 1,320MW (2x660MW) Sahi­wal Coal-fired Power project, the first of the CPEC Priority En­ergy Projects, was com­mis­sioned in July last year. First unit of the 2x660MW Port Qasim Elec­tric Power was con­nected to the na­tional grid in Novem­ber 2017, whereas the sec­ond unit is sched­uled for com­mis­sion­ing in June this year. The first 660MW unit of China Power Hub Gen­er­a­tion project is likely to be com­mis­sioned in De­cem­ber this year, and the other 660MW unit in Au­gust 2019. A 300MW coal-based power project is be­ing con­structed in Gwadar. All the four power gen­er­at­ing projects are based on im­ported coal.

The CPEC en­ergy pro­gramme also cov­ers devel­op­ment of power projects us­ing indige­nous Thar coal. These projects are: 660MW En­gro Pow­er­gen Thar, 330MW Thar En­ergy, 1,320MW (2x660MW) Thar Coal Block-1 Power Gen­er­a­tion, and 330MW Thal Nova Power Thar.

Cur­rently, the first unit of 330MW of En­gro Pow­er­gen is in ad­vanced stage of com­ple­tion, sched­uled to achieve com­mer­cial op­er­a­tions in Oc­to­ber this year, while the sec­ond unit of same ca­pac­ity will be com­mis­sioned in June 2019. The other three projects, all In­de­pen­dent Power Pro­duc­ers (IPPs), are sched­uled for com­ple­tion by De­cem­ber 2020.

China, an­other sig­na­tory to the Paris Agree­ment among 195 na­tions, has halted in Jan­uary 2017 its plans for devel­op­ing 103 new coal-fired power plants valu­ing $62 bil­lion in eleven prov­inces, with a com­bined in­stalled ca­pac­ity of more than 100GW (gi­gawatt). This was the lat­est move since China had de­cided in the past years, pur­su­ing tran­si­tional shift to­wards clean en­ergy, to close down all the ex­ist­ing coal-based power plants, and to put on hold or can­cel new planned or on­go­ing projects, to­talling 151 plants and projects with com­bined ca­pac­ity of about 300GW.

Bei­jing is cited as an atyp­i­cal case of pro­mot­ing clean en­ergy. Im­ple­ment­ing Bei­jing’s clean air plan, the last coal-fired power sta­tion of 845MW ca­pac­ity had ceased its op­er­a­tions in March last year, while three other coal-based power plants were closed down in the years 2014 and 2015. Now, Bei­jing has 27 power plants, all clean and re­new­able en­ergy, of total in­stalled ca­pac­ity of 11,300MW.

In con­trast, China’s new strin­gent stan­dards for do­mes­tic coal-fired power plants to de­liver clean en­ergy do not ap­ply to the ex­port mar­ket. China is con­struct­ing or plan­ning to de­velop more than one-hun­dred new coal-fired power gen­er­a­tion plants in as many as 21 countries, ig­nor­ing se­ri­ous con­cerns the world-over about smog and cli­mate change. Be­sides Pak­istan, these coal-based power plants are be­ing con­structed in Bangladesh, In­done­sia, Egypt, Iran, Viet­nam, and the African countries. Re­port­edly, the de­sign and en­gi­neer­ing was com­pleted and plant ma­chin­ery un­der pro­duc­tion at dif­fer­ent stages or read­ily avail­able with the Chi­nese man­u­fac­tur­ers as a re­sult of can­cel­la­tion of do­mes­tic or­ders in bulk, to­talling some 55GW ca­pac­ity. This tech­nol­ogy and ma­chin­ery is thus be­ing di­rected to­wards the over­seas mar­ket, though of out­dated tech­nol­ogy and out­moded plant mod­ules. The Chi­nese banks have lib­er­ally given fi­nances for these ex­port projects, com­ply­ing with state policy to sup­port the ail­ing Chi­nese in­dus­try of coal-based power plant ma­chin­ery.

Ap­par­ently, these devel­op­ing na­tions, in­clud­ing Pak­istan, are vic­tims

to this strat­egy, which would greatly harm their economies in the short­and long terms. No won­der the coal­fired power plants in Pak­istan came on stream much ear­lier than nor­mal ges­ta­tion pe­ri­ods for such projects ac­cepted glob­ally. Un­for­tu­nately, the tech­nol­ogy de­ployed in these power plants, whether com­mis­sioned, or cur­rently un­der-con­struc­tion or in plan­ning stage, is not an ad­vanced or state-of-the-art “clean coal tech­nol­ogy”, in spite of re­peated claims by the two sides. There are many clean coal ver­sions of pul­verised coal com­bus­tion tech­nol­ogy that have been com­mer­cialised the world-over.

Ef­fi­ciency of a power plant is in­versely pro­por­tional to con­sump­tion of coal; higher the ef­fi­ciency, lower the coal com­bus­tion. Thus, a high­ef­fi­ciency coal­fired power plant sharply re­duces the emis­sion im­pact of en­ergy gen­er­ated from coal. The tra­di­tional sub­crit­i­cal tech­nol­ogy, which achieves 33 per­cent to 38 per­cent ef­fi­ciency, is ob­so­lete, and, in­stead, the su­per­crit­i­cal tech­nol­ogy was de­ployed in re­cent past. Since the last two decades, how­ever, the ul­tra-su­per­crit­i­cal is known as the ad­vanced tech­nol­ogy. A su­per­crit­i­cal boiler op­er­ates at tem­per­a­tures over 565-C and at pres­sures above 250 bar, whereas ul­tra-su­per­crit­i­cal boiler op­er­ates at more than 585-C tem­per­a­tures and above 300 bar pres­sures. Su­per­crit­i­cal power plant achieves 37-40 per­cent ef­fi­ciency and the ul­tra-su­per­crit­i­cal op­ti­mally at­tains 48 per­cent ef­fi­ciency. Cur­rently, re­search and devel­op­ment is on­go­ing in Ger­many to in­crease steam tem­per­a­ture to 700-C and above, which could achieve coal-fired power plant ef­fi­ciency as high as 50 per­cent.

Sadly, the Gwadar Coal Power project is based on the ob­so­lete sub­crit­i­cal tech­nol­ogy. Like­wise, all Thar-coal based power plants will use sub­crit­i­cal tech­nol­ogy. Sahi­wal Coal Power, Port Qasim Elec­tric, China Power Hub and other projects will em­ploy su­per­crit­i­cal tech­nol­ogy. None of the planned projects are likely to use the ad­vanced tech­nol­ogy of ul­tra­su­per­crit­i­cal tech­nol­ogy ei­ther. Also, none of these power plants will de­ploy the state-of-the-art Car­bon Cap­ture & Se­ques­tra­tion (CCS) tech­nolo­gies, which would re­move car­bon diox­ide from the emis­sions and se­quester (or store) it in the grounds or ponds.

The plants be­ing in­stalled in Pak­istan are of the mod­ules 330/300MW and 660/600MW, which are no more be­ing con­structed in the devel­op­ing countries. For many years, a mod­ule of 1,000MW coal-fired power plant is glob­ally con­sid­ered tech­ni­cally vi­able and eco­nom­i­cally fea­si­ble, un­der the cur­rent con­di­tions.

It is iron­i­cal that China itself plans in the years to come to re­place the old-tech­nol­ogy based coal-fired power gen­er­a­tion ca­pac­ity with ul­tra­su­per­crit­i­cal tech­nol­ogy that it has al­ready mas­tered, hav­ing ac­quired it in the late 1990s from the west­ern sources such as Al­stom, Siemens and Bab­cock-Hi­tachi. In­ter­est­ingly, all large­ca­pac­ity coal-based power plants in China have in­stalled ul­tra-su­per­crit­i­cal power gen­er­at­ing units. The Zoux­ian power plant of 4,400MW com­bined ca­pac­ity in Shan­dong prov­ince op­er­ates two ul­tra-su­per­crit­i­cal units of 1,000MW each since 2006-2007. The Shang­hai Waigao­qiao coal-fired power plant of total 5,000MW ca­pac­ity had com­mis­sioned two ul­tra-su­per­crit­i­cal units of 1,000MW each in 2008.

Sim­i­larly, the Guo­dian Beilun power plant (5,000MW total ca­pac­ity) in Zhe­jiang prov­ince had in­stalled in 2009 two ul­tra-su­per­crit­i­cal units each of 1,000MW. Like­wise, Guohna Tais­han power plant (Guang­dong prov­ince) of 5,000MW total ca­pac­ity op­er­ates two units of 1,000MW each, which were com­mis­sioned phase-wise in 2010 and 2011. Plant ma­chin­ery for all these ul­tra-su­per­crit­i­cal power sta­tions was man­u­fac­tured by the Chi­nese com­pa­nies. Why, then, Pak­istan has been de­prived of the lat­est coal tech­nol­ogy by China? It is any­body’s guess. There are other few coal-fired power projects in pipe­line in Pak­istan. Grange Power is es­tab­lish­ing a 163MW im­ported coal based power plant in Arifwala (Pun­jab), which is sched­uled to come on stream in Septem­ber 2019. Then, the Lucky Elec­tric’s 660MW plant at Port Qasim, Sid­diq­sons En­ergy’s 330MW power plant and 1,320MW Or­a­cle Coal Fields plant, all sched­uled for com­mis­sion­ing in 2021, will use Thar coal. Again, the de­sign, en­gi­neer­ing and plant ma­chin­ery is be­ing supplied by the Chi­nese com­pa­nies for all these projects. There are about 120 Cap­tive Power Plants (CPP) in­stalled by the ce­ment, tex­tile, pa­per, chem­i­cal and steel in­dus­tries, now mostly us­ing coal as fuel, of ca­pac­ity up to 50MW each, and many are in the pipe­line. A typ­i­cal 600MW coal-based power plant burns in the range of 1.68 mil­lion to 1.25 mil­lion tonnes of coal each year; de­pend­ing on coal com­bus­tion tech­nol­ogy de­ployed and coal char­ac­ter­is­tics.

Pak­istan is thus set to re­main de­pen­dent on coal for power gen­er­a­tion for decades. One dreads to think of the hor­rific en­vi­ron­men­tal im­pact in coming years, pri­mar­ily of burn­ing enormous coal for power gen­er­a­tion, and the in­sen­si­tive at­ti­tude of the gov­ern­ment to­wards the is­sue, even to back­slide on its global com­mit­ments on cli­mate change.

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