TANDO MUHAMMAD KHAN          -          The alternate energy sources in Sindh have been playing a key role in the generation of clean energy since last many years.

The alternate and sustainable sources like wind power, tidal power, coal energy, solar energy and biomass energy are handy at a time when the severe energy crisis is blamed for slowing down of economic activities.

A durable remedy for the present-day power crisis lies in shifting reliance on the renewable and alternate energy sources, which are ultimately cheaper.

The discovery of coal in Tharparkar district has given the country an alternative source of energy. Sindh has coal resources at Lakhra, Thatta, Badin, Jhampir and Thar coalfields, but only those in Lakhra are operational with annual production of two million tonnes. Total coal resources are estimated to be around 186.5 billion tonnes, which is ranked as lignite suitable for power generation. This type of coal/lignite is being used for electricity generation all over the world.

The PPP government had formulated the Sindh Coal Policy decades ago to tap these resources. For implementation of the policy the Sindh Coal Authority (SCA) was established. The Sindh Coal Authority Act 1993 was passed by the Provincial Assembly of Sindh and it became functional in 1994.

The Authority functions as a promotional agency to accelerate the pace of activities relating to coal development, and is specifically responsible for planning, organising and undertaking appropriate projects as well as for implementing programmes for mining, processing and utilization of coal resources in the province.

The Sindh Coal Authority Board is headed by the provincial minister for mines and mineral development. The Board is a broad-based institution and it could be enhanced by giving representation to the federal government for smooth implementation of coal projects. The vested interests have made the Sindh Coal Authority deviate from its charter, which is the development of coal resources and its exploitation for power generation and other industrial purposes. Now it is working for the installation of RO plants and erection of monuments. At present 40 per cent coal is being utilised for power production throughout the world, but in Pakistan it is less than one per cent. Necessary measures are required for development of coal resources with the help of technical people, who are available in Sindh. However, Engro Powergen Thar Limited’s (EPTL) lignite coal power plant in Thar has started pumping 330MW of electricity generated by domestic coal into the national grid. The first of two 330MW units of the 660MW project located in Thar Block II was tested and energized.

Likewise, the Wind Energy projects in Jhampir, a small town in Thatta District of Sindh and about 114 kilometres from Karachi, a 50mw wind power project of Fauji Foundation Energy Limited is formally feed into the national grid on commercial basis. The project completed at a cost of about $135 million. The same company is working on two more projects of equivalent capacity.

The FFC has been able to secure a favourable electricity tariff of about 16 cents per unit which may sound higher when compared with cheaper hydropower and gas based power generation. But given the fact that renewable technologies are not readily available in the country, the government and the regulators were inclined to promote renewable energy resources.

Similarly, most of other wind energy projects currently in progress would also get an upfront levelised tariff of about 14.7 cents per unit (kwh). A total of 12 wind energy projects with a combined capacity of about 1000mw are in different stages of implementation.

Besides, United Energy Pakistan, Zorlu Energy Pakistan, a subsidiary of the Turkish firm Zorlu Enerji,, NTDC are among the major companies working on the wind energy project at That-Jhampir Corridor. From the Nooriabad Industrial Area, a 25-kilometre dirt track leads southeast to the Zorlu Energy Pakistan’s wind turbine farm in Jhimpir. The sun hangs low over the monotonous landscape: A vast stretch of uncultivated land dotted with bushes and trees. Then, the wind turbines pop up: Huge three-blade structures mounted at the top of towers going up 85 meters into the sky.

Talking about economic advantages of the 50MW wind farms to be set up later in the wind belt of Sindh, NTDC Engineer Dilbar Ali Memon told The Nation that “The wind farm will have a capacity factor of 30 per cent which is typical for the wind belt of Sindh, consisting of 40 Suzlon turbine of 1.25 mw rating.

Based on available data the initial investment on the plant will be around $80 million, which will produce 1,31,400 MW of electric power in a year.”

Ali Akbar Rahimoon, CEO (AWARE NGOs) a wind energy expert in Tharparkar, is of the view that Pakistan has a promising future for the wind energy technology, saying a 1GW installation or more can easily be achieved in a year if there is increased research and investment in the wind energy sector.

He suggested that the government should establish two or more wind farms in Sindh from its own resources with help of organisations like PIDC. And, once these farms become profitable they could be either sold out to private parties or their shares can be offered on the stock exchange.

He also suggested that smaller wind farms of 10 mw each structured on cooperative basis should also be allowed in ‘wind belt area’ of Sindh and cluster of such farms, sharing infrastructure such as common electrical transformers and transmission lines feeding into main national grid be established to improve electricity supply.

Like other sources of the renewable energy, the biomass offers a great potential and opportunities for an energy-starved country like Pakistan, especially for rural areas of Sindh. Biomass energy expert Engineer Shahzad Ali Memon opined that agriculture residues, municipal waste, sewage water and sludge, industrial waste, animal waste, carbon dioxide from flue gases, being basic sources of the biomass energy, can be converted into solid, liquid or gaseous fuels. And, it is equally a key source of a carbon neutral energy, renewable over a relatively short timeframe.

Shahzad, however, regretted “A huge amount of major ingredients of biomass energy, which go waste untapped due to lack of infrastructure availability, research, investment and awareness, are sugar cane trash and cotton sticks. Nearly 1,133.14mw electricity can be generated annually from the total cane trash that amounts to more or less 6.30 million tons.”

Elaborating upon wind energy’s benefits, Ali Memon, an electrical engineer working as a senior executive at the wind farm, said that wind energy had been the fastest growing energy technology worldwide, achieving an annual growth rate of over 30 per cent as it was getting more efficient and cheaper day by day.

The cheap energy, he said, also had the additional benefits of being clean, sustainable with absolutely no harmful effects on the environment. The wind turbines have a life of 20 years and could be easily maintained.

According to investors, the government needs to upgrade its grid lines so that electricity could be directly transferred from wind farms to its system as is happening abroad. Right now, sub-stations for converting wind energy into high voltage current are needed for supply to the national grid.