Coal role remains

THE Minerals Council of Australia believes the retirement of ageing coal-fired plants is an opportunity to bring in new-generation high efficiency-low emissions coal plants that can cut emissions in half and better compete with gas-fired electricity in terms of total emissions.

Anthony Barich

While Energy and Environment Minister Josh Frydenberg told Fairfax this week that the move away from coal was “not a bad thing”, the priority is still providing “affordable, accessible and reliable energy supply as we transition to a low emissions future”

This means using gas and even coal.

However, while debate rages about the role of renewables in Australia’s energy mix with Labor in Queensland and Victoria shooting for weighty clean energy goals, the MCA noted the world’s “most dynamic and fastest-growing” economies were adopting low-emission modern coal-fired generation.

The MCA believes such technology should not be ruled out in Australia as an option, particularly with the country’s ready indigenous supply of “the world’s best coal”

South Australia’s government was forced to beg the owners of the mothballed Pelican Point gas-fired generator to fire up to make up the electricity shortfall earlier this month during a calm period when there was insufficient wind, which currently makes up 37% of its energy mix.

Renewables represent 12% and 8% of Victoria’s and New South Wales’ energy mix respectively, and Labor wants them to rise to 25% by 2020 in Victoria and 50% in Queensland.

The last coal-fired generator in SA – Leigh Creek in Port Augusta – was switched off by Alinta Energy in May, reportedly due to falling wholesale power prices caused by the influx of renewable energy such as wind and solar, which have also proved intermittent.

Frydenberg said this week that renewables were not to blame for SA’s energy crisis but different states having different renewables targets.

The MCA said there was a better option for the state, and others who have plans for a greater share of renewable energy, that does not run the risk of intermittent energy supply.

It argues coal-fired power generation is central to the affordability and reliability of Australia’s energy supply, as it supplies 76% of Australia’s National Electricity Market, is reliable and with the roll-out of new technology can reduce CO2 emissions by up to 50%.

“Hundreds of these units are now operating around the world with another 1150 under construction or planned in Asia alone – which represents more than 32 times Australia’s current coal fired generation capacity,” the MCA’s executive director – coal Greg Evans said.

It’s not just Asia where this HELE revolution is happening.

Even in renewables-heavy Germany, the Neurath F and G coal-fired electricity plants utilise lignite coal – the same brown coal used in Victorian power plants – to generate 2200 megawatts of electricity with an efficiency rating of 42%.

The Luenen Power Plant, also in Germany, uses lignite and has an efficiency of 45.95%.

“Improving the efficiency of coal-fired generation has real emission benefits,” Evans said, adding the Neurath power plants reduced CO2 emissions by 6 million tonnes a year.

“Many nations around the world are investing in these new generation power plants that meet the goal of ensuring reliable supply while reducing emissions and not harming economic development.

“The bottom line is that governments should not mandate the composition of the energy mix.

“Instead, they should pursue a technology neutral approach, whereby reliable, low emissions power generation is provided by the lowest cost energy sources available. That was the central conclusion of the Coalition Government’s 2015 Energy White Paper.

“That approach will likely result in a mix of energy sources, including gas, renewables, high efficiency low emissions coal generation and nuclear power.”