Energy

Coal needs modern technology for sustainability, say experts

Different countries share their experience with coal-generated energy at CSE's coal conference

 
By Kundan Pandey
Last Updated: Monday 21 March 2016

 

Coal will be the king of energy generation and large thermal power units will provide the best solution with modern technologies, according to experts speaking at the first session of the International Conference on “Coal-Based Power” organised by Delhi-based non-profit Centre for Science and Environment (CSE).

Agung Wicaksono, vice chairperson of the Indonesian government's Project Management Office for the 35-GW expansion, said that the focus is on the energy mix by bringing 50 per cent from coal by 2035 and 25 per cent each from renewable energy and natural gas. For cleaner energy, the country will need to use super critical technology which requires a shift to larger thermal power units. But Indonesia has only small thermal power units as of now, he said.

Chinese expert Alvin Lin said that coal has played a dominant but recently decreasing role in China’s energy supply. It has decreased from 75 per cent of primary energy in 1995 to 64 per cent in 2015. In his view, there was a rapid increase in use of coal from 2001 to 2013 because of rapid economic growth—with average GDP growth of 10.5 per cent from 2001 to 2011—focused on heavy industry, exports, infrastructure and real estate. A slowdown in economic growth brought down coal use in 2014 and 2015. He said that China aims to reduce coal use to 62 per cent by 2020.

In his view, China’s coal power plants have been increasing in size and efficiency and now, 78.2 per cent of thermal power plants are 300 MW and above. Emissions have also fallen more rapidly with stricter thermal power plant emissions standards implemented in 2012, he added.

Regarding air pollution, Alvin said that coal consumption contributes to 62 per cent of China’s primary PM2.5 emissions, 93 per cent of SO2 emissions, and 70 per cent of NOx emissions. Reducing coal consumption is key for reaching 2020 and 2030 air quality goals.

Saliem Fakir from South Africa said that the quality of coal is deteriorating because better coal gets exported to other countries, creating a technological challenge. “There is 60 billion dollars worth of coal reserves in South Africa. The challenge is not locating where the coal is but building sufficient infrastructure and inviting companies to invest in it,” he said, naming other challenges like the increasing cost of building super quality plants because of delay. But he added, “We don’t feel the need for building new thermal power plants because the focus has shifted to nuclear and renewable energy. It seems like we have reached the peak.”

CSE Director General Sunita Narain said that while coal is cheap in India, a large section of the population is still energy deprived. Shantanu Dixit, expert from Pune-based energy group Prayas, added that 50 per cent of the total population of the country is consuming less than 500 kwh per year. He highlighted the fact that India’s energy imports as a percentage of the GDP are higher than that of many other countries. India does not have sufficient energy resources and the country is heavily dependent on imports.

In 2013, the share of coal was 44 per cent. Most studies predict a major role for coal in the energy mix until 2030 despite polices regarding sustainability.

Highlighting the role of coal, Dixit said that the current installed power capacity is somewhere around 150,000 MW. In the last 10 years, the capacity has doubled and the coming 15-20 years will see a further doubling of capacity to meet our energy needs. He added that while coal-generated energy is losing its charm with the recent bids for solar energy touching record low levels, coal will remain king but with a shrinking empire.

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