Tag Archives: high efficiency low emissions coal

Construction and Operation of the Shenhua Anqing High-Efficiency, Low-Emissions Power Plant

By Liu Zhijiang
General Manager,
Department of Electric Power Management,
Shenhua Group Co., Ltd.

Primary energy reserves in China are largely based on coal, with small contributions from oil and gas. In fact, coal accounts for over 90% of China’s total fossil energy reserves, meaning that China will continue to rely heavily on coal over the long term. However, China is working to reduce the environmental footprint of coal utilization, including emissions of particulate matter (PM), sulfur dioxide (SO2), nitrogen oxides (NOx), and CO2. Thus, a major focus in the country is to increase the use of high-efficiency, low-emissions (HELE) coal technologies and meet the dual objectives of providing power and realizing environmental and social responsibility.

Shenhua Shenwan Energy Company’s Anqing Power Plant Phase II’s 2×1000-MW expansion project is a prominent example of HELE coal-fired power in China. In this project, Shenwan adopted a series of design innovations to optimize environmental performance based on the specific features of China’s coal-fired power sector as well as Shenhua Group’s development strategy to be a world-class supplier of clean energy. Using the latest technological achievements, Shenwan constructed a high-capacity, efficient, and low-emissions coal-fired power plant, which is currently considered to be the state of the art in China. For example, the plant boasts the highest steam parameters in China (see Table 1), resulting in the efficient utilization of coal with extremely low emissions.

Liu Table 1


The Anqing Power Plant is located in the middle and lower reaches of the Yangtze River. With recent continuous growth of the regional economy, insufficient power supply has emerged as a bottleneck restricting economic and social development. The construction and commissioning of the Anqing Power Plant’s Phase II 2×1000-MW units have fundamentally alleviated the power shortage in the Anqing region and have increased the stability of the local grid. This has supported increased growth in industrial and agricultural production and an expanding
service sector in the region and the larger province.

The state-of-the-art Shenwan Anqing Power Plant

The state-of-the-art Shenwan Anqing Power Plant

The scope of the construction of the Anqing Phase II project included two identical ultra-supercritical coal-fired power units, including limestone-gypsum wet desulfurization (FGD) and selective catalytic reduction (SCR) denitrification facilities that were built simultaneously.

Construction commenced on 1 March 2013, and the two units were commissioned with the compulsory 168 hours of full-load testing on 31 May and 19 June 2015. Thus, the effective construction period was just over 22 months. The project investment was 6.096 billion yuan (US$950 million) or 3048 yuan/kW (US$478/kW).

The main operating indicators as measured during the full-load test prior to commercial operation are as follows: unit #3 consumed 272.5 g/kWh of coal with a parasitic energy consumption rate of 4.01%; unit #4 consumed 273.9 g/kWh of coal with a parasitic energy consumption rate of 4.06%. Thus, both units operated more efficiently than an average 1000-MW unit in China in 2014, which consumed 287.65 g/kWh of coal with an average parasitic energy consumption of 4.08%.1

The emissions were also measured during the full-load test and were lower than the national emission standards for natural gas-fired power plants. Since passing the 168-hour test, the units and their emissions control systems have continued to operate at the same high standards. In addition to low emissions, 100% of the fly ash, slag, and desulfurization by-products are utilized during normal operation and no wastewater is discharged.


Through research and collaboration between engineers, technicians, and design institutes, the optimization of cost and key operating parameters was carried out concurrently. This helped to save more than 40 million yuan (US$6.3 million) in project investment.

By optimizing purchasing, maximizing competitiveness, and lowering the procurement cost, the best possible price performance ratio was obtained. For the desulfurization system’s absorber alone, the cost was reduced by 12 million yuan (US$1.9 million) compared to the original project budget.

Construction Cost Controls

With effective control of construction costs, the project investment of 6.096 billion yuan (US$950 million) was 547 million yuan (US$85.7 million) lower than the approved project budget of 6.643 billion yuan (US$1.04 billion), and the construction costs were reduced by 8.2%. The unit investment of 3048 yuan/kW (US$477.5/kW) was 152 yuan/kW (US$23.8/kW) lower than the budgeted amount. Cost-saving measures meant that the total project investment was less than that for comparable units in China.


Efficiency was maximized at the Anqing Phase II units mainly by increasing the initial steam parameters and adopting new technologies. Eighty-five new technologies were adopted at the plant, raising the power plant efficiency significantly and reducing coal consumption and emissions.

Perhaps the most important factor related to efficiency was the installation of the ultra-supercritical (USC) steam turbines, which decreases the amount of coal needed per unit of power produced compared to plants that operate at supercritical or subcritical steam conditions. The USC Anqing units are able to operate at steam cycle pressure and temperatures of 28 MPa/600˚C/620˚C—the first time such high parameters were used in China on a plant of this size. Currently, the rated pressure upstream of the main valve of the top three 1000-MW ultra-supercritical steam turbine plants is 25 or 26.25 MPa. Among them, the Waigaoqiao No. 3 plant has the highest pressure, 27 MPa, at the main valve, with main steam and reheat steam temperatures of 600˚C (see Figure 1). After considering all technology options, a main steam pressure of 28 MPa and a reheat steam temperature of 620˚C were selected. Compared to the steam parameters used by conventional 1000-MW units, the Anqing steam turbines’ heat consumption is 53 kJ/kWh lower and the standard coal consumption for power generation was reduced by 1.94 g/kWh. The annual savings, based on standard coal costs, are about 19.8 million yuan (US$3.10 million).

FIGURE 1. Steam turbine of the Anqing Phase II 1000-MW ultra-supercritical units

FIGURE 1. Steam turbine of the Anqing Phase II 1000-MW ultra-supercritical units

Many other technological approaches were also taken to improve the efficiency. For example, grade-9 regenerative extraction (i.e., extracting steam from nine different locations in the turbine to optimize boiler feedwater heating) was adopted. As compared to the typical grade-8 regenerative extraction, heat consumption was reduced by 10 kJ/kWh and standard coal consumption for power generation was reduced by 0.34 g/kWh.

A high-yield water cooling tower designed to save energy compared to a conventional cooling tower (see Figure 2) was used for the first time at a 1000-MW unit in China, reducing the circulating pump lift by 10–11.5 m and reducing noise by 8–10 dB. About 3790 kW/hr of parasitic energy was saved, reducing the plant’s power consumption by 0.38%, and the standard coal consumption for power generation was reduced by about 1 g/kWh.

FIGURE 2. Internal structure of high-level wet cooling tower

FIGURE 2. Internal structure of high-level wet cooling tower

Another approach to saving energy was capturing the waste heat in the flue gas and using it to preheat the boiler feedwater. Operating at the designed full load, the flue gas heat exchanger recovers 44,000 kW of heat, which reduced heat consumption by 45 kJ/kWh, and reduced the plants’ standard coal consumption by 1.65 g/kWh.

Minimizing the backpressure on the steam turbines is another approach to increasing the efficiency of the power plant. Thus, at the Anqing units the backpressure for the units was optimized to improve overall efficiency, with an operating design value of 4.89 kPa. Based on this rated backpressure, heat consumption was reduced by 30 kJ/kWh and the standard coal consumption for power generation was reduced by about 0.75 g/kW for every 1 kPa of reduction in the turbine backpressure. In comparison to a standard unit backpressure of 5.1 kPa, heat consumption was reduced by 6.3 kJ/kW and the standard coal consumption for power generation is reduced by about 0.21 g/kWh.

Through the 11 energy-saving projects that have been implemented, the total heat consumption reduction was 152.1 kJ/kWh in total, and the standard coal consumption for power generation was reduced by a total of 5.51 g/kWh. Assuming an annual operating time of 5500 h, 30,305 tonnes of standard coal can be saved by each of the Anqing units per year.

Comparing the Anqing units with China’s national average for similarly sized plants, their coal consumption is 15.15 g/kWh lower, saving 83,325 tonnes of standard coal per unit every year—a combined savings of 166,650 tonnes of standard coal each year. This means that CO2 emissions can be reduced by about 416,700 tonnes per year, which is a 5% decrease compared to the average 1000-MW plant in China. Compared to the national average of new coal-fired power plants (i.e., 318 g/kWh in 2014) these two units represent a nearly 15% decrease in CO2 emissions.


The Anqing Phase II project incorporated highly advanced flue gas treatment technologies, based on an ultra-low emission technology roadmap. The roadmap includes an electrostatic precipitator (ESP) with a low-temperature economizer, spin exchange coupling FGD, and a rotary tube bundle PM demister. Several of these flue gas treatment devices offer cobenefits that further reduce net emissions.

There are three separate processes in the power plant that remove PM from the flue gas. The high-frequency ESP with three chambers and five electric fields forms the first segment of particulate emissions control. The removal efficiency of PM in the ESP is up to 99.86–99.9% with a concentration around 25 mg/Nm3. The secondary PM removal segment is the efficient spin exchange coupling FGD that removes 60% of the remaining PM. The third approach to PM removal is the low-temperature economizer + rotary tube bundle PM demister, which has a PM removal efficiency of more than 70%. Compared to other PM capture options, the investment and operating costs for the advanced tube bundle PM removal technology were lower, it takes up less space, and it fits well into the general layout of new construction and retrofit projects. In total, the final target of an outlet concentration of PM less than 3 mg/Nm3 can be achieved—exceeding the requirement for a natural gas power plant in China.

The efficient spin exchange coupling wet FGD removes SO2 with an efficiency of 97.8–99.7% (see Figure 3). In the spin exchange coupling efficient-FGD technology, a device termed a “turbulator” has been added between the entering flue gas and first level of the FGD tower, which changes the flow state of the incoming gas from laminar to turbulent and reduces the gas film resistance, so as to increase the liquid-gas contact area, increase the gas-liquid mass transfer rate, and thus increase FGD and PM removal efficiency. This system also requires less power consumption than other FGD systems. In the compulsory 168-hour unit test run, the FGD efficiency reached 99.7%.

FIGURE 3. FGD system based on spin exchange coupling and energy-saving spray

FIGURE 3. FGD system based on spin exchange coupling and energy-saving spray

For removing NOx, low-NOx combustion and SCR using urea as a reducing agent results in a minimum denitrification efficiency of 95%.

Together, this low-emissions technology chain drastically reduces emissions of PM, SO2, NOx, heavy metals, etc. Not only are the emissions less than the national standards where the Anqing plant is sited,2 they are also lower than the emission limits for newly built coal-fired power units in the central regions. In addition, the new units at Anqing actually surpass the limits for gas-fired units as prescribed in the “Action Plan for Coal Energy Saving, Emission Reduction, Upgrading and Alteration (2014–2020)” from the National Development and Reform Commission, Ministry of Environmental Protection and National Energy Administration (see Table 2 for emissions results from the 168-hour test run).3

Liu Table 2


Anqing Phase II’s 2×1000-MW ultra-supercritical expansion project is Shenhua Shenwan Energy Company’s first project to integrate state-of-the-art HELE technologies. The resulting operations have met the expected efficiency and emissions goals. This power plant can serve as a model for China and the international community about what can be achieved regarding construction costs, economic indicators, and emissions reductions when the best HELE technologies are implemented. Through additional optimization of operations, key indicators are expected to further improve. This project is a significant demonstration of the clean and efficient utilization of coal, and the associated reduction in the environmental impact, which is a story worth telling.


  1. China Electricity Council. (2015). 2014 national coal-fired power 600-MW grade unit energy efficiency benchmarking and competition materials. (In Chinese)
  2. Administration of Quality Supervision, Inspection and Quarantine of the Ministry of Environmental Protection. (2011, 29 July). GB13223-2011. Emission Standard of Air Pollutants for Coal-fired Power Plants. China Environmental Science Press, 2–3. (In Chinese)
  3. National Energy Administration, Ministry of Environmental Protection, National Development and Reform Commission. (2015). Action plan for coal energy saving, emission reduction, upgrading and alteration (2014–2020) [EB/OL], news.bjx.com.cn/html/20140922/548573-2.shtml (In Chinese)


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Don’t Count Coal Out of a Lower-Emission U.S. Energy Mix

By Fredrick Palmer
Principal, Green Coal Solutions, LLC
Frank Clemente
Professor Emeritus of Social Science, Penn State University

The 21st Session of the Conference of the Parties (COP21) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) will be held in Paris in December 2015. The goal of COP21 is to achieve a legally binding and universal agreement on climate, capping anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions by 2020 and reducing them to near zero toward the end of the century. The U.S. administration has assured its fellow COP21 negotiators that its commitments are achievable and legal and that it is pursuing national-level policies, such as the Clean Power Plan (CPP), to support those commitments. However, policies at the national level have technical challenges based on the current generation mix and transmission grid, face considerable legal opposition, and must withstand the test of time far longer than the current administration will be in office. Under all circumstances, the authors of this article believe the U.S. should increase the role of cleaner coal technologies as a principal component of achieving its international climate goals while ensuring the country and electricity consumers can continue to rely on a diverse, reliable, and cost-effective energy mix in a low-emissions future.


The ability of the U.S. to meet any commitments made at COP21 is largely contingent on its energy sector. While energy demand in the U.S. has been mostly flat in recent years, there is reason to believe that growth will be observed over the long term. For example, the U.S. population continues to grow. The United Nations Population Division projects that there could be nearly 80 million new Americans by 2050.1 In essence, another population “boom” is yet to come. In the past, the U.S. has relied heavily on coal to meet growing demand. For example, when the U.S. added 105 million people to the population during 1970–2010, coal production increased 100%—by over 500 million tons used each year—and coal provided half of the incremental electric power.2 Today the incremental additions will be more diverse—the U.S. Energy Information Administration’s Annual Energy Outlook (AEO) 2015 projected that incremental electricity capacity will be split equally between renewables and natural gas combined cycle.3 However, the same AEO projected that electricity generation from coal will remain largely flat and still provide over 1660 billion kWh in 2040. By comparison, in 2040 renewables and natural gas combined would contribute about 1200 and 805 billion kWh, respectively (projections exclude the relatively small role of combined heat and power in the U.S.).4 These projections are not inclusive of any regulations, including the CPP.

While the U.S. has relied on coal for decades, the country still has extensive proven coal reserves (shaded).

While the U.S. has relied on coal for decades, the country still has extensive proven coal reserves (shaded).


Through its intended nationally determined contribution, the U.S. has committed to reduce emissions 26–28% by 2025, compared to 2005 levels. Under the U.S. Constitution, if COP21 produced a binding treaty that required the U.S. to meet this commitment, ratification by two thirds of the U.S. Senate would be required. Based on the current makeup of the U.S. Senate, ratification of such a climate treaty is extremely unlikely. Thus, the U.S. administration and negotiators have been careful to avoid any use of the word “treaty”, and as a result any agreement reached by the U.S. will not be binding by definition. Instead, national-level regulations are being advanced through the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).  Namely, the CPP as well as several other measures that are primarily focused on heavy duty vehicles, end user efficiency, and other approaches outside the scope of this article.

The Clean Power Plan faces legal challenges that will likely be decided by the Supreme Court.

The Clean Power Plan faces legal challenges that will likely be decided by the Supreme Court.

The CPP was issued by the executive branch through the EPA under the Clean Air Act and was released on 3 August 2015 after four million comments on the proposed version had been submitted, demonstrating intense societal interest in the U.S. electric sector and coal-based electric generation. The CPP sets a goal to reduce carbon emissions from the power sector 32% below 2005 levels by 2030. To accomplish the emissions reductions the EPA directs the states to compose their own plans to meet compliance based on various low-emission electricity generation technologies, including renewables, energy efficiency, natural gas, nuclear, and carbon capture and storage (CCS)—with CCS requirements being lower compared to the CPP proposal.5 States must submit their initial plans to achieve the emissions reductions to the EPA by September 2016 and two-year extensions can be requested to allow for additional time to finalize the plans. The compliance averaging period begins in 2022.

The U.S. Energy Information Administration previously projected that the proposed CPP would decrease the role of coal in the U.S. electricity mix (no projections were available as this article went to press for the revised CPP).6 Natural gas gains could be displaced by some renewables as the CPP aims to have renewables account for 28% of electricity capacity in 2030.

A robust coal-generation presence in a diverse energy mix helped the U.S. maintain lower electricity rates historically, while reliably meeting demand. Renewables are not able to provide baseload electricity and natural gas has been subject to historical price spikes, will require additional pipeline infrastructure to continue to grow, and cannot easily be stored in the case of a major demand increase (such as the extreme cold snap experienced in early 2014 that sent natural gas prices soaring). Thus, even under the restrictions from the CPP, coal will be maintained in the U.S. energy mix.

Notably, the CPP faces legal challenges and many people are of the view that it will not withstand legal scrutiny, particularly given the constitutional questions that have been raised. With 26 states voicing opposition and both states and organizations set to bring lawsuits against CPP, litigation will begin immediately. Due to the time involved with filing and completing such lawsuits, it is highly unlikely that the CPP will actually be finalized until after President Obama’s tenure in office is over. Phase 1 emissions reductions (20%) are due by 2022 and Phase 2 emissions reductions are due by 2030 (32%). Since the CPP was not passed by Congress and signed into law by the president, it is subject to the will of future presidents. There will be two presidential elections by 2022 and four by 2030. Will all those elected president between now and 2030 fully support the implementation of the CPP? If not, it may not be fully executed and could be reversed. Thus, although the recently released CPP has been termed “final”, considerable challenges remain.


The U.S. has been a global leader in the development and deployment of cleaner coal technologies. Coal-based electricity in the U.S. has increased 183% since 1970, while regulated criteria emissions decreased about 90% per unit of generation.7 The same level of success can be achieved using low-carbon emission coal technologies.

New pulverized-coal combustion systems utilizing supercritical technology achieve much higher efficiencies than traditional plants. Ultra-supercritical plants offering even higher efficiencies are now considered state of the art, but the U.S. has only one such operating plant. Using such technologies, there is much room to increase the energy efficiency of the U.S. fossil fuel fleet. For example, the overall thermal efficiency of the U.S. fleet of coal-fired power plants is only about 33%, although the best 10% of plants in the country have an efficiency of 37%. Boosting the efficiency of the U.S. fleet to 36% would reduce emissions 175 million tonnes per year.8 Though the current regulatory framework may not fully incentivize it, high-efficiency coal-fired power plants could play an important role in reducing emissions. In addition, improving the efficiency of U.S. coal-fired power plants could serve as a steppingstone to development of CCS (and CCUS with utilization), which is broadly recognized as a prerequisite to meeting global climate policy goals.

U.S. coal-fired plant provide reliable and affordable electricity.

U.S. coal-fired plant provide reliable and affordable electricity.

Seven of the 14 CCS projects operating in the world are on U.S. soil. Although progress on CCS has been slow, the U.S. is a leader in the development of the technology. The country must find a way that CCS on coal and natural gas facilities can contribute to a low-emissions future. This approach would enable reliable, domestically produced, safe baseload generation even under carbon emission constraints much stronger than the U.S. has committed to ahead of COP21.


Coal has played a strong role in the U.S. historically for good reason. Reliable and affordable power from coal gave U.S. manufacturers a strong advantage. Indeed, the American Heartland was built and continues to rely on coal. Of the contiguous 48 states, 31 obtain more than 25% of their electricity from coal and 17 states obtain more than 50% of their electricity from coal.9 Thus, large segments of the country will be disproportionally impacted by dramatic decreases in coal power generation. Even the full closure of America’s coal-fired power plant fleet, a scenario not considered feasible by any major energy forecasting organization, would result in only a 1/20th of one-degree temperature change globally.

While the COP21 negotiations are unlikely to deliver specifics in how emissions reduction commitments will be achieved, the regulatory framework in the U.S. is already unfolding as the CPP moves forward. We urge those negotiators, as well as domestic regulators, to consider the important role that coal has and will continue to play in the U.S. and elsewhere. Based on our decades of experience, the authors of this article believe that the U.S., like every other country, is going to put in place policies that are in the best interest of its citizens. In our opinion, that means that the U.S. is going to use more coal in the future than it does today, and minimize the environmental impact with 21st century technologies. Cleaner coal technologies have delivered in the past and can do so again to ensure coal can be a part of a low-emissions future.


  1. United Nations. (2014). World urbanization prospects: 2014 revision, esa.un.org/unpd/wup/Highlights/WUP2014-Highlights.pdf
  2. U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA). (2012, 27 September). Total energy: Coal consumption by sector, 1949–2011 (million short tons), www.eia.gov/totalenergy/data/annual/showtext.cfm?t=ptb0703
  3. EIA. (2015). Annual energy outlook 2015: Electricity generating capacity, www.eia.gov/beta/aeo/#/?id=9-AEO2015
  4. EIA. (2015). Annual energy outlook 2015: Electricity supply, disposition, prices, and emissions, www.eia.gov/beta/aeo/#/?id=8-AEO2015
  5. The White House, Office of the Press Secretary. (2015,
    3 August). Fact sheet: President Obama to announce historic carbon pollution standards for power plants, www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/2015/08/03/fact-sheet-president-obama-announce-historic-carbon-pollution-standards
  6. EIA. (2015). Analysis of the impacts of the Clean Power Plan, www.eia.gov/analysis/requests/powerplants/cleanplan/
  7. DOE, Office of Fossil Energy. (2012, June). Fossil energy research benefits: Clean coal technology demonstration program, energy.gov/sites/prod/files/cct_factcard.pdf
  8. U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), National Energy Technology Laboratory. (2010). Improving the thermal efficiency of coal-fired power plants in the United States, www.netl.doe.gov/File%20Library/Research/Energy%20Analysis/Publications/ThermalEfficCoalFiredPowerPlants-TechWorkshopRpt.pdf
  9. EIA. (2015). Electric power monthly, February, Table 1.6.B. Net generation by state, by sector, year-to-date through December 2014 and 2013 (Thousand Megawatthours), Table 1.7.B. Net generation from coal by state, by sector, year-to-date through December 2014 and 2013 (Thousand Megawatthours), www.eia.gov/electricity/monthly/current_year/february2015.pdf


One of the most significant resources available to understand the importance of coal to the welfare of the American people resides in a series of reports the National Coal Council (NCC) has prepared and submitted to the Secretary of Energy over the last decade. Based in Washington, D.C., the NCC was established in 1984 as a Federal Advisory Committee to the U.S. Secretary of Energy. The NCC provides advice and recommendations to the Secretary on general policy matters relating to coal and the coal industry. The NCC’s Coal Policy Committee develops prospective topics for the Secretary’s consideration. Over the past decade the Council has produced a series of eight extensive empirical studies. These reports, prepared by leading coal and energy researchers, have dealt with the full range of scientific and engineering aspects of coal technologies, including coal utilization, environmental control, and coal conversion.

NCC Cover

Studies of the National Coal Council (2006–2015)
2006: Coal: America’s Energy Future
2007: Technologies to Reduce or Capture and Store Carbon Dioxide Emissions
2008: The Urgency of Sustainable Coal
2009: Low-Carbon Coal
2011: Expedited CCS Development: Challenges & Opportunities
2012: Harnessing Coal’s Carbon Content to Advance the Economy, Environment, and Energy Security
2014: Reliable & Resilient – The Value of Our Existing Coal Fleet
2015: Fossil Forward – Revitalizing CCS: Bringing Scale and Speed to CCS Deployment

The work of the NCC has extensively documented the unique attributes of America’s coal resources: e.g., abundance, accessibility, affordability, security, versatility, sustainability, and amenability to cleaner coal technologies. Much of this information is transferable to the world at large. For more information, visit NCC at


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Economic Development Status Is a Lingering Challenge for COP Negotiations

By Jeremy Bowden
Contributing Author, Cornerstone

Tensions between rich and poor countries have long been among the key fault lines preventing any significant global agreement on climate change. At the heart of the issue is the perception of relative responsibility and, especially for poorer countries, a strong desire at the national level to find a balance between development and climate goals. Representatives of poorer countries readily point out that more wealthy countries are to blame for nearly all historical emissions. Relatively undeveloped economies have low historic emissions and their current per capita emissions intensities have yet to catch up with those in rich countries. In addition, poverty levels in developing countries are much higher and economic development is therefore a priority. Thus, developing countries claim that richer countries should make the first substantial cuts, as well as pay significant compensation (financial and through technology transfer) to support emissions cuts in developing countries.

Most developing countries assert their right to grow their economies using fossil fuels, a path already taken by most developed countries. Due to its low cost and widespread geographical distribution, the energy source of choice for developing countries is often coal. If developing countries’ emissions are to be curbed, wealthier countries would be required to provide financial support, so that adopting low-emission technologies would not stall much-needed
economic growth.

The argument from developing countries is not unfounded. A recent study in the Environmental Research Letters journal1 showed that, based on per capita calculations, the UK is most responsible on a historic basis for greenhouse gas (GHG)  emissions, followed closely by the U.S., Canada, Russia, and Germany (see Figure 1). China, currently the world’s largest emitter, lies in 19th position for cumulative emissions.

FIGURE 1. Historical GHG emissions per capita (non-dimensionalized by maximum from UK)

FIGURE 1. Historical GHG emissions per capita (non-dimensionalized by maximum from UK)

Juxtaposed to this position is the trend, often highlighted by richer countries, of rapid industrialization and rising emissions in the developing world. They accurately point out that unless action is taken by all, the international goal of limiting a global temperature increase to 2˚C will be unachievable.

A major hurdle is the concern from some richer nations that burdening their economies with heavy environmental regulations might disadvantage them when competing with deregulated markets. Thus, an approach to maintain transparency between Parties, a challenge in and of itself, is a vital component of international collaboration on climate change mitigation. This may be particularly challenging as China, for example, has fought against emissions monitoring as part of the United Nations process.2

India’s position can also provide key insight into the challenge. The country has about 300 million people without any access to electricity. Prime Minister Modi has committed to eliminating energy poverty as quickly as possible and is therefore developing the country’s vast solar and coal resources. While the country’s emissions will certainly grow in the near term, India is looking for help to pay for increased renewables and high-efficiency, low-emissions (HELE) coal-fired power plants. In fact, the Indian Environment Minister recently said that a global deal on climate in 2015 will depend on commitments to finance from developed countries.3

The allocation or transfer of public funds from richer countries must compete with other domestic, shorter term demands. Some corporations—particularly in the U.S. and recently in Japan—have discouraged their governments from signing on to any commitments for fear of damaging established interests and investments. Finding the right political balance at the national level to support international negotiations could be a major concern.

A paramount challenge for the Paris negotiations is that any deal must be adopted by all Parties. The agreement from the last round of climate talks, COP20 at Lima in 2014, highlighted the divide by economic development status. The 2014 talks simply reflected the positions of the two camps, with statements that included calls by developing nations that industrialized nations should take the lead in reducing emissions as well as those from industrialized nations that all parties have a responsibility to reduce emissions. The deal lists a number of policy options reflecting current disputes, on which negotiators will have to compromise to reach a final agreement at COP21. Such an agreement would include specifying national contributions and commitments needed to achieve the global target.

While a divide remains between countries of different development status, the gap may be lessening. It is particularly notable that the U.S. and China, the world’s two largest emitters, held separate talks in the run-up to COP21. Perhaps the U.S.-China commitments can lay the groundwork for a larger agreement in Paris. Although the challenge is daunting, and many critical details remain to be worked out, Parties of different development statuses are taking steps toward the global agreement on climate that has been elusive for so long.

The energy, infrastructure, and development challenges that poorer countries face must be addressed at COP21.

The energy, infrastructure, and development challenges that poorer countries face must be addressed at COP21.


Some progress is being made in curbing emissions in developed countries already. For example, up to 2013 the U.S. decreased emissions for five consecutive years, before an increase of 2.5% that year. Other OECD countries also mainly show decreases or minor increases below 2%. The EU’s CO2 emissions, which started to decrease in 2006, continued to decrease by 1.4% in 2013, at a faster rate than what was observed in 2012. CO2 emissions in emerging economies mainly increased in 2013. For example, increases were observed in India (4.4%), Brazil (6.2%), and Indonesia (2.3%). Based on commitments made to date, emissions from India and China combined are predicted to account for nearly three times that of the EU and U.S. combined by 2030—well over one third of the world’s total emissions, according to a recent report from the Economic & Social Research Council Centre for Climate Change Economics and Policy.4

However, looking at net emissions and general trends does not tell the entire story. It is also important to consider per capita emissions, which are generally significantly lower in emerging economies. Even in China, the world’s manufacturing center (some of whose emissions could be considered exported as companies have shifted their manufacturing work to the country), in 2013 the emissions per capita level of 7.4 tonnes per person exceeded the mean EU level of 7.3 tonnes for the first time, but still remained under half the U.S. level of 16.6 tonnes. Notably, China has been successfully decreasing the emissions intensity of its economy—by 3.1% in 2013.

Emission trends give yet another example of how the divide is clear. There are many Parties that will not be able to commit to major reductions in emissions in the near term and reducing emissions versus business as usual will require financial support. This is due not to a lack of will or concern about climate change, but rather to a greater concern to eradicate poverty.


In advance of COP21, countries are indicating publically their intended post-2020 climate action commitments in the form of Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs). According to the agreement reached in Lima, INDCs must be “fair and ambitious” in light of a country’s historical responsibility, current level of emissions, emissions trajectory, per capita emissions intensity, and financial capability. However, exactly how the INDCs should be worked out remains in dispute. In 2014, calculators aimed at evaluating what level of cuts various countries should make were released by researchers, but have not gained widespread support. Other suggestions to assess how much countries should cut emissions include a concept spearheaded by Brazil, which puts each one in a series of three “concentric circles”, with the poorest on the outside contributing the least in terms of cuts, while at the center are the richest and longest term emitters, which should contribute the most.5 While this approach attempts to blur the lines between Parties’ economic development status, the fundamental barriers remain.

Another fault line revolves around INDC scope. The EU and the U.S. have been unable to agree on what year to compare their emissions reductions against (1990 for the EU and 2005 for the U.S.), but both want the INDCs to be largely focused on tackling their own emissions. However, developing countries are pushing for pledges to include aid for adaptation and mitigation, without which they would have insufficient means to finance low-emission development. In fact, INDCs from poor countries often include two commitments: what could be done with financial support and what they could afford to do without it.

There has been movement to provide support to poorer countries. A Green Climate Fund has been set up providing US$10 billion per year, along with other conduits, such as the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM), which allows industrialized countries to invest in climate-friendly projects in poor countries and earn carbon credits in exchange to help meet their targets. Overall the financial transfer from all sources in the rich world to developing countries is pencilled in to rise to US$100 billion a year by 2020, although such commitments may not be fully backed in the INDCs for COP21. There is also the matter of from where the $100 billion in low-carbon financing will come. National leaders have stressed that contributions from the public sector (i.e., taxpayers) will be minimal, but the question remains as to whether the private sector can and will provide this level of funding and under what mechanisms.

Although their relative magnitude may be difficult to decipher, the INDCs are being submitted—29 submissions representing 57 Parties had been filed at the time this publication went to press. The world’s three largest emitters have all submitted commitments. The EU’s INDC puts forward a legally binding commitment to reduce its overall emissions at least 40% below 1990 levels by 2030. The INDCs of the U.S. and China largely reflect their previous talks—with the U.S. committed to reducing emissions 26–28% by 2025 and China reducing carbon intensity of GDP by 60–65%, both compared to 2005 levels. Other large emitters that had submitted INDCs at the time of publication include Russia, Mexico, and Canada.


Regardless of their relative economic development status, all Parties will need increased deployment of low-emission technologies to meet commitments made at COP21. The International Energy Agency has outlined six tranches required to limit climate change to 2˚C at the lowest costs. These include renewables, carbon capture and storage (CCS) (including utilization), improved demand and supply side efficiency, end-use fuel switching, and increased nuclear power. While all tranches are important, according to the IPCC, if CCS is not included in the low-emission energy mix, the costs will increase more than if any other tranche is limited—to the tune of a 138% increase in costs (median estimate).6 HELE technologies may also be an important step toward deployment of CCS.

Low-emission technologies, including high-efficiency power plants and CCS, must be important building blocks to achieve emissions reductions.

Low-emission technologies, including high-efficiency power plants and CCS, must be important building blocks to achieve emissions reductions.

The move to deploy low-emission technologies has already begun and, in some cases, emerging economies are leading the way. For example, China is already the world’s largest investor in renewables, with plenty of space to increase renewable utilization. In addition, the country is replacing smaller, inefficient coal-fired power plants with larger, high-efficiency units. The country also looks to transition its economy toward more growth in the less energy-intensive service sector. However, even if China’s coal use is capped by 2020 as has been suggested, it is likely to be capped at an amount over 3.5 billion tonnes per year, highlighting the need to utilize clean coal technologies to meet any climate commitments. China is already working to improve the efficiency of its coal fleet, and has recently increased its involvement in carbon capture, utilization, and storage research.


COP21 may not deliver the deep, universal commitments hoped for by some. However, if it can provide a framework under which the world can work together to deploy low-emission technologies, reduce emissions over time, and help the poorest countries to grow their economies, then it could be considered a monumental success.


  1. Matthews, D., Graham, T.L., Keverian, S., Lamontagne, C., Seto, D., & Smith, T.J. (2014). National contributions to observed global warming. Environmental Research Letters, 9, iopscience.iop.org/1748-9326/9/1/014010/pdf/1748-9326_9_1_014010.pdf
  2. Adams, M. (2014, 15 December). China’s double-edged pact. New York Times, www.nytimes.com/2014/12/16/opinion/chinas-double-edged-pact.html
  3. McGregor, I. (2014, 5 November). Global climate change policy: Will Paris succeed where Copenhagen failed?, www.e-ir.info/2014/11/05/global-climate-change-policy-will-paris-succeed-where-copenhagen-failed/
  4. Boyd, R., Stern, N., & Ward, B. (2015). What will global annual emissions of greenhouse gases be in 2030, and will they be consistent with avoiding global warming of more than 2°C?, www.lse.ac.uk/GranthamInstitute/wp-content/uploads/2015/05/Boyd_et_al_policy_paper_May_2015.pdf
  5. Responding to Climate Change. (2015, 6 March). UN climate body needs “automatic” system to split right and poor, www.rtcc.org/2015/03/06/un-climate-body-needs-automatic-system-to-decide-whos-rich-and-poor/
  6. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. (2014). Working Group III, Climate change 2014: Mitigation of climate change, report.mitigation2014.org/drafts/final-draft-postplenary/ipcc_wg3_ar5_final-draft_postplenary_technical-summary.pdf


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Deploying Clean Energy in Asia: An Exclusive Interview With Ashok Bhargava of the Asian Development Bank

By Holly Krutka
Executive Editor, Cornerstone

As Director of the Energy Division in the East Asia Department of the Asian Development Bank (ADB), Ashok Bhargava oversees energy-sector operations in the People’s Republic of China (PRC) and Mongolia. He is an electrical engineer with a Master’s Degree in Business Administration and has more than 33 years of energy-sector experience in the Asia-Pacific region and more than 13 years’ experience in the PRC energy sector.

Ashok Bhargava, Director of the Energy Division, East Asia Department, Asian Development Bank

Ashok Bhargava, Director of the Energy Division, East Asia Department, Asian Development Bank

His direct ADB project experience includes innovative, first-of-its-kind, low-carbon technology projects such as integrated gasification combined-cycle (IGCC), concentrated solar power (CSP), carbon capture, utilization, and storage (CCUS), shale gas, and distributed renewable energy. As Team Leader, he processed the PRC’s first multi-tranche financing facility (MFF) in 2006 and its first IGCC power plant in 2010.

Currently, Mr. Bhargava is also Chair, Energy Sector Group, providing leadership and guidance to ADB’s energy-sector operations. He represents ADB in the Carbon Sequestration Leadership Forum, the Global CCS Institute, and the Clean Energy Ministerial CCUS working group.

An Australian national, Mr. Bhargava worked with a large-infra-structure consulting firm, a multinational power company in Australia, and a large public-sector generation utility in India, prior to joining ADB.

Q: What are the objectives of the Asian Development Bank that ultimately drive its investment decisions?

A: The Asian Development Bank (ADB) was founded in 1966. It has 67 member countries of which 48 are regional and 19 are non-regional members. ADB aims for an Asia and Pacific free of poverty. While it has achieved a significant reduction in extreme poverty, approximately 1.4 billion people in the region are still poor.

The ADB aims to reduce poverty through inclusive growth in the region.

The ADB aims to reduce poverty through inclusive growth in the region.

Since its inception, ADB has been dedicated to improving people’s lives in Asia and the Pacific. By targeting its investments wisely, in partnership with its developing member countries and other stakeholders, ADB aims to alleviate poverty and help create a region in which everyone can share in the benefits of sustained and inclusive growth.

ADB assistance is provided through loans, grants, policy dialogue, technical assistance, and equity investments. Our individual investments are rigorously assessed on a set of quality dimensions to check their strategic fit with our country partnership strategies and national programs, their development outcomes and impacts, techno-economic feasibility, social and environmental safeguard compliances, risks, achievability, and sustainability of development outcome and impacts. In 2014, ADB’s operations totaled nearly US$23 billion, including co-financing of US$9 billion.

Q: What percentage of funding from ADB is directed toward energy-related programs? Can you explain how adequate, affordable, and reliable power is important to achieve sustained and inclusive growth?

A: Energy is a core priority area of ADB assistance and operations throughout the region. During the period 2008–2014, about US$28 billion, or a quarter of total ADB financing, were for energy-related programs. In 2014, out of the total ADB financing operations of US$23 billion, about a quarter—US$6.6 billion—were for energy-related projects. Since 2009, ADB has targeted an annual commitment of US$1 billion lending for clean energy, which has since doubled from 2013 to US$2 billion annually.

About 600 million people in the Asia-Pacific region lack access to basic electricity. There are strong correlations between access to electricity and poverty. Under ADB’s Energy for All initiative, we are supporting regional governments’ goals and targets to provide universal access to electricity. So far, ADB assistance under Energy for All has directly brought electricity to more than 10 million homes that did not previously have electricity. A 2010 independent study on rural electrification in Bhutan found that electrification of households (i) increases nonfarm income, allowing families to pursue microenterprises; (ii) improves health conditions by reducing the use of polluting sources of energy, such as fuelwood, kerosene, and candles; and (iii) supports education for children by allowing for safer travel to and from school and the completion of homework at night.

Reliable and adequate electricity supply is essential for the economic growth and well-being of people across the region. Many countries in the Asia-Pacific region face chronic electricity shortages that constrain economic growth. As an illustration, acute electricity shortages in Pakistan of up to 20 hours per day have crippled economic growth, leading to civil strife and factory closures. One estimate suggests that the lack of electricity is causing at least a 2% reduction in Pakistan’s gross domestic product.

A Pakistani shopkeeper rents lanterns to keep his business open during electricity load shedding.

A Pakistani shopkeeper rents lanterns to keep his business open during electricity load shedding.

Q: ADB supports projects for electricity production from diverse sources. Can you describe the benefits of a diverse energy mix in the region?

A: A diverse source of electricity is essential to overcome demand-supply variability during the course of the day and seasons. Hydropower and natural gas plants are commonly used to supply peaking electricity because they can start and generate electricity up to their full load capacity very rapidly. But unlike coal, natural gas and hydropower resources are unevenly distributed across the Asia-Pacific region. Moreover, importing and transporting natural gas are capital intensive. Thus, coal is also used in many countries for peaking power.

Hydropower plants are being deployed, where possible, as part of a diverse energy mix supported by the ADB.

Hydropower plants are being deployed, where possible, as part of a diverse energy mix supported by the ADB.

Diverse sources for electricity production are also an energy security imperative. Since electricity demand is rising rapidly across the region, many large economies with considerable coal reserves have used coal to rapidly build up new capacity. Many countries in the region also rely on fossil fuel imports to produce electricity. Yet, they have substantial indigenous renewable energy sources which they can deploy. Moreover, growing environmental and climate change constraints are also driving investments in new and alternative sources of electricity production. ADB promotes a diversified energy mix with a higher share of renewable and low-carbon sources to meet the goals of reliable electricity supply with minimal environmental and climate change footprints.

Q: In 2013, loans were approved to support the Jamshoro Power Generation Project in Pakistan. Can you describe this project, its benefits, and the reasons to support it?

A: Under its Energy Policy 2009, ADB has been selectively supporting new coal-based power plants in its developing member countries after a careful consideration of alternate scenarios. Project-specific investment decisions for coal-based plants are made when the economic rationale is overwhelming. In 2012, in Pakistan, heavy fuel oil (HFO) was the major source (34%) of electricity in the generation mix followed by hydropower (32%), natural gas (26%), nuclear (5%), high-speed diesel (1.65%), and coal (0.07%) with the balance made up of wind power and power imports. The demand-supply gaps for electricity were continuously increasing and resultant electricity shortages were crippling the economy. In addition, HFO reliance was driving up the cost of electricity and worsening the electricity sector’s financial health. With the dwindling domestic gas supply and much longer gestation period for hydropower, new coal-based capacity was found to be the least-cost option and most suitable economic choice to urgently address the demand-supply gap.

ADB approved financing for a coal-based supercritical plant at Jamshoro with enhanced pollution control measures to reduce emissions. The first of two 660-MW units is entirely financed by ADB in partnership with the Islamic Development Bank with the second unit expected to leverage further co-financing. On completion, the two units will produce 8400 gigawatt hours (GWh) of electricity each year. This will allow fuel cost savings of US$535 million annually due to avoided HFO import. ADB also launched a high-level study to assess the potential for carbon capture and storage (CCS) in Pakistan and sought design provisions in the project for potential CCS retrofit when it is economically feasible. In short, ADB financing not only addressed the core-sector problem of capacity shortages but leveraged introduction of a highly efficient, low-emissions plant, representing the first time such a plant will be installed in Pakistan.

Although there are many HELE coal-fired power plants in the Asia-Pacific region, the Jamshoro power plant will be the first such facility in Pakistan.

Although there are many HELE coal-fired power plants in the Asia-Pacific region, the Jamshoro power plant will be the first such facility in Pakistan.

Q: Can you elaborate further on any other high-efficiency, low-emissions, coal-fueled projects currently being supported by the ADB and the importance of such technologies?

A: Apart from climate change impacts, the prevailing poor air quality in urban areas mainly in coal-dependent large economies such as India and the PRC is a growing concern. Modern high-efficiency, low-emissions (HELE) coal-based electricity generation plants with enhanced pollution control measures can address these twin challenges. On one hand, improved efficiency will reduce carbon footprints; on the other hand, some advanced HELE plants can approach the criteria air pollution levels of a traditional natural gas plant. In the PRC, ADB financed the first 250-MW integrated gasification combined-cycle (IGCC) power plant at Tianjin, which is in successful operation. If coal continues to be a fuel of choice for electricity generation, HELE plants offer a pragmatic policy approach to address the energy trilemma of energy security and access, economic development, and environmental issues. Combined with CCS, these plants can cut carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions significantly. ADB is currently appraising a pilot CCS project at the Tianjin IGCC plant.

Q: The ADB has recently supported several CCS-focused projects in developing countries. Can you explain why the development of CCS is critical for the ADB-covered region? 

A: Fossil fuel dependency in Asia, especially on carbon-intensive coal, is well known and documented. ADB’s developing member countries include some of the largest coal consumers globally, such as the PRC, India, and Indonesia. Thereby these countries are some of the largest CO2 emitters. These countries have prioritized energy efficiency improvement and aggressive renewable energy deployment to reduce growth of their CO2 emissions. The PRC now invests more in renewable energy capacity addition than in coal-based power plants and aims to cap coal use by 2020. However, weaning away from coal has been rather slow. In fact, significant new capacity for coal-based power plants will come online in the next 10–25 years. Since CCS is the only near-commercial technology that can cut up to 90% of CO2 emissions from coal-based plants, CCS becomes essential for meeting anticipated long-term CO2 emission goals in the PRC and other similar large economies of the region.

ADB has set up a CCS-dedicated fund with contributions from the Global CCS Institute and the UK government to support capacity development, undertake strategic analyses to identify a role for CCS in its developing member countries, implement pilot CCS projects to enhance understanding of CCS, and prepare large-scale fully integrated CCS projects. In the PRC, a roadmap for CCS demonstration and deployment was recently finalized which identified significant low-cost (<$25/ton CO2) opportunities to demonstrate CCS. It also highlighted the essential role of CCS in the low-carbon portfolio of technologies to meet an anticipated long-term carbon-constrained world.


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Discounting Innovation Could Undermine Climate Objectives

By Robin Batterham
Kernot Professor of Engineering, University of Melbourne

Many observers maintain high hopes for the 21st Conference of the Parties (COP21) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) to be held in Paris this December. Meeting these aspirations would mean that an international agreement has been reached that will set all nations on a path to serious emissions reductions.

Despite goodwill among the parties, to reach 21 conferences and still find global emissions set to skyrocket from around 37 billion tonnes of CO2 per year today to 46 billion tonnes of CO2 per year by 2035 is telling. Put simply, and without denying anthropogenic impact on climate is measurable, 21 conferences and a rise of 25% over the next couple decades suggests that current messages on climate risks and emissions reduction scenarios, particularly of the more extreme variety, are not having sufficient impact to overcome the headwinds facing a global agreement on climate.1

Peruvian Foreign Affairs Minister Reinel at the opening ceremony of the 2014 United Nations Climate Change Conference (Credit: Peru Ministerio de Relaciones Exteriores)

Peruvian Foreign Affairs Minister Reinel at the opening ceremony of the 2014 United Nations Climate Change Conference (Credit: Peru Ministerio de Relaciones Exteriores)

COP21 will occur with a sense of urgency, albeit in a cyclone of conflicting opinions, interests, and rhetoric. At such an important moment, it is worthwhile to pause and consider some realities about the world’s energy system, the challenges it faces, and how these challenges might be overcome. In this way arguments about fault and responsibility (i.e., how, how much, by whom, who will pay, etc.) can be sidestepped and negotiations can start from common ground.

COP21 is unlikely to be the last step for the world to reach a final agreement on its exact emissions goals. However, broad agreement already exists that anthropogenic inputs to the climate are observable. Further, there is considerable support for minimizing emissions.

If we start from this common ground, the nature of the dialogue changes to focus on how much and who will pay. This is familiar territory. We make such commitments in our everyday lives when we prioritize our own limited resources toward education, infrastructure, support for the arts and sports, etc. The difference with minimizing global emissions, however, is that strategies to minimize emissions have access to a growing base of low-emission technologies on which they can rely.


In the world of climate and energy, promissory notes and aspirations are abundant. The recent meeting of G7 leaders in Bavaria, for example, targeted zero emissions by 2100. Such an objective implies that negative emissions will be required because emissions are largely inevitable from some sectors or industries, such as cement and metal production. Negative emissions are possible. For example, power generation achieved by co-firing biomass and coal with carbon capture and storage (CCS, which includes CCUS for the purposes of this article) is one of the very few large-scale approaches to realizing negative emissions. Others have focused on achieving negative emissions by capturing CO2 directly from air (see article on page 55); although the costs for this approach would likely be higher than CCS from power plants, it maybe be a worthwhile technology to have at our collective disposal.

There are some basic truisms around technology and innovation that deserve consideration. First, the cost of delivering a product falls in real terms as a result of innovation. This conclusion is supported by data covering hundreds of years and numerous examples (see Figure 1). Comparing the production rate of various goods versus a nominal sales price (in $/tonne) yields a strongly linear relationship when plotted on a log-log plot.

FIGURE 1. Commodity price versus global production Note: The author acknowledges the contribution of Prof. Peter Seligman, University of Melbourne, to the generation of this data and figure.

FIGURE 1. Commodity price versus global production
Note: The author acknowledges the contribution of Prof. Peter Seligman, University of Melbourne, to the generation of this data and figure.

The second point is that existing technologies inevitably face replacement. Computers are a classic example. For the same price, computational power continues increasing. This has happened not solely because a particular technology has continuously improved, but also because new technologies have been introduced. For example, few computer users today are familiar with the ferrite core memory used in the 1950s. For those that weren’t around then, computer memory was made by hand by threading fine wires through tiny ferrite cores and 8 kb of memory was quite impressive.


There are many examples where innovation and learning by doing have reduced the cost of environmental technologies. For example, the delivered costs of solar cells and offshore wind have already fallen and are projected to continue to do so for quite some time. As renewables have become less expensive, their potential role in emission reductions has increased, but even so they make up only one tranche of the required emissions reductions. Alone, renewables are not enough,2 and the discussion at COP21 must reflect that fact. High-efficiency power plants, CCS, and other technologies for fossil fuels must be included in the discussion.

There are also many historical examples of cost reductions in the coal-fired power plant sector. One such example, which is often compared directly to CCS, is the development of wet desulfurization scrubbers for coal-fired power plants in the U.S. where capital costs decreased by about half as the deployment of the technology grew.3 According to the Global CCS Institute, current cost estimates show that coal with CCS could be less expensive than other low-emissions options, such as electricity from biomass, wind offshore, solar PV, and solar thermal.4 This cost comparison did not factor in high reliability and any capacity to follow electricity demand. Perhaps with greater application and innovation, costs could be further reduced.

Reducing the cost of emissions control is certainly not limited to the U.S. Emissions control technologies have been developed and applied more recently in China (see Table 1), where the costs of producing increasingly clean power using coal also continue to fall. Various companies in China have been installing ultra-low emissions technologies to coal-fired power plants. These plants boast world-class technologies: ultra-supercritical boilers with CO2 emissions up to 30% lower (courtesy of the higher operating efficiency) as well as SOx, NOx, and particulate matter removal systems. These high-efficiency, low-emissions (HELE) plants are hugely important, although CCS and CCUS will be necessary for the deep cuts in emissions needed to support international climate goals.

TABLE 1. Performance of an ultra-low emissions coal-fired power station compared with China’s national standards for natural gas plants in key areas5

Some of the ultra-low emissions plants in China are quite large, up to 1000 MW per boiler, with the result that the economic penalty for this low emission performance is less than 0.35 US₵/kWh. On-grid costs in China from such plants, in-
cluding the emissions controls, provide electricity at about half the cost of natural gas-fired electricity in the country. These plants are truly state of the art and I encourage anyone that has the opportunity to visit one to do so. Based on my experience, it is more like visiting an aerospace operation than a power station, such are the standards of design and cleanliness of operation.

Considering the gains being made through the application of HELE technologies in China, the role of CCS takes on a new meaning. Despite the glamorous and oft-repeated tales of how a single invention went on to change the world, the majority of technological takeovers are the result of incorporating leading edge technologies, often in combination, to yield marked improvements. Mobile phones are not a single invention, nor will be the low-emissions energy mix of the future.

In addition to CCS, there are other potential ground-breaking technologies in the pipeline. The recent efforts to use both heating and cooling of turbine blades are a case in point. Such technology allows coal-fired power stations to spin up to meet demand at a rate similar to a gas-fired power station, thereby turning coal into a fast-change load-following energy source. The use of coal directly injected into diesel engines (DICE) also allows rapid start-up. Both technologies would allow for more renewables into a grid. DICE also delivers a higher efficiency than existing coal-fired plants and could be coupled with CCUS.6


One is reminded that, in terms of timing, there are many projections of how existing fossil fuel and nuclear power plants must be phased out, because they have reached the end of their economic lives. To me, this is somewhat wishful thinking in that, unless mandated, most plants can be renewed as brownfield sites meaning that their economic lives can be extended.

In fact, brownfield economics are often more attractive than greenfield economics. For example, the total refurbishment of the Boundary Dam brown coal-fired power station in Saskatchewan retrofitted with CCS shows that an old asset can be rejuvenated, that emissions can be reduced, even for brown coal, by 80%, that the first-of-a-kind risks have been overcome and, importantly, it is producing very real insight into the costs of CCS.

It is quite reasonable to expect that CCS/CCUS costs will follow a downward trajectory similar to other low-emissions energy technologies. In fact, the first steps to reducing costs of CCS/CCUS are ready to be realized. The owners and operators of SaskPower’s Boundary Dam project are already suggesting that the full-scale costs of the next plant will be 30% lower.

Boundary Dam owners and operators have already identified cost savings that will make the next post-combustion CCS plant less expensive. (Credit: SaskPower)

Boundary Dam owners and operators have already identified cost savings that will make the next post-combustion CCS plant less expensive. (Credit: SaskPower)


It is technological innovation that will eventually drive emissions down. The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) has done some interesting work in terms of what drives innovation in low-emissions power generation. Their working definition of “clean energy” includes solar, wind, small and large hydroelectric, geothermal, marine, biomass and waste-to-energy power plants, carbon capture and storage (CCS) technologies, and energy-efficient technologies such as smart grids and electric vehicles.7 According to their recent report: “Production and activities in the solar-PV and wind-energy sectors are increasingly reliant on imported intermediate inputs. Policies aimed at protecting domestic manufacturers may thus hinder the profitability of downstream activities, e.g. by raising the cost of inputs.” In essence, the most effective route for innovation is to encourage international competition.8

The OECD results and the language are clear: “Policies that promote open, competitive and demand-driven markets for clean energy will support the continued cost reductions needed for a cost-effective transition to a low-emissions energy system, reducing the amount of public incentives needed to scale up the deployment of clean technologies.”8

Recent and detailed modeling of the Australian electricity market out to 2050 suggests that, in the absence of a price on carbon or other forms of support for low-emissions tech-nologies, deep abatements are still possible. It is only a case of how much the market is prepared to bear. Brear et al. suggest that for 80% reduction by 2050 compared to 2000 levels, CCS and nuclear are highly competitive in Australia.9

The lesson from history is that the route to low emissions is primarily about technology. To predict which technologies will evolve, which will emerge, and the rate and the costs is unlikely to be successful. Against this proposition we need to be generous in our thinking and allow a wide range of activities. CCS is just as likely to help deliver our 2050 targets even more economically than a wholesale flight to renewables.


Emissions reductions with reasonable economics and impact should be our collective target. This is all doable and should include all options, CCS being quite attractive on economic grounds. The discussion should be about how much we can afford to pay. Given the lack of global progress on emissions reduction to date, perhaps this is also what the wider population has already told us.


  1. BP. (2015). BP energy outlook 2035, bp.com/energyoutlook
  2. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. (2014). Working Group III, Climate change 2014: Mitigation of climate change, report.mitigation2014.org/drafts/final-draft-postplenary/ipcc_wg3_ar5_final-draft_postplenary_technical-summary.pdf
  3. Rubin, E. (2014, 2 June). Reducing the cost of CCS through “learning by doing”, Presented at the Clearwater Coal Conference, Clearwater, FL, U.S., www.cmu.edu/epp/iecm/rubin/PDF%20files/2014/Reducing%20the%20Cost%20of%20CCS%20through%20Learning%20by%20Doing.pdf
  4. Global CCS Institute. (2015, 27 July). The costs of CCS and other low-carbon technologies: 2015 update, www.globalccsinstitute.com/publications/costs-ccs-and-other-low-carbon-technologies-2015-update
  5. Ling, W. (2015). Shenhua’s evolution from coal producer to clean energy supplier. Cornerstone 3(1), 10–14, cornerstonemag.net/shenhuas-evolution-from-coal-producer-to-clean-energy-supplier/
  6. Brockway, D., & Wibberley, L. (2014). DICE power and Victorian brown coal. Brown Coal Industry Australia R&D Roundtable Forum, 15 October.
  7. Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development. (2015). Overcoming barriers to international investment in clean energy, OECD Publishing, Paris. DOI: dx.doi.org/10.1787/9789264227064-en
  8. Haščič, I., Johnstone, N., Watson, F., & Kaminker, C. (2010, 15 December). Climate policy and technological innovation and transfer: An overview of trends and recent empirical results, OECD Environment Working Papers, No. 30, dx.doi.org/10.1787/5km33bnggcd0-en
  9. Brear, M.J., Jeppesen, M., Chattopadhyay, D., Manzie, C.G., Dargaville, R., & Alpcan, T. (2015). Least cost, utility scale abatement from Australia’s National Electricity Market (NEM). Part 2: scenarios and policy implications, submitted to Energy.


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Considering the Contribution of Technology Ahead of COP21

By Benjamin Sporton
Chief Executive, World Coal Association

As 2015 draws to a close, one event will stand out in the calendars of all those connected to the energy industry. COP21 begins in Paris on 30 November—and, for two weeks, delegates will work to achieve a universally binding agreement on the climate. The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) Conference has been held annually since the Berlin Mandate in 1995; however, the build-up to the Paris convention has certainly been more intense than in previous years. The ongoing divestment campaign and the G7 leaders’ recent commitment to phase out carbon emissions by the end of the century shows there is real ambition ahead of Paris. This ambition, however, cannot ignore the reality that energy from coal, oil, and gas will be vital to global development ambitions. In order to succeed, any climate agreement must gain the backing of all UN member states and it is unrealistic to expect the world’s many developing countries to abandon the most reliable and affordable sources of energy available to them. For many countries, that means coal will be part of their energy mix for decades.


China is the most obvious example of a country that has rapidly developed using coal. Over the past three decades the country has connected 99% of its population to the grid and seen its economy grow at an astonishing rate.1 China is now renowned for its exports. None of this development would have been possible without the use of coal, of which it has plenty. Many other countries in the region also have access to considerable coal reserves and they will likely follow China’s lead. In Southeast Asia, coal consumption is projected to rise by 4.8% a year through to 2035, and coal production is set to grow by 2.4% in the same period.2 With this forecast in place, it would be irresponsible for ministers at COP21 to ignore the role that cleaner coal technologies need to play in mitigating CO2 emissions.

China’s dramatic export growth has been fueled primarily by coal.

China’s dramatic export growth has been fueled primarily by coal.

It is vital that funding and attention are turned toward cleaner coal technologies. High-efficiency, low-emissions (HELE) technologies and carbon capture, use, and storage (CCUS) have the potential to dramatically reduce emissions from coal-fired power generation, while still meeting the demand for coal.


HELE technologies can increase the efficiency of coal-fired power plants to such an extent that some two gigatonnes (Gt) of CO2 emissions could be cut each year.3 Such an emissions reduction could be achieved by increasing the current global average efficiency of the world’s coal fleet from 33% to 40% with off-the-shelf technology. To put that figure in some context, reducing CO2 emissions by 2 Gt is the equivalent of running the Kyoto Protocol three times over, or equal to India’s total annual CO2 emissions.3

High-efficiency, low-emissions technologies could reduce global emissions by 2 Gt each year.

High-efficiency, low-emissions technologies could reduce global emissions by 2 Gt each year.

Bringing this technology to all new coal-fired power plants would have a huge impact in reducing CO2 emissions around the world, while retaining the two characteristics that make coal such an attractive energy source: its affordability and its abundance. HELE technologies are the most logical way to target both energy access and the climate, treating those issues as integrated priorities. Therefore, HELE technologies should be recognized by climate negotiators in Paris as essential and requiring international support.


Carbon capture, use, and storage (CCUS) is another key technology that has much potential to reduce CO2 emissions while maintaining the affordability and availability of coal, other fossil fuels, and biomass and waste. In the process of CCS/CCUS the CO2 can be stored or, alternatively, used in enhanced oil recovery (CO2-EOR), a process which has been in use for decades. CO2-EOR is important because it can provide a useful revenue stream to reduce the cost of early large-scale CCUS demonstrations. The recent success of SaskPower’s Boundary Dam Carbon Capture Project in Canada demonstrates that CCUS is both viable and affordable for electricity from coal.


Operational since 2014, Boundary Dam is the world’s first commercial-scale post-combustion coal-fired CCS project, and a benchmark of what can be achieved using this technology. Located near Estevan, Saskatchewan, Boundary Dam provides a reliable baseload of 110 MW of electricity a year, while also reducing annual greenhouse gas emissions by one million tonnes of CO2,4 equivalent to taking a quarter of a million cars off the province’s roads. Much of the captured CO2 at Boundary Dam is used in CO2-EOR at nearby oil fields, while some is stored as part of the Aquistore Project at a depth of 3.4 kilometers in a layer of brine-filled sandstone.5 Added to this, the process also captures 100% of the plant’s SOx emissions and 56% of its NOx emissions, again proving just how valuable a tool advanced technologies are in reducing the environ-mental impact from coal.


While climate change is obviously a significant challenge, economic development and poverty alleviation are also key issues facing much of the world. Coal has a track record of fueling economic development, and reliable energy is vital to improving the lives of people in the developing world; however, this does not mean that we have to follow an unsustainable path. Low-emission technologies, such as HELE and CCUS, provide us with the opportunity to tackle all three of these issues simultaneously, using the same solution.

This vision was the inspiration behind the World Coal Association’s “Platform for Accelerating Coal Efficiency” (PACE) initiative. PACE envisages that, for all countries choosing to use coal, the most efficient power plant technology possible is deployed. The overriding objective would be to raise the global average efficiency of coal-fired plants, minimizing CO2 emissions while maintaining legitimate economic development and poverty alleviation efforts.3 As urbanization increases and countries look to develop their economies, we cannot ignore that demand for affordable, reliable energy will continue to grow. It is crucial that those at COP21 in Paris recognize not only this fact, but also the huge potential of both HELE technologies and CCUS. We are now at a point where action can be taken to dramatically reduce CO2 emissions without reducing the affordability or reliability of people’s energy sources. This is an opportunity which must be taken for the sake of both the environment and the 1.3 billion people who live each day without proper access to energy.6

PACE would see countries using coal employing the best possible technologies.

PACE would see countries using coal employing the best possible technologies.


The criticism leveled at fossil fuels has grown over recent years, particularly as the divestment campaign has gained momentum. In order to maximize the possibility of achieving the world’s two degree Celsius (2˚C) target, action must be taken immediately. Countries like India, Indonesia, and many more in the region will see the progress China has made over recent decades and be aware that coal-fired generation is, for them, a critical part of their path toward economic growth and development. It may seem simpler for the international community to wish away coal’s role in the energy mix, but that is not a realistic prospect. Indian Power Minister Piyush Goyal has previously described coal as playing an “essential role” in his $250-billion plan to provide “Power for All” by 2019, and the International Energy Agency (IEA) forecasts coal’s share in the total Indian energy supply to rise from its current 43% to 51% by 2035.7 Obviously, India shows no sign of slowing down the rate of its coal consumption, which makes it clearer still that 21st century coal technologies are vital to any hopes of a global climate agreement. It would be foolish to expect a country such as India, with the world’s second largest population, to turn its back on coal, giving up its opportunity to develop in an affordable and reliable way. A similar story can be told for many other emerging and developing economies in Asia.


COP21 in Paris is being heralded by some as the last chance to avoid irreversible climate change, but the task of generating a consensus among a group of countries at very different stages of their development will be monumental. Affordable and reliable sources of energy are critical to development and this makes coal the logical choice for many developing and emerging economies. Such countries will not support an agreement that hampers their ability to develop. However, advancements in technology provide a pathway to compromise. HELE technologies and CCUS offer the potential for energy needs to be met, while also making huge reductions in global CO2 emissions. It is only by treating climate and development objectives as integrated priorities that we will successfully overcome these global challenges.


  1. World Coal Association. (2015). World Coal Association welcomes China’s continued commitment to low emissions coal technology, Extract, www.worldcoal.org/extract/world-coal-association-welcomes-chinas-continued-commitment-to-low-emissions-coal-technology-5155/
  2. International Energy Agency. (2013). Southeast Asia energy outlook, world energy special report, www.iea.org/publications/freepublications/publication/SoutheastAsiaEnergyOutlook_WEO2013SpecialReport.pdf, pg.70
  3. World Coal Association. (2015). A global platform for acceler-ating coal efficiency, www.worldcoal.org/coal-the-environment/pace-platform-for-accelerating-coal-efficiency/
  4. SaskPower. (2015). Saskpower CCS, Boundary Dam Carbon Capture Project, saskpowerccs.com/ccs-projects/boundary-dam-carbon-capture-project/
  5. SaskPower. (2015). Saskpower CCS, Carbon Storage and Research Centre, www.saskpowerccs.com/ccs-projects/carbon-storage-and-research-centre/
  6. World Coal Association. (2015). Coal & energy access, www.worldcoal.org/coal-energy-access/
  7. Clemente, J. (2014, 9 November). India will be using and importing more coal. Forbes Business, www.forbes.com/sites/judeclemente/2014/11/09/india-will-be-using-and-importing-more-coal/


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Upgrading the Efficiency of the World’s Coal Fleet to Reduce CO2 Emissions

By Ian Barnes
Associate, IEA Clean Coal Centre

Coal remains an important source of energy for the world, particularly for power generation. During the last decade the demand for coal has grown rapidly, as has the demand for gas, oil, nuclear, and renewable energy sources. Various projections for future growth in energy demand suggest that this trend will continue, dominated by coal use in the emerging economies, particularly China and India. Continuing pressure to cut CO2 emissions to mitigate the effects of climate change, specifically to limit the average rise in global temperature to between 2°C and 3°C, will require halving (from current levels) CO2 emissions by 2050.

To contribute to this goal, emissions from coal-fired power generation will need to be reduced by around 90% over this period: Cuts this deep will require carbon capture and storage (CCS). In the International Energy Agency (IEA) 450 ppm CO2 climate change scenario, around 3400 large-scale CCS plants must be operating globally by 2050 to abate the required amount of CO2 emissions.1 At the same time, the growing need for energy, and its economic production and supply to the end user, must remain central considerations in power plant construction and operation.

In 2012, the IEA concluded that, in general, larger, more efficient, and hence younger coal-fired power plants are most suited for economic CCS retrofit. However, the agency also found that only around 29% of the existing installed global coal-fired fleet could be retrofitted with CCS. Furthermore, on average, the efficiency of existing global coal-fired capacity is comparatively low, at about 33% (net HHV basis for all loads, all coals, and all steam conditions)A, although the recent establishment of large tranches of modern plants, particularly in China, is raising this figure. This article examines the first step in the decarbonization of the coal-fired electricity sector: increasing power plant efficiency.

Recently the IEA CCC published a study evaluating how improving coal-fired power plant efficiency would reduce CO2 emissions. For all nations evaluated, increasing the efficiency of the fleet of coal-fired power plants offered considerable CO2 emission reduction benefits, although variability was observed in the time frame in which such benefits could be realized.


Operating at lower efficiency means that relatively large amounts of coal must be used to produce each unit of electricity. As coal consumption rises, so do the levels of CO2 and other emissions. Upgrading existing plants and building new high-efficiency, low-emissions (HELE) coal-fired power plants addresses climate change concerns in two important ways. In the near term, emissions can be reduced by upgrading existing plants or building new HELE plants. Such plants emit almost 20% less CO2 than a subcritical unit operating at a similar load. Over the longer term, HELE plants can further facilitate emission reductions because coal-fired plants operating at the highest efficiencies are also the most appropriate option for CCS retrofit. For these reasons, there is considerable global interest in HELE technologies. Figure 1 illustrates the impact of employing progressively more effective HELE technologies and CCS on CO2 abatement (presented in terms of LHV at full load with hard coal).

FIGURE 1. Reducing CO2 emissions from pulverized coal-fired power generation

FIGURE 1. Reducing CO2 emissions from pulverized coal-fired power generation

The terms subcritical, supercritical, ultra-supercritical (USC), and advanced ultra-supercritical (AUSC) describe the steam conditions by which electricity is generated in a thermal power plant. HELE technologies center on improvements to the steam cycle, allowing for higher steam temperatures and pressures and the consequent improvement in the steam cycle efficiency. A switch from subcritical to current USC steam conditions raises efficiency by around four to six percentage points. Historically, the majority of pulverized coal-fired plants were based on subcritical steam-cycle technology, but supercritical technology is now widespread, largely due to improvements in boiler tube materials. Table 1 summarizes the differences in operating pressures and temperatures for various types of coal-fired plants currently in operation. Although the definitions of supercritical and USC vary from country to country, the ranges cited in the table are used frequently.

table 1 barnes

Supercritical plants can be found in 18 countries and are now the norm for new plants in industrialized nations; USC steam cycles are now the state of the art. A current coal-fired plant operating with a high-efficiency USC steam cycle not only has improved efficiency, but is also more reliable and has a longer life expectancy.

Whereas the first supercritical units were relatively small (typically less than 400 MWe), larger units of up to 1100 MWe are now being built based on USC technology (such as the Neurath USC lignite-fired plant in Germany) and even larger units are planned.

Developments in AUSC steam cycles are expected to continue this trend. AUSC coal-fired plants are designed with an inlet steam temperature to the turbine of 700–760°C. Average metal temperatures of the final superheater and final reheater could be higher, up to about 815°C. Nickel-based alloy materials are needed to meet this demanding requirement. Various research programs are underway to develop AUSC plants. If successful, a commercial AUSC-based plant would be expected to achieve efficiencies in the range of 45–52% (LHV [net], hard coal). A plant operating at 48% efficiency (HHV) would emit up to 28% less CO2 than a subcritical plant, and up to 10% less than a corresponding USC plant. Commercial AUSC plants could be widely available by 2025, with the first units coming online in the near future.

To illustrate the potential of HELE technologies, Figure 2 summarizes the impact of different steam-cycle conditions on an 800-MWe power station boiler burning hard coal and operating at an 80% capacity factor. Such a unit would generate 6 TWh of electricity annually and emit the quantities of CO2 shown in the figure, depending on its steam-cycle conditions and corresponding efficiency. Thus, replacing a unit of this type operating with a subcritical steam cycle with a unit based on AUSC technology (under development) would result in savings of CO2 in the region of 30%.

FIGURE 2. The impact of HELE technologies on CO2 emissions

FIGURE 2. The impact of HELE technologies on CO2 emissions


Across nations, a legacy of using coal to produce electricity has given rise to coal fleets of differing age and efficiencies. Countries with a long history of using coal to generate power tend to have mature coal fleets that are maintained and upgraded with replacement components and new plants when necessary. Newer coal users tend to have younger coal fleets, in some cases based on the best available technology. These two extremes are well illustrated by comparing the coal fleet profiles of Russia and South Korea (Figures 3 and 4, respectively). Russia’s fleet is older, and thus consists of mostly subcritical plants, whereas South Korea’s recently built and rapidly growing fleet is made up primarily of supercritical and USC plants.

FIGURE 3. Russian coal-fired power fleet by year of construction and steam-cycle conditions *Planned or under construction

FIGURE 3. Russian coal-fired power fleet by year of construction and steam-cycle conditions
*Planned or under construction

FIGURE 4. South Korean coal-fired power fleet by year of construction and steam-cycle conditions *Planned or under construction

FIGURE 4. South Korean coal-fired power fleet by year of construction and steam-cycle conditions
*Planned or under construction

The IEA CCC recently examined the potential of HELE coal-fired power to reduce CO2 emissions; the principal coal-consuming nations were studied: Australia, China, Germany, India, Japan, Poland, Russia, South Africa, South Korea, and the U.S. Notably, the coal-fired power fleets of these countries vary in age and efficiency, and have different local conditions and policies that affect the possible scope for implementing HELE technologies.

The coal fleet profile of each country to meet future electricity demand was assessed under three scenarios: continuing electricity generation based on the existing fleet and retiring and replacing older plants on the basis of a 50-year or 25-year plant life. The potential impact of HELE upgrades on CO2 emissions was quantified and costs of implementation were estimated. Industry norms were used for unit efficiency and availability and current assumptions on capture rates from CCS retrofitted to HELE plants were assumed.


As China and India represent the largest emerging economies and both rely heavily on coal, the key findings for the Chinese and Indian studies are summarized below.


The Chinese coal-based fleet is the largest in the world, as are the associated CO2 emissions. These plants account for approximately 41% of the global coal-fired capacity and are responsible for approximately 37% of global CO2 emissions from coal through the production of electricity.2 China’s coal-based fleet—with a median age of less than 20 years—is by far the youngest currently in operation. In addition, a significant number of the newer plants employ supercritical or USC steam conditions.

By the end of 2013, China’s total electricity capacity was 1247 GW. With a reported coal-fired power generation capacity of over 786 GW and an annual total generation of 3947 TWh (2013 data),3 China is the world’s largest producer of power from coal. Predictions on the role of coal in China’s future energy requirements generally agree that coal will continue to be a very significant contributor to the country’s energy needs, although estimates of the relative importance of coal with respect to other primary energy sources differ. China is actively seeking to diversify its electricity supplies. The electricity capacities from other energy sources currently stand at 22% for hydroelectric, ~8% for other renewables (led by wind at ~6% and solar at ~2%), 6% for natural gas, and 1% for nuclear power. Although power from these sources is growing, they still account for a relatively small share of China’s energy generation profile, with coal still responsible for about 70% of electricity generation.

The Chinese government has set a target to raise non-fossil fuel energy consumption to 11.4% of the total energy mix by 2015 as part of its 12th Five-Year Plan. The U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) projects coal’s share of the total energy mix to fall to 59% by 2035 due to anticipated higher energy efficiencies and China’s goal to reduce its carbon intensity.4 Still, absolute coal consumption is expected to double over this period, reflecting the large growth in total energy consumption.

China is the premier example of a country benefitting from an actively pursued HELE upgrade policy. By utilizing state-of-the-art USC plants for new and replacement capacity, and with the retirement of older, less efficient units, CO2 emissions are projected to rise less steeply than the increase in demand for coal-based electricity; emissions are projected to reach 6136 Mt in 2040. If China continues to adopt the best technology and retire older units on a roughly 25-year timescale, a largely AUSC-based coal fleet would see projected CO2 emissions actually fall between 2035 and 2040; in this case the CO2 emissions are projected to be 5153 Mt in 2040 (a 16% reduction over the base case scenario), despite a continuing increase in demand. If the most effective CO2 abatement pathway is followed (25-year plant retirement, AUSC upgrades after 2025, CCS installation) emissions could fall to 750 Mt in 2040 (see Figure 5). Although the analysis presented here does not incorporate China’s recent announcement to peak coal utilization by 2020, such a policy approach would certainly require continued aggressive deployment of HELE coal-fired power plants.

FIGURE 5. China’s coal-based power fleet composition and CO2 emissions under a plan to retire plants after 25 years of operation, from 2015–2040

FIGURE 5. China’s coal-based power fleet composition and CO2 emissions under a plan to retire plants after 25 years of operation, from 2015–2040


India has the third largest coal-fired power plant fleet installed in a single country. The Indian coal fleet contributes approximately 6% of the global coal-fired capacity with approximately 8% of global CO2 emissions from coal through the production of electricity.2 India has a relatively high share of smaller units (i.e., <400 MWe) and many of India’s power plants burn high-ash coal (up to 50%). The majority of the Indian coal-fired power plant fleet is based on subcritical technology, although some recently built plants have incorporated supercritical steam cycles. Overall, the fleet is relatively young and a very large portfolio of supercritical plants is reported as planned or under construction, which will make India the second fastest growing user of coal for electricity generation (after China) by 2020.1

India’s 12th Five-Year Plan (2012–2017) sets a goal that 50–60% of new coal-fired plants must use supercritical technology, although observers suggest that significantly less is likely to be achieved. Early indications of India’s longer-term policy direction suggest that the 13th Five-Year Plan (2017–2022) will stipulate that all new coal-fired plants must be at least supercritical, thus no new subcritical plants would be allowed.5

India is a rapidly developing country with considerable energy poverty and rapidly growing energy demand. Growth in coal-based energy demand is projected to extend to 2040, with no sign of leveling off. If new capacity is based on the best available HELE technologies and older plants are retired after 25 years and replaced with HELE units, CO2 emissions will first flatten out and then decline, despite increasing demand: 764 Mt in 2015 to 1063 Mt in 2040; a 39% increase (see Figure 6). With implementation of CCS, emissions could be reduced much more rapidly.

FIGURE 6. India’s coal-based power fleet composition and CO2 emissions if subcritical plants were retired after 25 years of operation, from 2015–2040

FIGURE 6. India’s coal-based power fleet composition and CO2 emissions if subcritical plants were retired after 25 years of operation, from 2015–2040


The results of the IEA CCC study reveal trends for the major coal-consuming countries. Some trends are specific and depend on the profile of the respective coal fleet and the prospects for growth or decline in coal-sourced electricity, while other trends are more generally applicable. A few key conclusions can be garnered from the larger IEA CCC analysis:

  • Countries experiencing a prolonged period of growth necessitating additional power capacity and having a relatively new coal fleet are characterized by rising CO2 emissions, but these are projected to be offset by the use of AUSC over USC plants for new builds (e.g., China and India).
  • Countries experiencing a prolonged period of growth necessitating additional capacity and having a more mature coal fleet are characterized by rising CO2 emissions, but these are projected to be offset by the use of AUSC over USC (e.g., South Africa), particularly when older plants are retired and replaced by AUSC units.
  • Countries experiencing a prolonged period of growth necessitating additional capacity and having an old, relatively inefficient coal fleet see falling levels of CO2 emissions, even with growth in electricity demand (e.g., Poland and Russia).
  • Countries experiencing relatively low to moderate levels of growth and having an efficient coal fleet do not see significant reductions in CO2 emissions until 2040 when some older plants are projected to retire (e.g., South Korea).
  • As an existing coal fleet transitions to a HELE composition it becomes smaller with respect to installed capacity. This potentially benefits the siting and replacement of plants, particularly in countries where planning regulations are demanding and time consuming.
  • The greatest gains are seen when plant life is limited to 25 years (an evolving practice in China) rather than 40 years or more (common in OECD countries). Policies and incentives to encourage shorter timescale plant renewal would enhance CO2 savings.
  • When CCS readiness is considered, in all cases, the 25-year plant life scenario represents the best option for CCS deployment as all coal fleets transition to a high HELE composition quickly and enjoy maximum CO2 abatement as any remaining lower efficiency capacity is retired. This is particularly evident in the Indian case where the effects of rapidly increasing electricity demand are attenuated by a combination of HELE and CCS technologies.
  • Economics will govern the decision to replace plants unless policies and incentives drive the selection toward HELE technologies.

HELE plant upgrades can be considered a “no regret” option for coal-fired power plant owners and operators. A current state-of-the-art coal-fired plant operating with a high-efficiency USC steam cycle will be more efficient, more reliable, and have a longer life expectancy than its older subcritical counterparts. Most significantly, it will emit almost 20% less CO2 compared to a subcritical unit operating under similar load. In the near future, developments in AUSC steam cycles promise to continue this trend: A plant operating at 48% efficiency would emit up to 28% less CO2 than a subcritical plant, and up to 10% less than a corresponding USC plant. In addition, when CCS is available it will likely be applied to higher efficiency plants, making HELE a first step toward deep carbon emission reductions.

It is hoped that this study has provided an overview of what might be achieved in the major coal-using countries through an aggressive uptake of HELE technologies and the role they can play in reducing CO2 emissions. Deeper analysis by the IEA CCC is planned on a country-by-country basis to provide policy makers and planners with a local perspective on how HELE implementation can reduce emissions.

Steam turbines at the ultra-supercritical Waigaoqiao No. 3 (Shanghai) (photo courtesy of IEA CCC)

Steam turbines at the ultra-supercritical Waigaoqiao No. 3 (Shanghai) (photo courtesy of IEA CCC)

A. Coal-fired power plant efficiencies are determined by properties such as the steam-cycle conditions, coal grade, load factor, etc. and are often reported in terms of LHV or HHV. Efficiencies provided in lower heating value (LHV), have subtracted the heat required to vaporize any moisture in the coal and assume that heat is not recovered. The higher heating value (HHV) includes the heat required to vaporize the moisture in the fuel and is usually about 2–3 percentage points higher than LHV.


  1. International Energy Agency (IEA). (2012). Technology roadmap: High-efficiency, low-emissions coal-fired power generation, www.iea.org/publications/freepublications/publication/TechnologyRoadmapHighEfficiencyLowEmissionsCoalFiredPowerGeneration_Updated.pdf
  2. IEA. (2010). CO2 emissions from fuel combustion, www.oecd-ilibrary.org/energy/co2-emissions-from-fuel-combustion-2010_9789264096134-en
  3. China Electricity Council. (2014). Generation, english.cec.org.cn/No.117.index.htm
  4. Energy Information Administration (EIA). (2013). Annual energy outlook 2013, www.eia.gov/forecasts/archive/aeo13/
  5. George, T. (2014). Private communication. Second Secretary Energy & Resource Security, British High Commission, New Delhi, India.

This article is based on an IEA CCC report, “Upgrading the Efficiency of the World’s Coal Fleet to Reduce CO2 Emissions”, by Ian Barnes, CCC/237, 99 pp, July 2014. The report is available for download from the IEA Clean Coal Centre Bookshop: bookshop.iea-coal.org; the author can be reached at ianbarnes@hatterrall.com

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Setting the Benchmark: The World’s Most Efficient Coal-Fired Power Plants

By Dawn Santoianni
Managing Director, Tau Technical Communications LLC

International efforts to mitigate climate impacts have intensely scrutinized carbon emissions from the electricity sector. Coal, in particular, has been targeted as a source of emissions that could be reduced. The International Energy Agency recognizes that “coal is an important source of energy for world…we must find ways to use coal more efficiently and to reduce its environmental footprint.”1 With global coal demand projected to increase 15% through 2040, reducing carbon emissions from coal-fired electricity has become a policy focus in many countries as part of an overall strategy to reduce emissions.2 Although roughly half of new coal-fired power plants constructed during 2011 used high-efficiency low-emissions (HELE) technologies, approximately 75% of operating coal-fired units worldwide are based on less efficient, non-HELE technology.1

Globally, the average efficiency of coal-fired generation is 33% HHV (higher heating value) basis or 35% LHV (lower heating value) basis.3,A In a survey of countries worldwide, the average three-year (2009–2011) efficiency of coal-fired electric generating fleets ranged from a low of 26% in India to a high of 41% in France, normalized to LHV.B Those countries that were among the first to widely deploy HELE technology now have the most efficient coal-fired fleets.

Achieving higher steam temperatures and pressures (see Figure 1), HELE generating units employ advanced steam path design with multiple steam turbine pressure modules to extract the maximum amount of power from the steam produced. As the steam passes through each turbine module, the pressure decreases. These modules are referred to as the high-pressure (HP), intermediate-pressure (IP), and low-pressure (LP) turbine sections. Some turbine designs feature multiple IP or LP modules, while others may have a combined HP/IP cylinder. Steam exiting the HP section is returned to heaters that increase the steam temperature (reheat) to about the primary steam temperature before undergoing further expansion through the IP section. In double-reheat turbines, the steam exiting the IP module is again reheated before passing through the LP turbine module. Reheating is used to keep the steam humidity low, preventing the formation of water droplets that could damage turbine blades. Turbine blades are designed for each module to limit turbulence and efficiently convert steam kinetic energy into torque.

FIGURE 1. The steam cycle is at the heart of coal-fired power plant efficiency.

FIGURE 1. The steam cycle is at the heart of coal-fired power plant efficiency.

The upfront cost of ultra-supercritical (USC) HELE technology is 20–30% more expensive than a subcritical unit, but the greater efficiency reduces emissions and fuel costs. Therefore, USC units are being constructed where new coal-fired capacity is integral to maintaining security of energy supply while reducing emissions and also where older, less efficient fossil units are being retired. Although there are numerous examples of highly efficient coal-fired power plants around the world, four generating stations are highlighted in this article because they are particularly notable based on economic, technical, and policy perspectives.


Nordjylland Power Station (Nordjyllandsværket) is touted by its owner Vattenfall as holding the world record for most efficient coal utilization since Unit 3 was commissioned in 1998.4 Nordjyllandsværket is a combined heat and power (CHP) plant located in northern Jutland, Denmark. The decision to build Nordjylland Unit 3 was made in 1992, at a time when European energy markets were being liberalized to create an EU-wide integrated energy market. This market restructuring and competition demanded increased efficiency, improved environmental performance, and cost-effectiveness of heat and power supply. These priorities were used to determine the plant design criteria. In addition to electricity supplied to the Nordic Power Exchange, Unit 3 provides district heating to the city of Aalborg using low-pressure steam extraction.

Nordjyllandsværket Power Station boasts the world’s most efficient coal use.

Nordjyllandsværket Power Station boasts the world’s most efficient coal use.

The 400-MWe USC Unit 3 employs a 70-m-high once-through steam generator and double-reheat steam cycle. To accommodate steam pressures of 29 MPa (4200 psi) and primary and two reheat temperatures of 582°C/580°C/580°C, high-performance superalloys were used for boiler and turbine components. An impulse turbine (in which fast-moving fluid is fired through a narrow nozzle) expands the steam from 29 MPa to 0.7 MPa. The HP and IP steam paths are combined in a common HP/IP module. Steam is passed back to the boiler for reheating before it continues through the IP and LP turbine modules. With the double-reheat cycle and cold seawater for cooling, Unit 3 boasts a net electrical efficiency of 47% (LHV basis). The asymmetric double-flow IP steam path (steam is received in the center of the cylinder and discharges at the ends) is configured to suit district heating requirements. Extracted steam is passed through two heat exchangers where water from the Aalborg city grid is heated to 80–90°C. This dual use allows Unit 3 to utilize up to 91% of the energy content in the bituminous coals it burns.


In a country where the transition to renewable energy is being spurred by government investment, building a new coal-fired power plant might seem incongruous. However, the shutdown of Germany’s nuclear plants is presenting challenges to maintaining a reliable and dispatchable power supply. Many of Germany’s existing fossil-fueled power plants are over 25 years old—replacing aging plants with more efficient generation also supports the country’s decarbonization efforts. Construction of the €1.4 billion Lünen plant in North-Rhine Westphalia began in 2008; the plant has been delivering power to the electric grid since December 2013. Lünen is owned by Trianel Kohlekraftwerk Lünen GmbH & Co. KG, a consortium of 31 municipal utilities and energy providers. The plant was built to allow the municipal utilities to be independent and ensure a safe and affordable energy supply for 1.6 million households.5

Trianel Kohlekraftwerk Lünen power plant (photo courtesy of Trianel)

Trianel Kohlekraftwerk Lünen power plant (photo courtesy of Trianel)

The 750-MW Lünen plant has a USC tower-type once-through boiler that burns low-sulfur hard coal delivered via canal. Main steam is produced at 28 MPa (4060 psi) and 600°C. The Siemens SST5-6000 steam turbine has one HP, one IP, and two LP cylinders. The plant uses Siemens’ advanced 3DV technology (three-dimensional design with variable reaction levels) for the HP and IP blades, which optimizes stage reaction and loading to achieve the highest efficiencies. Using USC technology, the Lünen plant has saved over one million tons of CO2 per year compared to the average German coal-fired power plant.6 In addition to supplying electricity, steam is extracted to heat water for district heating purposes. The plant has an electrical efficiency of nearly 46% (LHV basis) while meeting stringent German environmental requirements, making it the cleanest hard coal-fired power plant in Europe.

While Lünen is one of the most efficient coal-fired power plants in Europe, what makes it particularly notable is the ability of Unit 3 to ramp quickly, making it ideally suited to balance intermittent wind and solar loads.7 To remove the ramping constraint posed by heat transfer into thick-walled HP turbine components, an internal bypass cooling system allows a small amount of cooling steam to pass through radial bores between the HP casings. This system protects the casing surfaces so the wall thickness could be less than without the cooling steam. This design also effectively allows more rapid heat-up (and thus startup) of the turbine.


The 600-MW John W. Turk Jr. power plant in Arkansas holds many distinctions. Completed in December 2012, it was the first USC plant built in the U.S. It also reigns as the country’s most efficient coal-fired power plant with an electrical efficiency of 40% HHV basis (~42% LHV basis).8 After the project was announced in 2006, American Electric Power’s (AEP) Southwestern Electric Power Co. (SWEPCO) spent several years trying to secure the necessary permits while fighting legal battles launched as part of national anti-coal campaigns. Under the legal settlement, SWEPCO agreed to retire an older 582-MW coal-fired unit in Texas, secure 400 MW of renewable power, and set aside US$10 million for land conservation and energy efficiency projects. At a final cost of US$1.8 billion to build the plant, the Turk plant also became the most expensive project ever built in Arkansas.

The Turk plant burns low-sulfur subbituminous coal in a spiral-wound universal pressure-type boiler, producing steam at 26.2 MPa (3789 psi) and 600°C. The plant has an Alstom STF60 single-reheat four-casing turbine with a single-flow HP section, double-flow IP section, and two double-flow LP sections.9 Using separate cylinders for the HP and IP turbines allowed the number of stages to be increased by about 25% compared to a subcritical steam turbine. The Turk steam turbine was manufactured such that different superalloys were selected for each section of the rotor to match the exact steam conditions with a specific stage on the rotor, allowing faster startups. The Turk plant is equipped with state-of-the-art emissions control technologies, including a selective catalytic reduction (SCR) system, flue gas desulfurization (FGD), fabric filter baghouse, and activated carbon injection.

With inexpensive natural gas and proposed carbon standards for new power plants that would require carbon capture for coal-fired units, permitting another HELE plant in the U.S. could be extremely difficult for economic reasons.10 Thus, despite its efficiency and excellent environmental performance, the Turk plant may be the last HELE plant built in the U.S. for the foreseeable future.

Turbine blading design plays a role in achieving high-efficiency operation.

Turbine blading design plays a role in achieving high-efficiency operation.


The Isogo Thermal Power Station is located only six kilometers from Yokohama, the second largest city in Japan. The power station originally consisted of two 1960s-vintage 265-MW subcritical units. During the late 1990s, Yokohama’s environmental improvement plans aimed to enhance the stability of electric power supply while retiring older facilities. Electric Power Development Co., Ltd. (J-POWER), which owns and operates Isogo, entered into a pollution prevention agreement with the city. The new USC Unit 1 (600 MW) was built while the original facility remained in operation, becoming operational itself in 2002. The two older units were then shut down and demolished. The new USC Unit 2 (also 600 MW) was constructed on the site of the old plant and started commercial operation in 2009. Isogo Unit 2 operates at 25 MPa (3626 psi) and 600°C/620°C reheat achieving 45% efficiency, while Unit 1 operates at a slightly lower 600°C/610°C. Completion of both units more than doubled the power generated at the small peninsula site while lowering emissions levels to that of a natural gas-fired combined-cycle plant.

Combined, the two larger new units emit 50% less SOx, 80% less NOx, 70% less particulate, and 17% less CO2 than the older subcritical units that were replaced.11 The reduction in criteria emissions has been accomplished using a multipollutant regenerative activated coke dry-type control technology (ReACTTM) that captures SOx, mercury, and NOx while only using 1% of the water required by conventional wet FGD systems.12 ReACTTM technology consists of a moving bed adsorber with activated coke pellets downstream of the electrostatic precipitator. Mercury, SOx, and NOx are adsorbed onto the carbon pellets with ammonia injected to promote the nitrogen and sulfur reactions. In addition, the ReACTTM system offers a secondary method of particulate control as the flue gas impinges on the coke pellets. Activated coke from the adsorber is regenerated to reduce NOx to N2 and drive off SOx. In the process, the concentrated sulfur-rich gas stream created is used to produce sulfuric acid as a byproduct for commercial sale. Isogo’s Unit 2 has permit levels of 10 ppm and 13 ppm for SO2 and NOx, respectively, and usually achieves single-digit ppm concentration emissions. The system provides such exceptional pollution control that Isogo is ranked the cleanest coal-fired power plant in the world in terms of emissions intensity.


With USC well established, R&D is underway to increase steam temperatures to 700°C and beyond, which could achieve coal-fired efficiencies as high as 50%. Known as advanced ultra-supercritical technology (AUSC), such high pressures and temperatures will require more advanced (nickel or nickel-iron) superalloys that are expensive and currently present fabrication and welding challenges. In early 2014, Alstom and Southern Company (U.S.) announced a milestone in the development of AUSC, with steam loop temperatures maintained at 760°C for 17,000 hours during a trial at Plant Barry Unit 4 in Alabama. The loop contained an array of different superalloys and surface coatings that enabled it to withstand the exceedingly high temperatures within the boiler.13 Further advances in HELE technology, material science, and emissions control will enable coal-fired power to retain a primary role in future power systems.


 A.  Although HHV is the efficiency convention most widely used in the U.S. for coal-based     systems, in parts of Europe and elsewhere LHV is commonly used to report efficiencies.

B.  Efficiencies normalized based on lower heating value (LHV), which refers to the quantity of heat liberated by the complete combustion of a unit of fuel when the water produced is assumed to remain as vapor and the heat not recovered.


  1. International Energy Agency (IEA). (2012). Technology roadmap:
    High-efficiency, low-emissions coal-fired power generation, www.iea.org/publications/freepublications/publication/TechnologyRoadmapHighEfficiencyLowEmissionsCoalFiredPowerGeneration_WEB_Updated_March2013.pdf
  2. IEA. (2014). World energy outlook 2014, www.iea.org/Textbase/npsum/WEO2014SUM.pdf
  3. Ecofys. (2014). International comparison of fossil power effi-ciency and CO2 intensity—Update 2014. Ecofys by order of Mitsubishi Research Institute, www.ecofys.com/files/files/ecofys-2014-international-comparison-fossil-power-efficiency.pdf
  4. Vattenfall. (2010). Nordjylland Power Station—The world’s most efficient coal-fired CHP plant, corporate.vattenfall.dk/globalassets/danmark/om_os/nordjyllandsvaerket_english.pdf
  5. Trianel. (2014). The Trianel coal-fired power plant Lünen (in German), www.trianel-luenen.de/de/kraftwerk.html
  6. Siemens. (2013). Siemens commissions record-high-effi-ciency 750MW steam power plant Lünen in Germany, www.siemens.com/press/en/pressrelease/?press=/en/pressrelease/2013/energy/power-generation/ep201312013.htm&content[]=EP&content[]=PG
  7. Larson, A. (2014). Trianel Coal Power Plant Lünen, North Rhine-Westphalia, Germany. POWER, 158(10), 34–35, www.powermag.com/trianel-coal-power-plant-lnen-north-rhine-westphalia-germany
  8. Williams, J. (2014). America’s best coal plants. Power Engineering, 118(7), www.power-eng.com/articles/print/volume-118/issue-7/features/america-s-best-coal-plants.html
  9. Peltier, R. (2013). AEP’s John W. Turk, Jr. Power Plant earns POWER’s highest honor. POWER, 157(8), www.powermag.com/aeps-john-w-turk-jr-power-plant-earns-powers-highest-honor
  10. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). (2013). 2013 Proposed Carbon Pollution Standards for New Power Plants, www2.epa.gov/carbon-pollution-standards/2013-proposed-carbon-pollution-standard-new-power-plants
  11. Electric Power Development Co., Ltd. (2009). Replacement activities completed at Isogo Thermal. J-POWER Annual Report 2009, www.jpower.co.jp/english/ir/pdf/2009-06.pdf
  12. Peters, H.J. (2010). ReACTTM: Regenerative activated coke technology with no water consumption. RMEL Spring Conference, Sante Fe, NM, Harmon.
  13. Alstom. (2014). Major milestone achieved in the development of advanced ultra-supercritical steam power plants, www.alstom.com/press-centre/2014/12/major-milestone-achieved-in-the-development-of-advanced-ultra-supercritical-steam-power-plants/

The author can be reached at dawn@tautechnical.com


The content in Cornerstone does not necessarily reflect the views of the World Coal Association or its members.
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Developing Country Needs Are Critical to a Global Climate Agreement

By Benjamin Sporton
Acting Chief Executive, World Coal Association

As another round of climate talks approaches, recent headlines have highlighted the critical role developing countries play in achieving a climate agreement—and they are. Concerned about the restrictions it might place on their efforts to grow their economies and eradicate poverty, many developing countries are cautious about what a future global agreement on climate change might mean. With one billion people living in extreme poverty in addition to a similar number with incredibly low standards of living, it is hardly surprising that poverty eradication ranks number one on the list of priorities for developing country governments.1 The recent proposal document for new Sustainable Development Goals also acknowledged that “poverty eradication is the greatest global challenge facing the world today”.2

This is the reason that developing countries are key to a global climate agreement: Any proposed agreement that hampers their ability to grow their economies and eradicate poverty will not win their support.


Negotiations toward a global agreement on climate change have been long and tortuous. Beginning in 1992 with the original “Earth Summit” in Rio de Janeiro, the negotiation process produced the Kyoto Protocol, which came into effect in 2005 but covered only around one third of global CO2 emissions. A 2009 summit in Copenhagen was originally intended to be the apex of the process with a binding global deal on emissions reduction, but it failed to live up to expectations. World leaders will gather again in Paris in November 2015 for the 21st Conference of the Parties (COP21) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) for what is now expected to be the pinnacle of the climate negotiations process.

This September, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon hosted a summit in New York intended to push climate change back up the international agenda and spur action toward November 2015. With celebrity endorsements and a series of coordinated announcements from activists, governments, and the private sector, the summit did have some success in raising the profile of an issue that has struggled to maintain the profile it once had, but which has since been drowned out by other priorities, chief among them economic and security crises.

United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, left, is joined by President François Hollande of France at a news conference on climate change during the Climate Summit, New York, U.S., 23 September 2014. (AP Photo/Jason DeCrow)

United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, left, is joined by President François Hollande of France at a news conference on climate change during the Climate Summit, New York, U.S., 23 September 2014. (AP Photo/Jason DeCrow)

Ultimately, however, the negotiation process has struggled for more than two decades because of a fundamental disconnect between developed and developing countries. This disconnect centers on a desire by developed countries to require emissions reductions commitments by developing countries while they are still developing—potentially limiting the ability of those countries to grow their economies and eradicate poverty. It comes about because many in the developed world refuse to acknowledge that the development pathway their countries took—one that relied on abundant, affordable, and reliable energy—is the pathway that the developing world will need to take if it is truly to eradicate poverty.

All sources of energy have a role to play in achieving climate and development objectives. An overemphasis on renewable technologies, however, risks limiting developing countries to “light bulb and cook stove” solutions: that is, solutions that address the immediate needs of poverty and climate without addressing the longer-term fundamentals needed for poverty alleviation.

This fact was recognized in recent remarks by World Bank President Jim Yong Kim at the U.S.–Africa Leaders Summit in August when he said that “there’s never been a country that has developed with intermittent power”3 and that, despite recent policy announcements, the World Bank would still likely fund coal projects. His statement came as African leaders argued they were living in “energy apartheid” and demanded the right to use their natural resources, particularly coal, to fuel their economic development.4

If the climate negotiation process is to have any success it must integrate development and climate objectives.


With 1.3 billion people globally lacking access to modern electricity and about double that number lacking access to clean cooking facilities, it is hardly surprising that developing country governments are focused on affordable and reliable energy to help grow their economies.5 Energy is fundamental to development. Without reliable modern energy services hospitals and schools can’t function and business and industry can’t grow to provide employment and economic growth.

In its 2011 World Energy Outlook, the International Energy Agency (IEA) reviewed what would be needed to meet their own “minimal energy access for all” scenario—a scenario that would barely meet basic energy needs, but is the basis for the proposed Sustainable Development Goal on energy access for all. Even in this minimal energy access scenario, half of the on-grid electricity needed comes from coal.6 A more ambitious target would likely see a much larger role for coal—and it is a more ambitious scale of development and energy access that developing and emerging economies are targeting. That is why statistics about coal’s growing role in the world continue to confound those who forecast its demise.

Coal’s role in development explains why coal consumption in Southeast Asia is projected to grow at 4.8% a year through to 2035 along with significant growth in other developing regions (see Figure 1).7 It is why a 2012 report from the World Resources Institute8 identified 1199 planned new coal plants (representing 1400 GW) across 59 countries—most of them in developing and emerging economies.

FIGURE 1. Southeast Asia incremental electricity generation by fuel: 2011–20357

FIGURE 1. Southeast Asia incremental electricity generation by fuel: 2011–20357

Coal’s critical role in development is one of the reasons coal has been the fastest growing fossil fuel for decades and why its share of global primary energy consumption in 2013 reached 30.1%, the highest since 1970.9 Even under the IEA’s New Policies Scenario (which accounts for all currently announced climate policies) coal demand is expected to grow from 3800 million tonnes of oil equivalent (Mtoe) today to almost 4500 Mtoe in 2035.5

These figures alarm climate activists who argue for an end to coal and encourage divestment from the coal industry. What they ignore, however, is that there is a pathway that provides a role for coal in achieving both climate and development objectives.


Alongside last year’s climate summit in Warsaw, the World Coal Association joined with the Polish government to host the International Coal and Climate Summit. The summit was widely criticized by environmental groups for trying to take the focus away from climate negotiations, an argument which ignored the significant contribution cleaner coal technologies can make to achieving ambitions to reduce CO2 emissions. A key part of the summit was the launch of the Warsaw Communiqué, a document that called for increased international action on deployment of high-efficiency, low-emissions (HELE) coal-fired power generation.

21st-century HELE coal technologies have huge potential. It is well known by now that a one percentage point increase in efficiency at a coal plant results in a two to three percentage point decrease in CO2 emissions. Less widely known is that the average efficiency of the global coal fleet currently stands at 33%. Off-the-shelf technologies for supercritical and ultra-supercritical coal have about 40% efficiency or higher, while more advanced technologies expected to become available in the near future will approach 50% efficiency. The IEA estimates that increasing the average efficiency of the global coal fleet up to 40% would save around two gigatonnes of CO2 annually—roughly equivalent to India’s total annual emissions.10

Taken in the context of other climate policies the potential impact of improving the efficiency of the global coal fleet is significant. The Economist recently published a graphic showing the impact various policies or events have had on global CO2 emissions, which has been reproduced in Figure 2.11 If a global initiative were in place to increase the average efficiency of the global coal fleet to the level of off-the-shelf technology, its two gigatonnes of savings would place it fourth on this list of 20 activities. It would be more than three times more effective in reducing CO2 emissions than the global deployment of all non-hydro renewable energies combined.

FIGURE 2. Emissions reductions impact (in terms of billions tonnes CO2 equivalent)11 *Annual emissions are cumulative emissions divided by the relevant period. The estimate for the current emissions avoided under the Montreal protocol is eight billion tonnes CO2 equivalent. The annual figure for the collapse of the USSR refers to the years 1992–1998. **Cars and light trucks ***Heavy trucks

FIGURE 2. Emissions reductions impact (in terms of billions tonnes CO2 equivalent)11
*Annual emissions are cumulative emissions divided by the relevant period. The estimate for the current emissions avoided under the Montreal protocol is eight billion tonnes CO2 equivalent. The annual figure for the collapse of the USSR refers to the years 1992–1998.
**Cars and light trucks
***Heavy trucks

Nowhere is the potential of HELE technology better demonstrated than at J-Power’s Isogo power plant outside of Tokyo. J-Power is the largest producer of coal-fired electricity in Japan and is leading the way in HELE deployment with its 600-MW ultra-supercritical plant. The plant achieves gross thermal efficiency of 45% and has reduced emissions to the equivalent of a high-performing natural gas plant.

However, plants like that come at a cost. Developing countries need international support to deploy the most efficient plants. In the face of decisions by the World Bank and European Bank for Reconstruction and Development to limit funding for coal projects, the IEA raised some serious concerns:12

While increased investor awareness of climate-related issues is a positive development, policies deliberately adverse to coal may have unintended consequences. In the 450 Scenario, which limits the global average temperature increase to 2°C, world investment in coal-fired capacity totals $1.9 trillion (25% higher than in the New Policies Scenario), of which $800 billion is for plants fitted with carbon capture and storage (CCS). Coal-fired power plants become more expensive on average because, in most regions, more efficient technologies are deployed, as well as greater emphasis on CCS technologies. If development banks withhold financing for coal-fired power plants, countries that build new capacity will be less inclined to select the most efficient designs because they are more expensive, consequently raising CO2 emissions and reducing the scope for the installation of CCS. In addition, many of the countries that build coal-fired capacity in the 450 Scenario need to provide electricity supply to those who are still without it, a problem that may be resolved less quickly if investment in coal-fired power plants cannot be financed.

This is a warning from the IEA: International action against coal creates two distinct risks. First, from a climate perspective, failing to invest in new coal technologies risks higher future emissions from coal; second, failing to invest in coal threatens the energy access and development priorities in some of the world’s poorest countries.


As the IEA notes, deployment of HELE plants is also an important first step in the longer term drive for near-zero emissions coal-fired plants incorporating carbon capture, utilization, and storage (CCUS). CCUS technology is critical to achieving global climate objectives. More importantly, CCUS plays a significant role in reducing the economic costs of limiting CO2 emissions.

The recent New Climate Economy report by the Global Commission of Energy and Climate, led by former Mexican President Felipe Calderón, argued that substantial emissions cuts would effectively pay for themselves when a range of co-benefits are considered.13 That reflected recent work from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) which stated that annual GDP growth would decline by as little as 0.006 percentage points with substantial emissions reduction.

Many environmental activists argue that this demonstrates the viability of renewable energy technologies as the exclusive energy pathway toward a near-zero emissions economy. However, analysis by the Council on Foreign Relations’ leading energy expert Michael Levi noted that CCUS is far more critical to achieving the 2°C target.14 He highlighted that in the IPCC research, failing to deploy CCUS causes the cost of climate action to rise by about 140%, but that the most likely outcome is that the 2°C target could not be reached at all.


If global action to reduce CO2 emissions is to be affordable and have a realistic chance of meeting the 2°C target it must account for the role of cleaner coal technologies in achieving that aim. That is even more critical when the need for affordable and reliable energy for development is accounted for.

India’s new Environment Minister made clear recently where his country’s priorities lie: “India’s first task is eradication of poverty … Twenty percent of our population doesn’t have access to electricity, and that’s our top priority.”15

It is clear that if the November 2015 climate summit in Paris is going to achieve any level of success, then it must support the development ambitions of the world’s poorest countries. It must integrate the priorities of countries like India, which need to address their poverty situation and provide affordable and reliable electricity, with global climate ambitions. It means that rather than ignoring coal, the international community must recognize 21st century coal as part of the solution.


  1. World Bank Group. (2014). Ending poverty and sharing pros-
    perity: Global Monitoring Report 2014/2015, www.worldbank.org/en/publication/global-monitoring-report
  2. United Nations. (2014). Outcome document – Open Working Group proposal for Sustainable Development Goals, sustainable
    , (accessed 29 September 2014).
  3. Ginski, N. (2014, 5 August). World Bank may support African coal power, Kim says. Bloomberg, www.bloomberg.com/news/2014-08-05/world-bank-may-support-african-coal-power-kim-says.html, (accessed 30 September 2014).
  4. Scientific American. (2014). Africa needs fossil fuels to end energy apartheid, www.scientificamerican.com/article/africa-needs-fossil-fuels-to-end-energy-apartheid/, (accessed 30 September 2014).
  5. International Energy Agency (IEA). (2013). World energy outlook 2013, www.worldenergyoutlook.org/publications/weo-2013/
  6. IEA. (2011). World energy outlook 2011, www.worldenergyoutlook.org/publications/weo-2011/
  7. IEA. (2013). World energy outlook special report 2013: Southeast Asia energy outlook, www.iea.org/publications/freepublications/publication/SoutheastAsiaEnergyOutlook_WEO2013SpecialReport.pdf
  8. World Resources Institute. (2012, November). Global coal risk assessment, www.wri.org/publication/global-coal-risk-assessment
  9. BP. (2014). Statistical review of world energy 2014, www.bp.com/en/global/corporate/about-bp/energy-economics/statistical-review-of-world-energy.html
  10. IEA. (2012). Energy Technology Perspectives 2012 – How to secure a clean energy future.
  11. The Economist. (2014, 20 September). The deepest cuts, www.economist.com/news/briefing/21618680-our-guide-actions-have-done-most-slow-global-warming-deepest-cuts
  12. IEA. (2014). World energy investment outlook, www.iea.org/publications/freepublications/publication/WEIO2014.pdf
  13. The New Climate Economy. (2014). New climate economy, newclimateeconomy.report/, (accessed 20 September 2014).
  14. Levi, M. (2014). Is solar power making climate policy cheap?, blogs.cfr.org/levi/2014/09/19/is-solar-power-making-climate-policy-cheap/, (accessed 30 September 2014).
  15. Davenport, C. (2014, 24 September). Emissions from India will increase, official says. The New York Times, www.nytimes.com/2014/09/25/world/asia/25climate.html?_r=0, (accessed 30 September 2014).


The content in Cornerstone does not necessarily reflect the views of the World Coal Association or its members.

The Drivers and Status of the Texas Clean Energy Project

By Laura Miller
Director of Projects, Texas, Summit Power Group, LLC

In a single week this past June, the U.S. Supreme Court voted 7-to-2 to affirm the right of  the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to regulate carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions from large industrial sources; four former EPA chiefs, all appointed by Republican presidents, testified before a Senate subcommittee that man’s contribution to climate change is a matter of national security; and a coalition of business leaders, including three former U.S. Treasury secretaries, issued a report detailing economic drivers for combating climate change.1 These are just the latest examples of a growing and increasingly bipartisan consensus in the U.S. that something can and must be done to reduce the amount of manmade greenhouse gas emissions.

The site of the Texas Clean Energy Project (photo courtesy of Jason Lewis, U.S. DOE, National Energy Technology Lab)

The site of the Texas Clean Energy Project (photo courtesy of Jason Lewis, U.S. DOE, National Energy Technology Lab)

The Carbon Capture Challenge

Despite this growing consensus, making carbon capture, utilization, and storage (CCUS) a standard feature of the U.S. power plant fleet—the largest source of America’s greenhouse gases—has proven to be easier said than done. According to a 2012 report by the Congressional Budget Office:

Since 2005, lawmakers have provided the Department of Energy (DOE) with about $6.9 billion to further develop CCS [carbon capture and storage] technology, demonstrate its commercial feasibility, and reduce the cost of electricity generated by CCS-equipped plants. But unless DOE’s funding is substantially increased or other policies are adopted to encourage utilities to invest in CCS, federal support is likely to play only a minor role in the deployment of the technology.2

Although the U.S. DOE announced a new $8B loan program last December for advanced fossil energy projects that capture or reduce carbon,3 no new grant monies for such projects are expected to be approved by Congress for the foreseeable future. Likewise, there is currently not an apparent (or at least sufficient) political will to put a price on carbon emissions that would incentivize carbon storage on a major scale.

One potentially cost-neutral approach, which West Virginia’s  Sen. Jay Rockefeller introduced recently as Senate Bill 2288, was developed by the National Enhanced Oil Recovery Initiative (NEORI)—a coalition of major companies, environmentalists, labor unions, and state officials; Summit Power Group (Summit) was also a participant. NEORI found that an expansion of current federal Section 45Q production tax credits for projects that capture CO2 for use in enhanced oil recovery (CO2-EOR) could generate over nine billion barrels of oil over 40 years in the U.S., quadrupling CO2-EOR production and displacing U.S. oil imports, all while preventing the release of four billion tons of CO2 to the atmosphere. The group also found that the short-term cost of expanding the 45Q program today would be more than covered by the revenue generated from the increased corporate income taxes and royalties paid on the oil produced from CO2 injections.4

Summit’s quest to build the most ambitious, pre-combustion, carbon-capture power plant in the world serves as an effective case study for a nascent industry where the science and the technology are fully proven, but the execution remains challenging for mostly unforeseen reasons: the global economic recession of 2008, a plunge in U.S. natural gas prices, sharply increased oil and gas supplies, and the lack of broad Congressional action to deal with the issue of CO2.

Summit is a power plant development company, founded 20 years ago by Donald Hodel, former U.S. Secretary of Energy, and Earl Gjelde, former COO of the U.S. Department of Energy. To date, the company has successfully developed over 9000 MW of natural gas, wind, and solar projects, but never any based on coal. In 2006, with national opposition to old-technology coal plants (i.e., subcritical plants not employing the best available technologies and not contemplating any future carbon capture) growing dramatically nationwide, Hodel and Gjelde concluded that for coal to have a future in an increasingly carbon-constrained world, it was time to build a world-class clean, low-carbon, coal-based power project.

Summit’s vision became what is today a fully permitted 400-MW coal gasification project with 90% carbon capture near Odessa, Texas, called the Texas Clean Energy Project.

U.S. Coal Gasification Is Not New

The science behind low-carbon emissions, coal-based power was already proven in the U.S. by 2006: Tampa Electric’s Polk Power Station in Florida and the Wabash River Coal Gasification Repowering Project in Indiana were up and running, both built in the mid-1990s with enormous financial support from the U.S. DOE. They demonstrated that electricity from coal gasification could be both efficient and offer significantly lower emissions—essentially vaporizing the coal into a gaseous state that permitted its impurities to be stripped out, rather than burning the coal and trying to capture the pollutants as they were blown through a smokestack.

Industrial-scale carbon capture and utilization was also already commercially proven in the U.S.: In 2000, the Great Plains Synfuels Plant in North Dakota began capturing 50% of the CO2 off its coal-feedstock synthetic natural gas manufacturing plant and piping it north to Canada for geological storage via CO2-EOR. The added revenue stream was such a boon to the coal-to-SNG project that its owners repaid the U.S. DOE $1 billion that it had spent taking over the project in 1986 when natural gas prices plummeted and the original owners bailed on the project.5

Hodel and Gjelde saw an opportunity to take these two proven technologies (i.e., coal gasification for electricity and CO2-EOR) and combine them, for the first time, to build a new generation of coal-based power plants. Despite the fact that burned coal was still powering half of America’s homes and businesses in 2006,6 the reality was an industry under siege from environmentalists, politicians, and consumers who were tired of the existing, high-emissions, plants and new-construction proposals that were not employing the very latest and best technology. As an example, TXU’s Big Brown, a 1150-MW plant in East Texas, had no sulfur-dioxide (SO2) scrubbers in 2006 and still doesn’t today—making it the No. 4 biggest SO2 producer of 449 coal plants nationwide7, with 62,494 tons emitted in 2013. No. 3 is another old TXU plant, Martin Lake, just 100 miles down the road. The EPA began regulating SO2 emissions in 1971—the same year Big Brown came online.

After her tenure in public office, Laura Miller has continued to push for the deployment of clean coal technologies globally.

After her tenure in public office, Laura Miller has continued to push for the deployment of clean coal technologies globally.

I was one of those unhappy politicians. As mayor of Dallas in 2006, I was shocked to learn that 18 new, pulverized coal plants were being proposed for our state—11 of them by Dallas-based TXU, which already owned three of the state’s largest, oldest, and highest-emission coal plants. With help from then-Houston mayor Bill White, we created a coalition of cities, counties, and school districts to fight TXU’s plans, which the EPA said did not include using the most technologically advanced pollution control equipment then available. Our widely publicized statewide challenge eventually led to a leveraged buyout of the company and a compromise by the new owners, forged by national environmental groups, to build only three of the 11 plants, including a two-unit, 1600-MW project northwest of Houston called Oak Grove.

During our yearlong battle, I had pressed TXU aggressively to consider doing gasification; when company officials insisted in public debate forums that gasification technology wasn’t available on a reliable, commercial scale, I traveled to Florida to tour the Tampa project so I could refute the claim. And when I repeatedly brought up doing carbon capture, TXU said it was happy to consider making the new plants “carbon capture ready”—which sounded promising at the time, but quickly proved to be an often-used excuse for doing nothing. As David Hawkins with the Natural Resources Defense Council once famously put it in a 2007 appearance before the U.S. Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources: “It could mean almost anything, including according to some industry representatives, a plant that simply leaves physical space for an unidentified black box. If that makes a power plant ‘capture-ready,’ Mr. Chairman, then my driveway is ‘Ferrari-ready’.” 8

I wasn’t against coal. I was against using coal if it wasn’t in the cleanest manner possible. When I left public office in 2007, I was asked by several environmental groups if I would go around the country teaching other mayors how to fight dirty coal plants. My response was that it would take forever, only defeat one project at a time, and be an uphill battle in states like Texas (where citizens, not project developers, had the burden in permit hearings to prove that a project wasn’t using the best technology available). Why not build the cleanest plant in the world, thus raising the bar forever on the standard for using coal? The Clean Air Task Force promptly introduced me to Summit Power Group.

Summit executive Eric Redman, now our company president and CEO, was passionate about our project for the same reason I was—we want our industry to capture and sequester carbon. Hodel and Gjelde had a somewhat different but related motivation: Both of them wanted to help assure the clean, responsible, publicly accepted future use of America’s 300-year supply of coal and other hydrocarbons9—one of our country’s most stable and plentiful resources—in part so that America can finally fulfill its long-held goal of energy independence and security. These overlapping approaches to the project have resulted in one of TCEP’s greatest strengths—solid bipartisan support on the federal, state, and local levels in both Texas and Washington.

While Summit was focused on pre-combustion carbon capture, other forward-looking power companies were determined to capture carbon off existing coal fleets—a far more difficult task. Most commendably, American Electric Power (AEP) had made it a goal as early as 2003 to capture carbon off its existing 1300-MW Mountaineer Power Plant, commissioned in 1980 in West Virginia. With assistance from U.S. DOE, EPRI, and Alstom, AEP proved in a pilot program (which it conceived in 2003 but took until 2009 to achieve) that CO2 could be captured off an emissions slipstream and stored underground. Despite a $334M award from DOE to take the pilot program to commercial scale and a 90% capture rate, AEPabandoned the project in 2011 after the U.S. Senate failed to pass a House bill that established a federal cap-and-trade program for carbon emissions, and regulatory authorities in West Virginia were unwilling to pass on Mountaineer’s CO2 capture costs to ratepayers.

“[A]t this time it doesn’t make economic sense to continue work on the commercial-scale CCS project beyond the current engineering phase,” said Michael G. Morris, AEP chairman and chief executive, in a statement at the time. “It is impossible to gain regulatory approval to recover our share of the costs for validating and deploying the technology without federal requirements to reduce greenhouse gas emissions already in place.”10

Although Mountaineer’s demise has been seen as a major setback for post-combustion capture in the U.S., NRG announced in July 2014 that it would start construction on a $1B tower that would capture 40% of the CO2 from one of four coal units at its existing, 2475-MW W.A. Parish power plant near Houston. The 1.6 million tons per year of captured CO2 will be used for CO2-EOR in a field NRG partly owns 80 miles away. U.S. DOE is contributing $167M of the cost.

Tenaska was also a major first mover in developing CCUS, proposing two new-build projects: Trailblazer in Texas, a supercritical pulverized coal project with 85 to 90% carbon capture, and Taylorville in Illinois, a gasification project with 65% carbon capture. In 2013, Tenaska abandoned both, citing similar reasons as AEP, plus increasing supplies and lower costs of natural gas and renewable energy.

Today, only one major, new coal-based CCUS power project is under construction in the U.S.: the Kemper County energy facility, a 582-MW IGCC project with 65% carbon capture—a rate that will result in the plant having the same carbon emissions profile as a highly efficient natural gas-fired power plant. Jointly funded by Mississippi Power and Southern Company, with a $270M award from the U.S. DOE, Kemper has suffered cost overruns and schedule delays, but is set to come online near Meridian, Mississippi, by the end of 2014, which would make it the U.S.’s first successful coal-based CCUS power project and a long-awaited milestone for the industry.

The Texas Clean Energy Project

The second new-build U.S. carbon capture power project slated for construction is Summit’s Texas Clean Energy Project (TCEP).

Like Kemper, TCEP has also received federal incentives—a $450M award from Round 3 of U.S. DOE’s Clean Coal Power Initiative (CCPI) program in 2009–2010, and two subsequent federal tax credit awards from the IRS under Section 48A of the Internal Revenue Code. With TCEP’s projected cost at about $2.5B, the federal assistance covers just part of total construction costs, which will be borne primarily by private investors and bank lenders, but is nevertheless essential to this type of large-scale, first-of-a-kind project (first-of-its-kind because unlike Kemper, TCEP will also produce urea fertilizer, plus capture a much higher percentage of its CO2). In the case of TCEP, the federal incentives allow it to sell all of its products, including power, at market prices, which is critical in Texas since the electricity market is no longer regulated by the Public Utility Commission and ratepayers are not responsible for cost overruns.

So why—when utilities and other power providers have scrapped their CCUS projects in recent years—is TCEP still moving forward?

One fortuitous factor is TCEP’s design: It is a polygeneration plant—a project that generates multiple products, instead of just electricity—resulting in multiple revenue streams (see Figure 1). About 25% of TCEP’s revenue will be generated by 195 MW of electricity sales; about 55% of revenue will come from the 760,000 tons/year of urea; about 20% of revenue will come from the sales of CO2 for CO2-EOR.

Figure 1. Summary flow chart for the Texas Clean Energy Project  Note: Other by-products represent ~3% of total revenue and have been eliminated via rounding; tpy = tons/year

Figure 1. Summary flow chart for the Texas Clean Energy Project
Note: Other by-products represent ~3% of total revenue and have been eliminated via rounding; tpy = tons/year

This unusual configuration came about when Summit decided early on to employ Siemens gasification technology to convert Powder River Basin (PRB) coal into clean, high-hydrogen, low-carbonsyngas. Because of the gasifier’s size, this resulted in more syngas being produced than would be needed to operate the Siemens combustion turbine to produce electricity. After reviewing market forecasts for various products—synthesized gasoline and diesel fuel, ammonia, methanol, synthetic natural gas—urea fertilizer was chosen for its low commodity price risk and ability to displace imports (the U.S. currently imports 70% of its urea). TCEP will sell all of its urea to Minnesota-based CHS, Inc., which sells crop nutrients, both wholesale and retail, to thousands of farmers for millions of acres across North America.

Other TCEP products include sulfuric acid, which will be manufactured onsite from the sulfur captured from the coal, which is also currently done by Tampa Electric’s Polk Power Station. TCEP’s sulfuric acid will be marketed by Houston-based Shrieve Chemical Company to its mining, manufacturing, and agricultural customers.

Finally, just as Kemper will do, TCEP will take virtually all of its captured CO2, compress it onsite, and sell it to area oil producers for CO2-EOR. In TCEP’s case, TCEP will transport its 1.8 million standard tons per year of compressed CO2 for less than one mile to connect with the existing Kinder Morgan system of dedicated CO2 pipelines, which will deliver it to TCEP customers Whiting Oil and two other Permian Basin producers.

By December 2011, TCEP had achieved virtually all of its project milestones, including: 1) issuance of all required permits, including its Texas air permit and its Record of Decision (ROD) at the end of U.S. DOE’s National Environmental Protection Act (NEPA) process; 2) a completed front end engineering and design (FEED) study; 3) signed engineering, procurement, and construction (EPC) contracts and operations and maintenance (O&M) contracts with three EPC contractors; 4) signed off-take agreements for all major commercial products; and 5) commitments of local and state financial incentives for locating the project in West Texas.

In September 2012, the project forged an important alliance with two of the largest companies in China: the Export-Import Bank of China (Chexim), which committed to loan TCEP all of its required debt financing of more than $1.6 billion, and Sinopec Engineering Group (SEG), a subsidiary of petrochemical giant Sinopec Corporation, which joined the project’s EPC team.

In July 2013, with TCEP’s project debt and equity funding committed, an update of project costs came in considerably higher than had been anticipated by Summit and its investors, because of a sharp increase in construction costs in West Texas. This in turn was due to an increasingly high demand for skilled labor in the midst of a statewide oil and gas boom. With no ceiling on labor costs—and big labor contingencies added to the new cost estimates from all three contractors—the project was unable to complete its financing by its goal of December 2013.

Undeterred, and with the support of DOE and state and local officials in West Texas, Summit is now simplifying its EPC structure by bringing in a lead contractor that has successfully built similar plants, China Huanqiu Contracting & Engineering Corporation (HQC), and making improvements to its project design to reduce costs and the amount of needed feedstock (and also residual emissions). In July 2014, Summit and HQC launched a FEED study update that is expected to conclude with new, signed EPC contracts and a financial closing by about 30 April 2015, with groundbreaking shortly thereafter.

HQC and Summit began the FEED update work during the
sixth round of the U.S.-China Strategic and Economic Dialogue in Beijing. In conjunction with that meeting’s U.S.-China Climate Change Working Group CCUS initiative, Summit’s TCEP was also selected by the U.S. DOE to enter a working partnership arrangement with Huaneng’s Clean Energy Research Institute (CERI) and that company’s GreenGen project—which is China’s cleanest fossil fuel power plant.

“TCEP is a key part of the U.S. CCUS portfolio, and DOE has invested $450 million into the project,” stated the U.S. DOE’s Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Office of Fossil Energy, Christopher Smith, in a 3 July 2014 letter to China’s National Energy Administration Deputy Administrator Zhang Yuqing distributed in Beijing that week. “…Under the counter-facing project arrangement, Summit Power and Huaneng will help each other in the planning and operation of TCEP and Phase 2 of GreenGen by sharing non-proprietary information and results from the respective projects. Huaneng will also assist Summit Power in the commissioning of the TCEP plant.”11

Lessons Learned

We do not envision TCEP as a unique demonstration project, but rather the first full-scale commercial gasification plant in a new carbon capture business sector that Summit intends to pursue. This vision is shared by others in the industry, most especially U.S. DOE—without which none of the CCUS projects currently under construction, or in development, would be alive today. The prize for the entire energy sector is potentially enormous.

Hopefully, the challenges currently being experienced by projects like TCEP and the Kemper County energy facility will be viewed as necessary growing pains in the effort to replace the current low-efficiency, unabated fleet of coal-fired power generation. Through employing improved technologies this fleet could continue to provide reliable electricity while avoiding the release of 1.73 billion tons of CO2 into the atmosphere as was the case in 2010.12

One thing, though, is certain: Unless Congress approves additional financial incentives to build these innovative projects, this will be remembered as a decade that produced only a handful of commercial-scale carbon capture power projects in America—much like the 1990s are remembered for only two coal gasification projects, Tampa and Wabash. Perhaps the Rockefeller/NEORI proposal—which promises double rewards by both capturing CO2 and using it to bring up oil—can be the winning formula that quickly deploys a new and nimble fleet of game-changing CCUS facilities.

If the U.S. turns its back on coal entirely, the rest of the world will not. So for coal to remain relevant to a low-carbon U.S. power industry—and for worldwide carbon emissions from coal to be tamed—it is vital that TCEP and other coal-based CCUS projects succeed and stand as beacons, both here and abroad.

As in any industry, it’s simply a matter of getting the first movers up and operating.



  1. The Risky Business Project. (2014, June). Risky business: The economic risks of climate change to the United States, riskybusiness.org/uploads/files/RiskyBusiness_PrintedReport_FINAL_WEB_OPTIMIZED.pdf
  2. Congressional Budget Office, Congress of the United States. (2012, June). Federal efforts to reduce the cost of capturing and storing carbon dioxide, www.cbo.gov/sites/default/files/cbofiles/attachments/43357-06-28CarbonCapture.pdf
  3. U.S. Department of Energy. (2014, 12 December). Loan guar-antee solicitation announcement, energy.gov/sites/prod/files/2014/03/f14/Fossil-Solicitation-FINAL.pdf
  4. National Enhanced Oil Recovery Initiative. (2014). Carbon dioxide enhanced oil recovery: A critical domestic energy, economic, and environmental opportunity. Available at: neori.org/publications/neori-report/
  5. U.S. Department of Energy, National Energy Technology Laboratory. (2014). SNG from coal: Process & commercialization, www.netl.doe.gov/research/coal/energy-systems/gasification/gasifipedia/great-plains
  6. U.S. Energy Information Administration. (2013, 12 December). Electric power annual: Table 4.1. Count of electric power industry power plants, by sector, by predominant energy sources within plant, 2002 through 2012; Table 3.1.A. Net generation by energy source: Total (all sectors), 2002-2012, Electric power annual, www.eia.gov/electricity/annual
  7. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. (2014, 17 June). Emissions tracking highlights. Table of emissions, emission rates, heat input: 2012 v. 2013, www.epa.gov/airmarkets/quarterlytracking.html
  8. Committee on Energy and Natural Resources, U.S. Senate. (2007, 16 April). Hearing on S. 731 and S. 962: Carbon capture and sequestration (testimony of David G. Hawkins, Climate Center, NRDC), www.energy.senate.gov/public/index.cfm/files/serve?File_id=d281a96a-5466-4f0c-b74c-d696811e67ee
  9. National Mining Association. (2008). U.S. coal reserves by state and mine type, www.geocraft.com/WVFossils/Reference_Docs/coal_reserves_NMA.pdf
  10. American Electric Power. (2011, 3 July). AEP places carbon capture commercialization on hold, citing uncertain status of climate policy, weak economy, www.aep.com/newsroom/newsreleases/?id=1704
  11. Smith, C.A. (2014, 14 July). Letter from the Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary, Office of Fossil Energy, U.S. Department of Energy, to Zhang Yuqing, Deputy Administrator, National Energy Administration, People’s Republic of China. Unpublished.
  12. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. (2014). Clean energy, www.epa.gov/cleanenergy/energy-resources/refs.html


The author can be reached at lmiller@summitpower.com


The content in Cornerstone does not necessarily reflect the views of the World Coal Association or its members.