– Just Another Panic-led “Solution” to Another Energy Crisis?
By Dr F.Starr – FIMMM, C.Eng : Claverton: October 2008. This presentation was given at the Claverton October 2008 Conference and was intended to provoke discussion about one of the main downsides to the concepts of carbon capture. The issue in question is that carbon capture will increase coal demand by at least 20%, over what non-capture plant will require. This is particularly important for the UK since, despite what is commonly thought, the UK coal output has been declining since 1913 and continues to decline. At present UK coal only supplies about 10% of our electricity. There is no prospect of a significant increase.
The rest of Europe is in a similar position. Coal and lignite output is declining here, too, but because of the construction of natural gas powered CCGTs, and deindustrialisation, the use of coal has fallen. Even so Europe, as a whole is not self sufficient at the present time. After 2015, Europe, including the UK will need to begin importing more coal.
This is a critical issue for the UK. By 2020 we will be importing 90% of our gas, and even more coal than we do at the moment. The UK has been running a huge balance of payments deficiency. Do we want to add to out burden by adding 20% to our coal import bill?My belief is that, as I highlighted in the Claverton Press Release for April 2008, the UK Government’s approach to energy matters has been a series of short term panic-led solutions to energy matters. I think that for the UK to embark upon the immediate construction of power plants of the carbon capture type would be premature. I advocate holding back until 2020, when it will become clearer what Europe, as a whole will have decided to do in terms of carbon capture plants.
It is possible that by that time the large scale introduction of renewable energy will have obviated the need to build “clean coal power generation plants” and construction of such units will have been seen another expensive mistake.
An honest debate is called for, instead of brushing aside this issue. Please read the presentation and think.
This is based on one of Karl Marx’s quotations about history repeating itself, first as a farce and then as a tragedy. The UK energy policy has been of this type and has been repeatedly derailed during the past 70 years, through such things as miner’s strikes, blackouts due shortage of power plant, and bad weather and real environmental matters, like wide dread smogs. The biggest one in the UK was that in the early fifties which lead to the “Smoke Control Acts.”
However in coming decades, the big issues are going to be the cost of fuel imports, a shortage of coal as the UK and the rest of Europe run down their mining activities. In addition, because almost every European country will be desperate to import coal from the rest of the world, there will threats to our own imports.
The UK suffered its first energy real crisis during the Second World War, when our only source of energy was coal. In another presentation I have made the point that we are no longer an island of coal, we have used up almost all of our oil and gas, and we no loner have any fish either!
This slide speaks for itself, but the almost linear decline in UK coal output began in 1913, when we were exporting 100 million tonnes of coal. Basically we used to be a coal based economy which needed about 200-250 million to sustain itself.
If we had go back to coal completely, that is no oil or gas, we would need to mine about 350-400 million tonnes a year. Present UK reserves, including open cast are less than 1000 million tonnes, not the hundreds of years commonly supposed.
There are also reasons to think that world wide coal reserves are not brilliant, but this issue is even more contentious than the question as to whether an “oil peak” is imminent.
The slide summarises the situation whereby although the UK may be okay for a long period using oil for transport, especially if there is some restriction on it use, we are in serious difficulties with gas and coal. We have a severe balance of payments problem and this is likely to get worse as the value of the pound declines.
My concern about carbon capture generating plants, or using coal for production of gas or for space heating, is that it perpetuates or reliance on coal.
Important questions for those who see carbon capture as a solution, is when do they see the UK getting rid of it last carbon capture fossil fuel plant, and what level of coal use do they see in the decades between now and 2070?
New coal plants will be needed in the UK, and are essential if we go for either renewables or nuclear. But they have to be more efficient than present units.
But such plants will need to have the flexibility whereby they can run at low outputs efficiently, and perhaps, be able to started up from cold quickly when wind power fails and there is no sun….as in December 2006. Since future coal based plants will not be running base load this demands a sensible balance between capital cost and plant efficiency.
The difference in generating plant efficiencies from plants which do not capture carbon, like the ones that we would build now, and plants that capture carbon is about 8%. That is 43 minus 35%.
However the amount of coal needed for a carbon capture plant is in the ratio of 43/35, that is 1.23. Hence a carbon capture plant will require more than 20% more coal to produce the same amount of electricity. Not 8%!
Questions also need to be asked about the coal demand during part load operation of carbon capture plants. Will this be worse than when running a conventional plant at part load? Furthermore, some gasifier based carbon capture plants will suffer very badly when running at part load, and may take longer to start up from cold.
More advanced coal plants will be lucky to hit 50% efficiency. They will not be available until after 2020, if they prove to be practical. The 43% is a reasonable estimate for plants that will be built in the UK in the nest ten years.
This information is slightly out of date, being taken from a European Commission sponsored report of 2003. Work is under way to update it, but there is, I believe, no serious disputing of the trend. Both coal and lignite have been in decline for some years, with the shut down of mines in The UK and Germany being responsible for much of the decline. The prospects for resurrection of coal mining in these countries are bleak.
In the longer term, Polish coal output will also go down. This is quite important for the UK since we had have begun to import coal from this country. The EU is now importing a lot from Australia, South Africa and Indonesia.
The surprising thing is the decline of lignite as well. Major sources in Europe are Germany and Greece. Because of it low calorific value, and high trapped water content there is no international trade in lignite.
Very roughly, the EU is now producing about as much coal as the UK itself did back in the immediate post war period.
Here again the information may be a bit out of date, but it does show that the EU has turned away from coal, with many countries using natural gas for electricity generation and as well as for space heating. We areat a happy time when in general the demand that Europe makes on other parts of the world is quite low.
The recent rise in gas prices is pushing power generation back to coal. In the UK, if we replaced all of gas with coal this would double coal demand to something in the region of 70-80 million tonnes.
But notice that for the EU as a whole coal demand also doubles. Part of the reason for this is the continuing decline in lignite production.
The projection shows what is likely to happen in Europe if after 2015, as the proposed regulations require generating plants are fitted with carbon capture systems.
The dotted red line shows the effect of an increase in coal demand because of carbon capture.
Note that because lignite plants will also have their output reduced, it will be necessary to build extra generating plant capacity and import more coal as a result.
What does this mean for the UK, if it begins to build carbon capture generating plant?
Very roughly, by2020 on present trends, that is, no carbon capture we will be importing 50 million tonnes of coal. UK production will have probably fallen from its present level of about 18 million to less than ten million tonnes.
If we build carbon capture type plants, these will be the mainstay of generating industry for many years. However their operation will require the import of an extra ten million tonnes. So the UK will be paying out half a billion to reduce CO2 emissions by 1%.
I am sure there more productive and cost effective ways of spending money. In addition the money is not fed back into the UK economy.
But let us suppose that the world as a whole switches over to carbon capture. If this were to happen world coal output would need to increase by 1000 million tonnes.
Is this practical?
I believe that a few people in the UK Government are dimly aware of the impact that carbon capture will have on the countries finances. They really do not know what to do.
I am not sure myself, but if I was in their position I would not be wanting to be the first European Country to build a clean coal, low CO2 emission plant. Instead I would keep my options open and only begin its introduction when others in Europe had begun to do so. At least then we would all be in the same economic situation.
I discount the construction of coal based plants in the USA , China, India, Australia or in other countries which have got a large coal mining industry, and either are exporting coal or do not require it to be imported.