Leading energy analyst Tony Lodge argues that clean coal should play an important part in the UK’s energy mix in Clean Coal: a clean, secure and affordable alternative, published today Tuesday 15 May by the Centre for Policy Studies.
Coal still plays an important part in baseload electricity generation, producing more than 35% of the UK’s electricity during an average year. In recent winters this has risen to 50%. And it has numerous advantages: it is plentiful, indigenous, relatively cheap, flexible and responsive to peaks and troughs in demand, can be stored, is not prone to outages, and is not vulnerable to geo-political risk. Only nuclear power can match these advantages.
However, because of their substantial carbon emissions, current coal-fired electricity power stations are today considered to be environmentally unacceptable. Yet Lodge shows that new clean coal technologies are being developed around the world which can reduce the environmental impact of coal-fired generation. These are now proven to work. Powerfuel’s new development at Hatfield in Yorkshire – backed by Friends of the Earth – is an example of how new clean coal plant can be developed in practice.
More energy generation is urgently needed in the UK. Our installed electricity capacity is currently 77 gigawatts (GW); but by 2016, we could face a shortfall of 32 GW as older coal, nuclear and oil plant is closed, and as demand increases.
Clean coal is competitive on price, with a generating cost estimated at between 2p/KWh and 3.5p/KWh. Wind power (excluding the extra costs of intermittent supply) costs between 3.7p/KWh and 5.5p/KWh.
The UK has the opportunity to be at the forefront of developing clean coal technology. This would not only be beneficial to the UK, but would also be the most effective way of helping developing economies (notably China and India) to take advantage of their own coal reserves in a way which is considered as environmentally acceptable.
Electricity generators are private companies. For them to make the substantial investment in clean coal plant depends to a large extent on changes in government policy in three respects:
As Richard Budge, CEO of Powerfuel PLC writes in the Foreword:
“However, without a clear government energy policy, [clean coal] will not happen… This is therefore the political opportunity: for a simple change in policy to allow the UK to compete in the provision of a new technology which will provide a reliable and secure source of energy for the years ahead.
The long-term political benefits could be substantial: increased reliability of electricity supply and cheaper electricity prices for the consumer. Such a combination, Lodge concludes, ought to be attractive to all policy-makers.