Clean coal is “better value than renewables”

More green energy funding should be going to 'clean coal' as a cheaper way of bringing down carbon emissions than renewables, a think-tank said in a report this week.

As the Government prepares to publish the delayed Energy White Paper, centre-right think tank Centre for Policy Studies made the case for low-emission coal power as an important part of a secure, low-carbon energy portfolio for Britain.

Clean coal energy is cheaper than renewables, costing around 2 to 3p per kWh compared to.7 and 5.5p per kWh for wind power, writes the report’s author, energy analyst Tony Lodge.

According to the report carbon capture and storage (CCS) technologies that remove most CO2 from coal power plant emissions for underground storage are a better-value technique for fighting climate change: “Fitting clean coal technology to the UK’s 16 power plants would cost an estimated £6bn. In comparison, 2,000 wind turbines are being put up in the UK over the next six years at a cost of £9bn.”

How clean is ‘clean coal’? According to Richard Budge of clean coal company Powerfuel, a contributor to the report, coal gasification methods can capture 90% of the CO2 for sequestration underground. “Near zero-emission” clean coal technologies – notably the Integrated Gas Combined Cycle (IGCC) championed by Powerfuel – also exist but cannot be fitted to most power stations due to design.

The report lists the virtues of coal as a fuel: “plentiful, indigenous, flexible and responsive to peaks and troughs in demand, can be stored, is not prone to outages” or geo-political risks.

CCS remains controversial – as a fossil fuel-dependent choice many see it as a temporary fix at best, and there are concerns over CO2 escaping from underground reservoirs with time.

Nevertheless, more than 35% the UK’s electricity currently comes from coal, and with more energy generation urgently needed ‘clean coal’ plants could play an increasingly important role.

“If the Government’s CO2 targets are to be met, then support for nuclear energy and for clean coal and carbon capture and storage on a large scale are essential,” writes Tony Lodge.

The report recommends the development of ‘clean coal tech’ as a way of helping India and China reconcile economic and environmental issues – both countries’ growing economies are heavily dependent on cheap, readily available coal.

The full report can be accessed here.

Goska Romanowicz

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