Prospects for “high efficiency, low emissions” coal in southeast Asia

19 September 2018

A recent report* from the IEA Clean Coal Centre looks at prospects for what it likes to call HELE (high efficiency, low emissions) coal generation in the smaller but populous economies of southeast Asia: Bangladesh; Indonesia; Malaysia; Philippines; Thailand; and Vietnam. It is one of a series of reports by the IEA CCC that examines the role of HELE coal-fired power plant in reducing emissions by setting out an overview of the prospects for such technologies in various coal-using countries. In each country, coal is envisaged as remaining an important part of the energy mix contributing to the supply of each country’s growing electricity needs at an affordable price. The studies “have been undertaken to illustrate how HELE plants can help reduce world emissions without compromising growth objectives”, says the IEA CCC. HELE technologies include supercritical (SC), ultrasupercritical (USC) and advanced ultrasupercritical (AUSC) technologies.

Among the benefits, relative to subcritical technology, cited by the IEA: while the initial capital cost is higher, less coal is required per unit of electricity produced, delivering significant operating cost savings over the life of the asset; a new SC or USC unit entails, respectively, 13% or 19% less CO2 emissions than a new subcritical unit, and up to 40% less if the HELE unit is replacing an older plant.

Among key messages from the new report:

  • A priority in Bangladesh is to accelerate access to affordable power. The government has committed to a massive increase in coal-fired power plant. All new and planned future coal units are largely based on ultrasupercritical technology which will give Bangladesh a largely HELE fleet for many years to come.
  • The Indonesian coal fleet is heavily biased towards subcritical and supercritical units and would benefit from a transition to a stronger HELE basis. However, the complicated geography of the country may limit power plant unit size, which makes HELE plant less suitable (being most efficient at installed capacities of 800 MWe or more).
  • In Malaysia, coal use is set to triple, and the coal fleet is relatively mature. Malaysia is committed to the use of the most efficient technologies including USC for newly planned units.
  • The economy of the Philippines is growing rapidly. The consequential increased demand for power is forecast to be met by natural gas initially but could be overtaken by coal around 2030. However, local resistance to new coal plant is strong. The retirement and replacement of older units with HELE plant would enable projected power needs to be met with lower CO2 emissions. However, the Philippines has a complicated geography so grid limitations may impose a limit to the unit size of coal plant.
  • In Thailand, coal is expected to be an important part of the future generating capacity and although the government has a strong renewables commitment coal is seen as vital to meeting future demand for electricity. Recently added capacity has been limited to supercritical technology.
  • Currently, coal is important in Vietnam, but a recent resurgence of interest in nuclear power may be at coal’s expense in the medium term. It is only when existing plants are retired and additional power is needed, from around 2035 onwards, that AUSC units may be introduced and emissions of CO2 will fall.

Not all countries have opted to use the best available HELE technology for new and planned capacity and if significant tranches of the less efficient technologies are installed now and in the near future, they become ‘locked in’ to the coal fleet for decades. Given the importance of using HELE technologies for continuing coal use it is vital to continue to press the case for their uptake to ensure that such outcomes are minimised, the new report argues. 

* Ian Barnes, HELE perspectives for selected Asian countries, IEA Clean Coal Centre, CCC/287, ISBN 978–92–9029–610–2, 75 pp, June 2018 

Coal-fired power plant capacity by steam cycle conditions for Bangladesh, Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines, Thailand and Vietnam (source: Ian Barnes, HELE perspectives for selected Asian countries, IEA Clean Coal Centre, CCC/287)

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