Coal is the largest source of power globally and, given its wide availability and relatively low cost, it is likely to remain so for the foreseeable future. The High-Efficiency, Low-Emissions Coal-Fired Power Generation Roadmap describes the steps necessary to adopt and further develop technologies to improve the efficiency of the global fleet of coal. To generate the same amount of electricity, a more efficient coal-fired unit will burn less fuel, emit less carbon, release less local air pollutants, consume less water and have a smaller footprint.
High-efficiency, low emissions (HELE) technologies in operation already reach a thermal efficiency of 45%, and technologies in development promise even higher values. This compares with a global average efficiency for today’s fleet of coal-fired plants of 33%, where three-quarters of operating units use less efficient technologies and more than half is over 25 years old. A successful outcome to ongoing RD&D could see units with efficiencies approaching 50% or even higher demonstrated within the next decade. Generation from older, less efficient technology must gradually be phased out. Technologies exist to make coal-fired power generation much more effective and cleaner burning.
Of course, while increased efficiency has a major role to play in reducing emissions, particularly over the next 10 years, carbon capture and storage (CCS) will be essential in the longer term to make the deep cuts in carbon emissions required for a low-carbon future. Combined with CCS, HELE technologies can cut CO2 emissions from coal-fired power generation plants by as much as 90%, to less than 100 grams per kilowatt-hour. HELE technologies will be an influential factor in the deployment of CCS. For the same power output, a higher efficiency coal plant will require less CO2 to be captured; this means a smaller, less costly capture plant; lower operating costs; and less CO2 to be transported and stored.