Flexible and dynamic may not be words you naturally associate with coal. However, when it comes to providing stable baseload power supply or integrating intermittent power sources, it is a key resource for the fast track to sustainable grids.
Let’s take India for example. Energy from renewable sources, primarily solar, grew by 27% from 2017 to 2018, covering around 30% of the total increase in the country’s power demand. Beyond this, India has already well-exceeded its initial governmental target of installing 20GW of solar capacity by 2022.
While innovation continues to shift the energy landscape, the intermittency of power supply from renewable sources – the fact that there are times when the wind doesn’t blow, and the sun doesn’t shine – means that grids still need baseload power, which is often provided by coal.
The growth of energy demand in India is quite staggering. Its economy is predicted to continue to grow at an annual average rate of 6.5% through to 2040 and as a result, energy demand is projected to triple over that period.
Renewables alone cannot meet these needs. This is why 40 GW of coal-fired capacity is currently under construction. Further capacity additions are planned to meet increasing demand, including peak loads, and to ensure reliability with more dispatchable capacity.
The Indian government has also recently announced the intention to increase national coal capacity from 194.44 to 238 GW by 2027.
Coal in India’s energy production
Growing manufacturing supported by the ‘Make in India’ programme, widespread cooling system use and increased energy access – 180 million Indians are expected to gain electricity access by 2040 – will help to shape an ever-changing story over the coming years.
Yet, there is no question that coal is the dominant source of electricity in India – in 2018, it accounted for 74% of supply and will still represent almost half of electricity generation in 2040.
Despite the surge of renewables, both electricity demand and generation from coal in India are expected to grow significantly over the next 25 years.
Coal-fired power plants will form part of the flexibility picture in India, responding to system needs and complementing renewables; and technologies exist to make them environmentally compatible.
Through the government’s 12th Five-Year Plan, India is seeking to upgrade its coal fleet and retiring the most inefficient coal-power stations. Its first advanced ultra-supercritical (AUSC) facility, located at the Sipat coal-fired power station in the state of Chhattisgarh, is going to be constructed with an efficiency of 46%.
India is also home to an unsubsidised, fully commercial carbon capture, use and storage (CCUS) facility developed by Carbon Clean Solutions that has operated since 2015 in the port of Tuticorin.
In India, as with many other emerging economies, coal’s role is as a fuel of change. In contrast to public perception, innovation has delivered a range of solutions to efficiency and environmental issues. A 1% increase in LHV efficiency in coal plants can deliver a 2-3% decrease in CO2 emissions, while CCUS is technically capable of capturing up to 100% of emissions.
By using clean coal technologies for competitive and flexible power generation over the coming decades, modern coal plants can support meeting both economic priorities and long-term climate targets.