Next-gen coal plants fuel climate impact debate


The so-called “ultra-supercritical” coal (USC) proposed to be used in power generation has been touted as a solution to the Philippines’ twin challenges of securing enough energy to meet growing demand while cutting emissions, but critics contend the idea of clean coal “is a lie.”

Opponents, instead, are pushing for a completely new approach to address power needs for developing countries most at risk from climate change.

One proponent said USC technology can deliver up to 49 percent efficiency rates—significantly higher than the global average of 33 percent, leading to lower emissions and operating costs.

Massimo Gallizioli, senior sales executive for Asia Pacific at GE Steam Power Systems, told the Coal Power Generation Forum 2016 recently held in Manila that USC power plants require less coal per megawatt-hour, which means lower emissions including emissions of carbon dioxide and mercury, higher efficiency and lower fuel costs per megawatt.

Speaking on the Future of Ultra-Supercritical Coal Power Technology, Gallizioli showcased GE’s new double reheat technology that delivers an additional 1.5 percentage points of efficiency, leading to 3 percent lower emissions which, he explained, “can add up to $80 million in value for a 1,000 megawatt (MW) plant.”

“Our broad portfolio of air quality control systems reduces both greenhouse and non-greenhouse gas emissions to meet and exceed the strictest global environmental regulations, providing cleaner power generation for local communities,” he said.

The advent of the industrial internet also brings improved performance for operations, Gallizioli said, as he discussed GE’s Predix digital applications for steam power plants, which can help to increase efficiency up to 1.5 percent over the life of the plant.

This translates to enough additional power for 67,000 homes or equivalent to taking 107,000 cars off the road, according to Gallizioli.

“Power generation in a more efficient and sustainable manner remains the challenge,” said Charlie Clement, Philippines country sales general manager at GE Steam Power Systems.

“On our part, we are dedicated to technologies that improve economics and are cleaner, more sustainable and respectful of environmental objectives, which the Philippines requires as it gears to provide stable energy supply for the Filipinos,” he said.

‘Dirty Lie’
In his first State of the Nation Address last month, President Rodrigo Duterte seemed to acknowledge the potential benefits of ‘clean coal’ technology such as USC to drive the country’s industrialization.

“Let us be very clear on this: We need to industrialize. We need the power and, therefore, the emissions would also be considered,” Duterte said. “If you’re using the state of the art technology and I’ve seen it several times in the other power plants in this country, if it is really a good one, then we will consider it, I said, because we need the energy to power our industrialization,” he said.

The Philippine Movement for Climate Justice (PMCJ), however, reacted with alarm to Duterte’s seemingly contradictory stance. In a statement, the group said, “We are also alarmed by the President’s reference to ‘clean coal.’ Is President Duterte falling for this dirty lie, this outdated and false information that coal is cheap? The cost of coal is more than the financial cost of mining coal and building and running coal plants.

“Even the most state-of-the-art in coal energy technology has huge harmful consequences to people’s health and environment, which cannot be fully compensated for financially.

“President Duterte should know that renewable energy is not only clean and healthy, the financial cost of building and running renewable energy systems has already achieved parity with coal,” the group added.

The PMCJ’s charge that there is no such thing as ‘clean coal’ is not without some basis, according to an article published on the topic last year by Foreign Policy. As just one example, the John W. Tuck Jr. power plant located in southwestern Arkansas, a state-of-the-art, 600 MW capacity plant completed in 2012 at a cost of $1.8 billion and featuring the very same type of technology GE’s Gallizioli described, emits 3.4 million tons of greenhouse gases annually, making it the fifth-biggest source of pollution in the US state.

As the Foreign Policy article explained, many environmentalists are openly questioning the conventional model of electricity supply—large, centralized plants distributing electricity over a grid—comparing the problem of ensuring a sufficient and sustainable energy supply for developing countries to the advent of mobile communications, which has all but rendered convention landline telephone networks obsolete.

“You don’t see anybody standing up and saying we need to roll out landline telephones to every rural village,” the magazine quoted Justin Guay, one of the leaders of the Beyond Coal campaign at the Sierra Club, who fought to prevent the construction of the aforementioned Turk plant in Arkansas. Guay’s argument is that the persistent lack of power in countries like the Philippines is due to the adherence to an outmoded model that ought to be replaced by smaller, cleaner local renewable energy resources.

“I think there’s a real big gut-check question the development community needs to ask itself: If grid extension and the construction of power plants and coal are just so wonderful for poor communities, why has it failed so miserably, and why do we expect any different outcome if we double down on that existing approach?” Guay was quoted as saying.

Based on Department of Energy (DOE) data, as of June 30, coal-fired power plants still provide the second-largest share of the Philippines’ power, 6,484 MW or 33 percent of the 19,861 MW total installed capacity. Renewable energy, mostly geothermal, accounts for 35 percent or 6,870 MW, with oil-based generation contributing 18 percent or 3,634 MW, and natural gas providing 2,872 MW or 14 percent.


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