Coal is an important fuel and will remain so for many years, believes Andreas Lusch, president and chief executive officer, GE Steam Power Systems. Clean coal technologies, which address problems of emissions, are thus expected to play a critical role. Excerpts from a recent interview with Power Line…
What is the future of coal-based power globally?
According to the World Economic Forum, reliable, high quality energy is the first building block for progress and goes hand in hand with higher per capita income. Reliable energy enables economic development, creates local jobs and drives higher living standards.
The world is going to need 50 per cent more power in the next 20 years and it will need to be affordable, accessible, reliable and sustainable. Coal-based power has the ability to meet these objectives to build the power infrastructure required for growth. With nearly 900 billion tonnes of reserves, coal remains a vital part of the energy mix globally. Today, 40 per cent of the world’s electricity is produced from coal and we predict that amount will decrease only slightly, to 30 per cent, over the next decade.
In India, at 60 per cent of the total installed base, coal is the most affordable means to produce power and provide energy security. With the drive towards Power for All, coal is an important ingredient in the country’s energy mix.
The ability of countries (including India) to meet the emission goals set out in the Paris COP 21 agreement, while meeting the growing demand for electricity, will depend on the ability of fossil fuel-powered plants such as coal to deliver. In this scenario, improving the efficiency of power generated from coal-fired plants is a critical need and also a challenge.
GE’s most advanced coal plant technology can deliver up to 49 per cent efficiency as against the global average of 33 per cent. Every percentage point of efficiency improvement reduces CO2 emissions by 2 per cent. Even if a new plant on an average has an efficiency level in the mid-40s, that is, 12 per cent points higher than the average, it would result in a 24 per cent reduction in CO2 emissions.
What is your perspective on the global clean coal technologies industry?
Coal plants generate 40 per cent of the world’s electricity and the developed countries are focusing more on producing electricity from cleaner coal technologies. In a post-COP 21 world, there is an increased focus on the need to meet the emission goals, while meeting the growing demand for electricity.
Clean coal technology is crucial for the power sector because the high-efficiency and low emission coal-fired power plants can reduce greenhouse emissions as they increase the amount of energy that can be extracted from a single unit of coal.
The environmental benefits of installing cleaner coal technologies in India are important, with research showing that by transferring the country’s capacity mix from reliance on subcritical infrastructure, which is currently the case, to ultra-supercritical, 73 billion tonnes of carbon emissions could be eliminated over 40 years. The government is determined to adopt new technologies to make coal-based power generation cleaner and GE is leading this change by offering technologies like supercritical, ultra-supercritical and advanced ultra-supercritical for reducing coal consumption per MW, helping plants to be more environment friendly and efficient.
GE’s Steam Power Systems pioneered ultra-supercritical steam generation, and is today a global technology leader in advanced and ultra-supercritical technology. This technology has achieved efficiencies of up to 47 per cent, far above the global average rate of 30 per cent for the existing power plants, lowering fuel consumption and emissions. It is also a pioneer in air quality control systems (AQCSs), which respond to the highest environmental standards. Till date globally, GE has over 5,000 AQCS installations on industry sites.
What are the new and promising technologies in the power generation market?
The world is moving towards digital and clean technologies and GE, being a front-runner, is committed to providing cutting-edge technologies for a better tomorrow. In a post-COP 21 world, we believe the best results will come from balancing a mix of fuel sources and creating maximum efficiency through the power of digital. Recently, we launched the Digital Power Plant for Steam in Paris.
GE’s Digital Power Plant is the next big thing in the power generation industry as it combines the world’s most adaptable and reliable power plants. It would enhance efficiency and reduce emissions of coal-fired plants. These power plants have a responsive digital infrastructure and a collection of highly innovative industrial applications built for the industrial internet, which is powered by Predix. The Digital Power Plant will enable decarbonisation and better plant economics. It will also result in the efficient use of fossil fuels and support increased renewables penetration by increasing power plant flexibility and the ability to optimise based on the desired outcome (CO2, fuel efficiency output). With advanced controls and cybersecurity software, the Digital Power Plant for Steam interprets data drawn from sensors across the power plant, highlights the key factors that may affect performance (such as fuel quality, plant ageing and ambient conditions) and takes appropriate action through a closed-loop control system. This software, therefore, enhances the performance and reduces the emissions from steam plants.
How important is the Indian market for GE globally?
India is an emerging market that holds strategic importance for GE. We are extremely upbeat about the opportunities it presents. We see ourselves as a partner in the 24×7 Power for All mission of the government, which aims at improving the quality of life of people in India through 24×7 power supply at an affordable cost. With coal accounting for over 60 per cent of the country’s installed base, this affordable and abundant fuel is projected to be a lynchpin in powering the growth of India.
In India, with our recent acquisition of Alstom, we have gone up from 15 per cent representation to 55 per cent. If India is to develop a sustainable future using a power source like coal, we need to produce and deliver this energy in the most efficient and reliable way possible – and GE’s advanced steam turbine technology is helping us do just that. Even with the focus on the integration of renewables, reliable baseload power provided by coal will remain crucial for fast growing economies like India.
What is GE Power’s business strategy for the next few years? What will be the key areas of focus?
We are focusing on providing customers with coal-based power generation technologies that improve economics and are cleaner, sustainable and respectful of the environmental objectives.
Here is how we are doing this:
- Higher efficiency means better economics. Alstom’s steam power know-how, combined with GE tools, has moved ultra-supercritical technology to the next level. For example, our new double reheat technology delivers an additional 1.5 percentage points of efficiency – or 3 per cent lower emissions. For a 1,000 MW base load plant, this means a more than 100,000 tonne reduction in the annual coal consumption, 180,000 tonnes of CO2 saved per year, and an economic benefit of $80 million in additional value per year for our customers.
- Reduced greenhouse gas emissions. With the latest single reheat technology, projects would be more attractive for export credit support in the post-COP 21 world.
- Lower emissions mean cleaner air. With 80 years of experience and the broadest range of AQCSs, our technology can address all the sources of non-greenhouse gas emissions, like NOx, SOx and particulate matter from any coal-fired power plant to meet and exceed the world’s strictest regulations. Cleaner air means a better acceptance of coal-fired plants in local communities, and equally importantly, by lenders and financial institutions, leading to better financing terms for our customers.
It all adds up. All this translates into lower operating costs and more value for our customers. We also partner with governments and international organisations to identify new sources of funding. To meet the demands of the future, we need to achieve even higher efficiency and lower emissions. GE Power will continue to play a role in supporting and improving the performance of coal- and oil-fired power plants.