Building pathways for cleaner coal technologies, World Coal Association (WCA) workshop, 1 June, London

This workshop was to provide input in forming WCA’s submission to the COP21 climate meetings in Paris in December. There was minor excitement with a small demonstration by chanting climate activists, who put a padlock and wooden bar across the doors of the building and spilt coal over the pavement. After a while, we sneaked in via a rear entrance with help of security people, but it was an hour or two before some other delegates appeared, as the back door was spotted by the activists who barred that route too.

The morning session, contained presentations from the WCA, SaskPower, World Energy Resources Programme, Alstom and Capture Power.

The smaller public funding for CCS than for renewables was referred to several times. The savings in CO2 emissions from replacement of subcritical plants with USC technology were compared favourably with the CO2 saved from renewables. WCA’s Platform for Accelerating Coal Efficiency (PACE) initiative was referred to. There was quite a lot of reference to the IEA’s New Policies Scenario.

The afternoon session was a panel discussion, moderated by the news presenter Sasha Twining, on how to create pathways and drive deployment of cleaner coal technologies, including CCS. There were panel members from the coal industry, research, NGOs and other bodies.

Most believed that public funding would be needed if CCS was going to be commercially implemented. More than one speaker believed that proponents would need to push more strongly to make the move from demonstration plants to commercial plants occur very soon. Otherwise, they believed, CCS would miss out as an option for tackling climate change. But the general feeling in the room was that a two-step approach via further demonstrations was still the realistic way to proceed.

There was acknowledgement of the role of wider availability of electricity in tackling poverty. Some speakers thought that, though appropriate for most, centralised power production would not be suitable for all poorer countries.

Funding of projects in less developed economies was needed. As to whether high efficiency technologies or CCS should be encouraged there, the majority, but not general view, of the panel was that it was realistic to expect efficiency projects first. There was broad agreement in the room that subcritical plants should be closed within the next five or so years and replaced with high efficiency units.

There was agreement that clarity in government policies was needed for CCS to be applied. Without this clarity, moves away from investments in coal stocks could also continue, causing a threat to energy security. While there appeared to be growing uncertainty in the size of coal’s future role, its presence as a contributor to power generation in 2050 looked in little doubt. The UK’s lead in policy was commented on, with its funding of first-of-a-kind plants, infrastructure (CO2 pipework) to connect follow-on plants, contracts for differences (feed-in tariffs) for CCS, Climate Change Act and carbon budgets.