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UNECE Cleaner Electricity Production from Fossil Fuels, October 2016

UNECE Committee on Sustainable Energy: Group of Experts on Cleaner Electricity Production from Fossil Fuels.
UN, Geneva, Switzerland, 26-27 October 2016

This meeting contained a workshop mounted in collaboration with the World Coal Association entitled: The Sustainability Credentials of Coal and its Role in the UN Sustainable Development Goal 7. I made a presentation at the workshop on Coal-fired power plants – flexibility options and challenges.

In his introduction to the workshop, David Elzinga (UNECE) mentioned that some eyebrows can be raised at why the UN considers coal as consistent with sustainable development. But the UNECE has no doubts about the big role of coal in giving access to electricity at acceptable cost, while acknowledging the further opportunities for greater energy efficiency, including transmission efficiency. The same message was conveyed at the beginning of the meeting by Scott Foster, the UNECE Director Sustainable Energy Division. These sorts of meetings are inevitably pretty formal, but he noted with approval the recent change to greater emphasis on substance, rather than process, driven by the members and the Group’s Chair. He gave the stark warning that the world is heading towards a 6°C warmer world. Fossil energy is still 80% of world energy mix, with transport making a big impact, but coal had to be considered and not simply turned away from.

In Barry Worthington’s (US EA) introductory, he spoke of a need to get on with CCS for coal, despite the large replacement of it by gas for power generation in the US in the last few years. Coal would still be a large energy source there and elsewhere for decades to come.

Ben Sporton (WCA) gave a similar message, and said HELE technology was important to focus on to be a global standard. He highlighted the Japanese Isogo plant. 19 countries had coal in their plans regarding CO2 commitments under the Paris Agreement through HELE, which was important in preparation of plants for CCS. Policy support was much less for CCS than renewables.

Jon Gibbins spoke on carbon capture readiness. Mucella Ersoy spoke on coal use in Turkey. John Scowcroft of GCCSI spoke on storage assessment (incidentally, he mentioned that saline aquifers are now referred to as saline formations to avoid confusion with aquifers used for water supply). Charles Soothill described modelling work for ZEP. Jonas Helseth, from Bellona, an NGO that supports CCS, thought IPCC communication was not strong enough.

The change to strategic pipeline based CCS projects rather than point-to-point projects was a notable theme that recurred.

The Group of Experts meeting on the next day covered at length discussions and presentations on the four main areas worked on by task forces (Future of thermal power in sustainable electricity; Increasing flexibility in coal power generation; Decreasing emissions and increasing efficiency for new and existing coal plants; Means for development and deployment of CCUS).

Under the Decreasing emissions and increasing efficiency for new and existing coal plants Task Force activities, the workshop earlier this year in Kazakhstan was described, highlighting its identification of the need for policy parity for CCS along with other technologies. Andrew Minchener presented at that event. A Ministerial Conference under UNECE auspices next year is also in preparation, and the accompanying Expo 2017 ‘Future Energy’ will include another workshop, to which the Experts Group were invited. There were also presentations from Tajikistan, who said they were interested in receiving help in using new technologies and India.

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