Clean coal tech feasible but expensive: experts

A senior energy analyst at the independent Grattan Institute has agreed with Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull’s declaration that coal has a future in Australia but said it would only be possible if coupled with technology which drastically reduced its carbon emissions.

Grattan Institute energy program director Tony Wood said the Prime Minister’s speech, delivered to the National Press Club on 1 February, focused on using clean coal technology and battery storage to improve the reliability of renewables.

“My view would be that position is absolutely sensible,” Mr Wood told The Express.

“The idea of having a coal plant that produces low emissions has lot of attractions.

“The argument should be ‘we need to reduce greenhouse gas emissions’.

“The problem is you’re still producing a lot of CO2 (carbon dioxide), the only way it makes sense is to combat that is with technology known as carbon capture and storage.”

He said carbon capture and storage could deliver significant emission reductions but the “challenge is the cost”.

“The cost is probably no higher than wind or solar were 10 or 15 years ago,” Mr Wood said.

“Building a new one of these today would be expensive – but so were the first solar and wind farms.”

The Prime Minister’s speech came as the region prepares for the closure of Hazelwood on 31 March, taking 25 per cent of Victoria’s electricity generation capacity with it.

It also follows blackouts in South Australia on Wednesday which affected 40,000 people.

A similar incident occurred in SA last year, where storms led to 1.7 million people being cut off from the national power grid.

But Environment Victoria’s Nick Aberle said modern ‘ultra-supercritical’ coal power stations, which promised lower emissions, did not “really stack up on any level”.

“They’re not cleaner, they’re not cheaper and no one’s going to invest in them,” Dr Aberle said.

He said any ‘clean’ brown coal power stations would still produce more emissions than New South Wales’ black coal generators.

“I think it’s a terrible time to be investing billions of dollars into a technology that isn’t clean and that whoever builds is going to want to operate for 30 years,” Dr Aberle said.

“We don’t have 30 years to cut emissions – we need to do it now.”

Federation University science lecturer Vince Verheyen, who said he was commenting in a personal capacity and not on behalf of the university, said those who predicted the end of coal were “being a little bit too idealistic about the near-term future”.

Dr Verheyen said clean coal technology could reduce emissions by up to 90 per cent.

He said carbon capture and storage was proven but the problem was mounting the business case to drive it.

“Private companies aren’t going to build infrastructure if they can’t price the risk – at the moment the risk is too high,” Dr Verheyen said.

“Utility companies need a bipartisan electricity policy to reduce the risk and recover the cost.”