01 June, 2017

Rachel Mealey

Courtesy of the ABC

When it comes to Australia’s energy crisis, there’s been a lot of talk about “clean coal”.

Key points:

  • High-efficiency, low-emissions coal-fired power plants could provide certainty across Australia’s energy grid, Japan energy executives say
  • Japan’s Isogo power plant achieves 45 per cent efficiency
  • Climate Institute claims “clean coal” costs too much, too unwieldy for a 21st century electricity system

Some have suggested that high-efficiency, low-emissions (HELE) coal-fired power plants could be the answer to provide certainty across the energy grid.

Australia’s Environment Minister Josh Frydenberg and Resources Minister Matt Canavan have taken separate trips to Japan to see how the technology works in practice.

Both politicians visited the Isogo power plant, south of Tokyo — which has been recognised as the world’s cleanest coal-fired power station in the world, in terms of emissions intensity.

As well as having lower emissions, it achieves 45 per cent efficiency — meaning it burns less coal to produce electricity.

Isogo Thermal Power Station director Juzo Kotani has encouraged Australian governments to adopt the technology.

“The construction cost might be higher, but it’s very economical in regards of coal fuel cost as it’s highly efficient,” he said.

“Also it has less impact on the environment so the local residents will accept it easily.”

Mr Kotani took the ABC on a tour of the power station, which is built on reclaimed land in Tokyo bay, near Yokohama.

The main difference at the HELE power plants is that the coal is ground before it goes into the furnace, creating more energy from a single lump of coal.

The Isogo power station uses 2 million tonnes of Australian coal every year, which is 75 per cent of its total.

The steam that is produced can hit 600 degrees, making the turbines which make the electricity spin with greater force.

The operator of this plant, J-Power, says it emits 17 per cent less carbon dioxide than it did before the technology was introduced.

HELE coal stations ’emit too much carbon’

Some analysts say this type of plant might be a good stop-gap measure for Australia.

Tom O’Sullivan, director of Asian energy consulting company Mathyos Energy, said the HELE technology could be a good stop-gap measure for the Australian energy grid.

“While the solar and wind capabilities are being built up in many countries, this could meet the electricity demand until those technologies and batteries and grids are strengthened,” he said.

“Coal could meet those demands until that’s done and finished.”

The Climate Institute said it was important to remember that even though HELE power stations produced a reduced amount of carbon, it was not zero.

“Not only do HELE coal stations emit too much carbon, they cost too much and they’re too unwieldy for a 21st century electricity system,” acting chief executive officer Olivia Kember said.

“The business case just doesn’t stack up, and that’s why no power companies in Australia are interested in investing in HELE coal — they know it doesn’t make sense.”