$2.5 Trillion Investment In New Coal-fired Plants In The Next 25 Years

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Source: The McIlvaine Company

World coal-fired power generation capacity will rise from 1.3 million MW in 2006, to 1.7 million MW in 2011, and to 2.7 million MW in 2030.  This will require more than 1.7 million MW of new coal-fired construction to account for retirements as well as growth. The investment in these new plants will exceed $2.5 trillion.  This is the prediction in the new McIlvaine online continuously updated, Coal-fired Boilers: World Analysis and Forecast. 

The report cautions that these forecasts will be subject to constant revision.  Substantial changes in the price of natural gas, the support for stringent greenhouse gas reductions and many other factors could quickly alter the situation.  For example, the revelation recently by NASA that thinning of the aerosol layer by as much as 20 percent in the last three decades could be a major cause of global warming raises uncertainty as to the net contribution of coal-fired plants.

The rise in coal consumption will not be proportionate to the rise in capacity.  New plants will use less coal per kWh than the units they replace.  Supercritical units are now the choice over subcritical units for new plants.  Ultra supercritical units represent a further improvement in efficiency.

Co-firing of biomass and coal is another trend.  First in Europe and then elsewhere, biomass will often replace up to 10 percent of the coal.  It will be introduced either along with the coal or as a gas injected above the primary combustion zone where it will serve to reduce NOx as well as provide additional fuel.

China will build an unprecedented number of coal-fired plants in 2005-2011, bringing coal-fired capacity from just under the U.S. capacity now to over twice the U.S. capacity by 2011.  This requires an average addition of over 45,000 MW/year. in the short-term.  Coal-fired generation additions in 2011-2030 are predicted to average 25,000 MW per year. This will result in coal-fired capacity in 2030 of over one million MW.

Even with this rapid expansion, Chinese coal-fired capacity per capita will be less than half that of the U.S. in 2030.  McIlvaine is tracking every project in an effort to accurately forecast this very large Chinese market.   2500 units are either operating, under construction or planned. Some of these are small old units which will be retired.

The market for coal-fired boilers in Europe is booming due to greenhouse gas regulatory efforts.  There is a rush to build plants prior to 2012.  Germany alone is moving forward with 26,000 MW of new coal-fired units.  It will retire existing less efficient units to make net gains in CO2 emissions per megawatt.

The DOE high forecast projects U.S. coal-fired capacity of 490,000 MW in 2030 with 85,000 MW of retirements.  With present capacity of 305,000 MW, the requirement for new coal-fired plants would be 270,000 MW for an investment of $400 billion.  Therefore annual new capacity additions would need to exceed 10,000 MW per year with an investment of $15 billion annually.  McIlvaine is predicting capacity additions similar to the DOE high forecast for several reasons.

The impact of greenhouse gas emission penalties would not necessarily result in less coal-fired plant construction.  By 2030 over 150,000 MW of present coal-fired capacity will be more than fifty years old.  Replacement of these old units with new supercritical coal-fired boilers would reduce greenhouse gases by 25 percent on the units replaced and by 12 percent on the entire coal-fired boiler fleet.

McIlvaine predicts that the waste heat from coal-fired plants will be widely utilized at adjacent ethanol plants.  This will boost coal-fired capacity in two ways.  One will be the direct additional generation requirement.  If ethanol accounts for 25 percent of the transportation fuels in 2030, there will be an energy demand equivalent of 15,000 MW. Half of this may come from waste heat and the other from additional generating capacity.

The second boost for electricity generation will come from the substantial net greenhouse gas reduction resulting from combining electricity and ethanol production.

The forecast assumes that Integrated Gasification Combined Cycle power generation (IGCC) will be a growing segment of new coal generation, but will remain a minority choice at least over the next ten years.  By 2015 there will be considerable operating experience with IGCC for power generation.  There will also be clarity relative to the costs of CO2 sequestration and whether IGCC has cost benefits over pulverized coal firing.

McIlvaine is tracking every proposed as well as operating IGCC unit.  Most of the present operating coal gasification systems are not generating power.  Start-up has been pushed back on several IGCC projects.  As a result, it will be sometime before utilities have the same comfort level with IGCC as they have with pulverized coal.

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