A report published last week by Bloomberg New Energy Finance showed that new ultra-supercritical coal would be the most expensive form of new energy supply in Australia, well above the Levelized Cost of Energy for other sources such as wind, solar, and natural gas.
Reports earlier this month revealed that Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull had moved to fund and support the development of ‘ultra-supercritical coal-fired power stations’ (new-coal) — a type of coal-fired power plant which is said to run at a much higher efficiency than traditional coal-fired power plants. However, Australia’s division of Bloomberg New Energy Finance (BNEF) published a new report to coincide with the reports, which shows that any move to build new coal of any level of efficiency is the least economically viable option available.
Specifically, Bloomberg reports that the Levelized Cost of Energy (LCoE) of new ultra-supercritical coal-fired power in Australia sits at AUD$134-$203/MWh. This ranks well above the current LCoE for new build wind(AUD$61-$118/MWh), solar (AUD$78-$140/MWh), and combined-cycle gas (AUD$74-$90/MWh).
2017 levelized cost of energy for new build technologies in Australia (AUD/MWh)
As a result, new build coal would only serve to increase electricity prices across the country, whereas a combination of wind, solar, and natural gas would only serve to drop electricity prices for all Australians.
“New coal is made particularly expensive due to the substantial carbon, reputation, trading and construction risks the technology presents to an investor,” said Leonard Quong, a Senior Associate with Bloomberg New Energy Finance in Sydney. “But even if the government were to completely de-risk coal by paying for the whole plant and guaranteeing an exemption from any future liabilities, the lowest LCOE that could be achieved is AUD 94/MWh, which is still well above wind, solar or gas.”
The authors of the report conclude that the LCoE “of new coal is high due to the substantial carbon, reputation, trading and construction risks the technology presents.” Even if the Government were to totally “de-risk coal by assuming all these risks,” the lowest the technologies’ LCoE would reach is AUD$94/MWh.
Unsurprisingly, the report also concludes that this “new coal” is far from being ‘clean.’ Already, Australia’s existing coal fleet is 0.85-1.52tCO2-e/MWh sent-out. Unfortunately, “new coal,” though less emissions intensive — with a typical emissions intensity of around 0.76tCO2e-MWh sent-out — is nevertheless double the intensity of a combined cycle gas turbine generator — between 0.37-0.46tCO2-e/MWh — and renewable energy — which is ostensibly 0.
Further, BNEF predicts that the role of inflexible, fossil-fuel based generators will decrease in the future. “The fundamental control paradigm of grids is changing from baseload-and-peak to forecast-and-balance,” Quong explains. As such, more flexible generating sources will be required, such as natural gas and wind.
“Whilst we estimate that 19.1 GW of coal capacity could reach the end of its technical life by 2040, a combination of gas and renewables is the lowest-cost option to replace this generation and maintain secure energy supply in Australia,” Quong added.