Repurpose, retrofit or retire coal plants while ensuring grid stability and flexibility
Efforts to address emissions from existing coal-fired power plants, including those from the large number of young plants in EMDEs, are essential for reaching net zero goals. Industry should consider a three-pronged approach, and governments should adopt appropriate policies to enable this approach, to stay on track with the phase-out of unabated coal plants by 2040:
- Repurpose coal plants (i.e. reducing operations to focus on system adequacy or flexibility services) for flexibility. This means an unabated coal plant produces less electricity over a certain period but remains available at times when the system needs are highest, and is available to ramp up and down to meet needs for flexibility, contributing to the reliability of power systems.
- Retrofit coal-fired power plants with CCUS: This provides a means to supply low‐emission power from existing coal assets, and provide stability services such as inertia, ramping flexibility, and firm capacity at peak times. This would also make use of existing transmission infrastructure, and allow current plants to be operated so that investments can be recouped, while reducing their carbon footprint. This is particularly important for emerging economies in Asia, where the average age of coal‐fired power plants is only 13 years and new plants continue to be built.
- Retrofit to co-fire with ammonia or biomass in order to reduce the CO2 emissions intensity of the electricity produced.
- Retire less-efficient coal plants before they reach the end of their technical lifetimes, and potentially convert the site to another use, in order to cut emissions from unabated coal‐fired power plants.