Coal-fired power generation is an important source of electricity in a number of Canadian provinces. About 13 per cent of Canada's generation capacity used coal.
Burning Coal to Produce Electricity - Benefits
The abundance of coal reserves in North America tends to keep pricing fairly stable, unlike other resources such as gas or oil, which are more susceptible to geopolitical uncertainties. Canada's energy reserves contain roughly equivalent amounts of coal and oil, and three times more coal than gas. Another advantage, particularly in western Canada, is that most power plants are located in close proximity to coal deposits, resulting in secure and long-term fuel supply arrangements with relatively low transportation costs.
Latest Technological Developments in Coal-Fired Generation
Supercritical-Pressure Pulverized Coal Combustion Technology
Generating electricity using this combustion technology requires the use of a boiler to heat and pressurize steam to supercritical levels. The benefits of this method include a reduction in fuel consumption by approximately 18 per cent and as a by-product GHGs would also decrease.
The most recent coal-fired generation plant built with this technology is Genessee 3 near Edmonton, which has been in operation since March 2005.
Integrated Gasification Combined Cycle (IGCC)
An IGCC power plant uses a partial combustion process that converts coal into syngas, a mixture of carbon monoxide and hydrogen, which is then used to fire the combustion turbine in a combined-cycle power plant.
Along with improved efficiency in power production, and a decrease in the production of GHGs, the benefits of IGCC include the ability to scrub pollutants like sulphur and heavy metals from the fuel before it is burned. IGCC can produce a concentrated carbon dioxide (CO₂) stream which can make CO₂ storage more economical.
As the technology matures, IGCC has the potential to become the preferred method to generate electricity from coal.
Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS)
There are a number of technologies developing to capture and store carbon for power plants, either scrubbing CO₂ from the exhaust stream after combustion or removing it from the fuel before power is generated.
Post-combustion scrubbing is less efficient, but it allows the plant to operate as a conventional facility in the event of technical difficulties with the CO₂ scrubbers. Pre-combustion scrubbing in an IGCC plant typically involves capturing the CO₂ during the gasification process. While this process may be more efficient, it also makes the operation of the plant dependent of the reliability on the equipment used to capture CO₂.
Once the CO₂ has been collected, it can then be shipped by pipeline to an area where it can be stored in geological formations such as active or depleted oil and gas reservoirs, or deep saline aquifers. In Canada, Alberta's geology appears to provide the required infrastructure, which could be leveraged for CO₂ transportation and injection.
Coal Generation Trends in Canada
Compared to other Canadian provinces and territories, Alberta relies the most heavily on coal-fired power generation. With a capacity of 6 217 MW, coal fired generation represents 53 per cent of the province's total capacity. While Ontario may have more installed capacity with 6 329 MW, coal-fired generation only represents 19 per cent of its total generation capacity.
Observations and Implications
Coal-fired generation will remain a significant component of Canada's power production mix for years to come.
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