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Is coal extension a sensible option for energy planning? A combined energy systems modelling and life cycle assessment approach

García-Gusano, Diego, Iribarren, Diego, Dufour, Javier
Energy policy 2018 v.114 pp. 413-421
carbon dioxide, carbon markets, climate change, coal, combustion, denitrification, electricity, electricity generation, emissions, life cycle assessment, models, natural gas, nitrogen oxides, planning, power generation, power plants, renewable energy sources, sulfur dioxide, system optimization, Spain
As in many countries, coal-fired power plants in Spain account for a significant contribution to the electricity mix. Nevertheless, renewable energy options and natural gas are paving the way for coal retirement. Alternatively, it is possible to reduce the emissions (especially SO2 and NOx) associated with coal combustion through technology retrofits focused on desulphurisation and denitrification in line with the EU Industrial Emissions Directive. Within a context of low coal and CO2 prices, lifetime extension of coal-fired plants emerges as an option for power plant owners. This article prospectively evaluates the announced retrofit for 3560MW of the Spanish coal power capacity under three alternative energy scenarios. In addition to prospective electricity production mixes, the evolution of key life-cycle sustainability indicators (climate change, human health, energy security) is assessed with time horizon 2050 using an enhanced energy systems optimisation model of power generation. When compared to the reference scenario, the results show that coal extension could favour the penetration of renewables in the long term. Notwithstanding, this would come at the expense of undesirable increases in climate change and human health impacts. Consequently, the implementation of the sustainability dimension in energy plans could avoid a “coal conundrum” situation in Spain.