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Turkey: Coal Country Policy 2012 – OpEd


In this article, we will evaluate the hard coal / lignite and imported coal firing new thermal power plants in the Turkey local market, and explain the operational problems, as well as advising the new coal firing technologies for best use and efficient application with available local as well as international financing in the new local thermal power plant investments.



Whereby in global energy supply markets, coal has 25% share, second only after petroleum, coal is the first in the row with >40% share in electricity generation. In our local market, coal is the first with >40 percent share in primary energy generation, but fourth in the row with >20 percent share in electricity generation as of year 2011. It is foreseen that coal will have a greater share in future global markets thanks to new “Clean Coal Technologies”. As coal is the most important indigenous fossil fuel therefore it should be widely utilized countrywide for cheap and more electricity generation with best applicable use of advanced technologies.

Reserves and Mining

Turkey has both hard coal and lignite deposits. The hard coal is mostly located in the western part of the country, in the Zonguldak Basin, which has more than 700 million metric tons of workable/ proven reserves, about >80% of which can be coked. Lignite deposits are widespread and plentiful; reserves are estimated at >12 billion metric tons, 7th largest in the world, most of which is economically mineable, though only about 7 percent has a heat content of more than 3,000 kilocalories per kilogram (LHV). About >40 percent of the Turkey’s lignite is in the Elbistan Basin which starts from Konya Karapinar covers Adana Tufanbeyli, Elbistan and Sivas Kangal basin.

Production and Consumption

The Turkish Hard Coal Institute operates five basic underground mines in Turkey, and is the only hard coal production entity in the country. The two most important lignite fields in Turkey — the Afsin-Elbistan and Sivas-Kangal coal fields — are owned by EÜAŞ and operated by private companies under leasing contract. Even though there is significant production of lignite and some production of hard coal in Turkey, not enough coal is mined to meet demand.

As a result, Turkey imports more than 16 million tons of hard coal each year, mostly from Australia, the United States, Columbia, South Africa, and Russia. Imported hard coal is used mainly for electric power steelmaking, and cement production. About 75% of the Turkey’s lignite is used as a fuel source for electric power production

Coal Technology and Coal Markets

There are relatively little investments in the global liberalized markets, or investment priority is given to natural gas fired combined cycle power plants due to their relatively cheaper installed cost and fast construction periods, leading to foreign dependency is increased in countries where they depend on imported fuel.


Demand for more natural gas also triggeres the demand for more coal.

More coal utilization requires the application of better new coal technologies. We have now a new obvious evolution in clean coal technologies. When we look at available technology and new trends in market demand, the most important sector is the energy for new technology developments. The new tendency is that the state-of-art technology is developed and enforced not only in advanced countries, but also in the developing countries who are consuming more and more energy.

European as well as North American Companies are now too expensive to export energy technologies. Soon these countries will not be able to sell their products in the global markets. Even in their home markets, they will need to protect themselves with high import taxes and labor codes to avoid the influx of cheap foreign labor. In recent years, China, India, Korea, all Eastern countries, have very competitive prices in the global energy markets.

They already cover their own home markets with their own fabrications supported by advanced technology and fabrication licenses. While they are cheap they do have serious difficulties in fabrication of the fastest, the latest, and the best efficient designs in compliance with environmental friendly solutions to meet the latest world acceptance guidelines. However, it is possible to soon visualize that they will accomplish all these prime targets with the price advantage that they already have reached.

We need to reposition our local energy market by keeping in mind these new technological as well as commercial developments. We have engineering and intellectual, as well as market potential for local fabrication. We must design our own thermal power plants to fire our own indigenous local fuel, and fabricate in our plants, control the construction, site installation and operation by ourselves.

As a member of local mechanical engineering chamber (MMO), we sincerely believe in our local engineering design and fabrication capability. We know that all engineering studies cover the same curriculum, same programs in thermodynamics, heat transfer, gas turbine, power plant design courses, with the same terminology as enthalpy, entropy and exergy.

We have world class teachers/ academicians whose reputations are reinforced with their world class technical papers. We are sure that our young engineers are all brilliant with the capability of making necessary power plant designs as long as we support them with necessary software and hardware and scientific funds to continue their works. We need to allocate more funds to support MSc/ PhD/PostDoc works and that course of action has to accepted as long term country policy.

Only by employing such a national policy to support local technology, can we reach the necessary advanced level of design/ fabrication and construction our own thermal power plants. Similarly we should be doing the same for designing/ locally fabricating our own wind turbines, as well as hydro turbines to respond ever increasing local energy demand.

In the past, we put more priority in using foreign investors since they had the finance capability to cover the overall power plant investment projects although their products were not the best of its kind, not the most efficient, nor designed to the latest technology to utilize our local available coal. Their plants were not suitable to use our local fuel, lignite or hard coal, and hence they aged fast, very fast, faster than the acceptable market norms.

Those reputable western companies are not existed any more, either they are in bankruptcy, or unable to compete with the available market players beyond their national borders.

In recent years, Eastern companies have too cheap prices with regard to thermal power plant tenders. If you prequalify a Far East company in your pre tender procedures, Western companies certainly hesitate to participate into the tender since it could be waste of time to compete with those cheap players.

So you cannot attract Western technologies although you certainly wish to have them to quote. Price is not of a prime importance for the new players. They even do not know the prevailing market figures, and hence they quote unexpected ultra low prices. Their labor cost for design and fabrication is too low. They have serious market policies to invade the global energy markets.

It is long ignored that the best design to use your local fuel can be accomplished by your own local engineering capability, by your own local Engineering/ Procurement/ Construction (EPC) companies. Foreign contractors can make the design, construction, site installation and wait for the guaranteed period for 2-3 years, complete their responsibility and leave the site. The operator stays alone by himself in the long run.

It is too difficult to make necessary long term rehabilitation and programmed repair works without local design/ fabrication support of the original equipment supplier. Therefore local design and fabrication are indispensable for long term operation.

Upcoming Energy Crisis

We all know that we are in the middle of global energy crisis; we have lack of sufficient energy supply. Our resources are limited in generating necessary energy. Facing such a great energy demand, our resources will not be sufficient to generate the necessary energy supply.

With new renewable technologies, such as wind/ solar, we cannot respond and fulfill the growing prevailing demand fast enough. They can only enter into the local energy market with some more time elapses. Fast/ easy/ cheap solutions are not available, nor practical, nor feasible.

We need to have long term energy strategies. Local engineering/ local design/ local fabrication must have their shares in our local national priorities.

We must design our own thermal power plants based on our own design teams to best fit to our local available fuels, indigenous lignite or hard coal. We must fabricate by ourselves in our own fabrication shops. We must make the site installation by ourselves, and operate. Our local engineers are capable of handling such overall plant designs.

However we need to create such investment climate in the local market. Local market forces should have firm possession instinct in handling all these activities to carry out by themselves, in harmony with local investors, financial institutions, academicians, engineers, engineering unions, engineering and contracting services. We should not leave the initiative to foreigners.

We should not leave the contracting services to cheap foreign labor just because they are too cheap. Our energy markets and our energy potential should be protected against foreign domination and their invasion. We are pleased to see that political authority recently takes necessary measures to fulfill these expectations.

How to cover Project Financing

Financial wise, we have serious reasons to support such decisions. We have serious expectation in the local market that we shall have an electricity market based on real cost. Since crude oil prices are reflected in the local petroleum byproducts immediately, and the consumers accepted to have such burden on their cost calculation, similarly the same will be applied in all phases of price structure in electricity generation.

When we evaluate the electricity supply/ demand projections for the next 10-15 years time, there is no new potential primary energy resource to reduce the ever increasing prices, and hence the short-term electricity prices is expected to float in the range of US$0.16 – US$0.20 per kWh in our local electricity market.

Financial costs, rehabilitation, renewals of the new privatizations in the thermal power plants can not reduce the electricity prices in the short and medium terms.

We are entering into a difficult age for local coal operations in available local coal basins. We shall need more investments and applications of more modern technologies/ machinery in the coal mines. These expenses will be added to the cost structure of final electricity prices.

At this time, more than 50% of electricity generation in the local market is dependent on imported natural gas. Due to delay in investments of hydro and coal based power plants, we have base load in those imported natural gas firing thermal power plants. Unfortunately, that will increase the demand for more combined cycle power plant investments.

Prevailing World Coal Prices

Thanks to the latest developments in technology, PC (Pulverised Coal Firing) and CFB (Circulating Fluid Bed) design coal fired thermal power plants have reached to 46 percent efficiency or even exceeded, with application of supercritical pressure and temperatures.

Imported coal at the prevailing US$ 4.50 per MMBtu spot prices are now comparable with US$ 12+ per MMBtu natural gas prices in combined cycle power plant electricity generation with 60 percent efficiencies.

However the imported coal is indexed to oil prices and there is no reason to expect any drastic change in price ranges in the medium and long terms for any more advantage on coal prices.

In any case one should keep in mind that the raw coal price of our local Afsin Elbistan coal is less than US$ 2.0 (two) per MMBtu as of year 2010, although firing in the thermal power plant is not so easy for our major coal, and plant efficiency is not so high. Specially tailored academic and commercial methods are to be explored and enforced.

New Technologies for Firing Difficult Coal

IGCC, CFB, Oxy-fuel firing, Underground gasification methods are also applicable for low calorific value local coals. CFB is proven technology upto 165 MWe per unit outputs for our low LHV lignites.

IGCC (Integrated Gasification Combined Cycle) coal firing can also be employed with careful academic investigations. There is a great potential in its application.

Today energy security is the major parameter to qualify a country as independent. Energy security can only be achieved by an intelligent combination and management of natural and socio-economic local resources and implementation of the latest technology.

It is difficult to think that a country can protect his borders if his energy investment policy is fully import oriented. Turkey has many energy resources but they are not easy to exploit. The hydro power in Turkey needs careful and intelligent policies taking into account its impact on the environment, the agriculture and densely inhabited regions. Therefore IGCC/ CFB/ OxyFuel plants can be considered as multi-fuel or fuel flexible.

On the other hand, our local coal mines have varying specifications even in the same basin. Therefore we need to apply expensive selective mining methods rather than our cheap traditional mining for better and efficient firing of the available coal in the thermal power plants. That is an expensive investment that we have only in a few local private applications.

The traditional method is supplying mined coal as received with all undesired unburnable sand, ash, moisture etc. All new imported coal fired power plant investors are major players in other sectors which are in need of cheap electricity. They will consume almost 60-70 percent of generated electricity in their own plants. Remaining potential will be sold in the national market and that is not a problem since there is always need for more energy in our shrinking environment.

Generally local investments are realized by “Corporate finance” methods. Between the period of 1993-2005, we have realized energy power plant investments exceeding overall 4000 MW installed capacity. Those natural gas firing cogeneration plants repay themselves fast and create more money for further investments in new plants.

However we do not have the investment environment for “Non-recourse” project finance to secure “Off Taker” contracts with local/ international financial institutions. Therefore it is too difficult to find necessary project financing for mega projects such as Afsin Elbistan. We have lost time in the past and continue to loose more and unable to recover fast in due time.

Conclusions and Recommendations

Today in administrations’ energy policies, the first priority is in securing cheapest, good quality, reliable/ uninterrupted electricity generation in the local market. So effective and rational applications of local fuel resources are in vital importance. Therefore the energy planning is also the planning of future of the country in order to avoid any foreseen economic crises.

There is no comfort, no luxury in making mistakes in energy policies. Any mistake is paid back drastically/ severely. Securing energy supply is the first priority. It is our sincere and humble feeling that new investments based on imported coal is too risky.

Their construction on the Black Sea coast is more risky, due to increased prices in the world markets and limited coal routes through ever congested Turkish Channels. Russian coal is not/ has never been cheap. Local coal resources should have the first priority in exploitation for the thermal power plants. Private and even public capabilities are to be encouraged both.

We need to encourage the local engineering capabilities, and openly discourage foreign labor. Foreign labor is loss of national income. There is no value added income generation in the local market by foreign labor. We must reduce our dependency on imported energy, whether they are either coal, natural gas, oil, equipment, project finance, or cheap labor.

We must be very careful in evaluation of Environmental Impact Assesment (EIA) reports/ certification as well as in regulatory licensing. Plants should never be placed on forest nor on agricultural land. Any new and exaggerated capacity increases, any fuel changes from local coal to imported coal are to be evaluated carefully. Available unloading seaports are to be carefully selected. Deep sea discharge of bottom ash should be avoided.

Last but not least, we need to allocate more funds to support MSc/ PhD/PostDoc works and that course of action has to accepted as long term country policy. We must form more research institutes to make more research on exploration, application and best use of local coal.

Last Word

The best price is not the best choice for long term smooth and cheap electricity generation.

Haluk Direskeneli

Haluk Direskeneli, is a graduate of METU Mechanical Engineering department (1973). He worked in public, private enterprises, USA Turkish JV companies (B&W, CSWI, AEP, Entergy), in fabrication, basic and detail design, marketing, sales and project management of thermal power plants. He is currently working as freelance consultant/ energy analyst with thermal power plants basic/ detail design software expertise for private engineering companies, investors, universities and research institutions. He is a member of Chamber of Turkish Mechanical Engineers Energy Working Group.

One thought on “Turkey: Coal Country Policy 2012 – OpEd

  • February 5, 2012 at 9:40 am

    Excellent and interesting article. A good overview of the state of coal and clean coal technologies in Turkey.


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