An Oxymoron: ‘Clean Coal’ – OpEd


Your writer is now in Copenhagen for next five days. We have tickets for opera and symphony orchestras. It is so exciting that this country supplies much of its electricity from solar and wind renewables, although they have offshore gas and oil fields in North sea. How different is the energy policies of Denmark to Turkey.

Fossil fuels and other non renewable sources accounted for just 28.6% of Denmark’s total net generation and continues to decline against a total of 71.4% generated from solar and wind renewable sources. Offshore wind is increasing.

Your writer has lost faith in most statements in Turkey. Like most of friends who work in the energy sector, we thought that if the existing public power plants were sold and privatized, if environmental equipment was installed and operated in these thermal power plants in a reasonable time, as a condition of privatization, the clean coal technologies we always talked about would be applied.

However, the intelligence of investors works only for profit. On the other hand aiming to maximize the public income, and officials who want to collect the maximum amount of money from the investor came together in a common result. We got the current unpleasant result.

The investors asked for a long-term delay exemption from the construction of the environmental equipment, otherwise they blackmailed the public authority by stopping the operating plant and not supplying electricity to the market. The public authorities compelled to submit to this blackmail. As a result, we have now old almost scrap thermal power plants that have been working for as long as possible, without environmental equipment for years, constantly polluting the environment.

What are the environmental equipment? These are dust holding filters, flue gas desulfurization systems, carbon capture and sequestration (CCS) techniques, DeNox (SCR) systems, coal gasification systems, coal preheating and dewatering equipment. Has all this been done so far? Instead of these, alternative fake systems with very low costs were put forward and the time exemption was utilized to the maximum. Until the power plants failed, they were operated at the highest capacity, polluting the nearby environment. Plenty of money was earned, the surrounding farmland became unusable.

During his presidency, Donald Trump supported clean coal technologies as a solution to reduce unemployment. Thanks to mechanization and advanced technology, 75,000 workers work today in the US coal fields, which had 500,000 employees a century ago. Most of the thermal power plants are already old, they have reached the end of their useful life, most of them have been closed completely.

Europe was slowly shutting down coal-fired power plants prior to the Ukraine war, but the war stopped this trend.

The concept of clean coal technologies is nothing but a deception, a deception with incompatible words. This is an oximoron statement. Let’s not fool ourselves. There is No such thing. Coal is black, dirty, polluting, it is not practical nor economical to use clean technologies, while it is possible to produce electricity easily by polluting the environment cheaply, no one invests in environmental equipment, no one cares raises domestic clean needs, and no one spends the electricity produced in a business that will not earn money.

Coal-burning thermal power plants are heavy expensive investments, which politicians have to give permission for a while because there were no other option. Now there are other neat clean options, options with solar wind power and storage. All this awaits us. Existing old thermal power plants will work until the end of their useful life, eventually they will be sold as scrap, and renewable power plants will be built in their place. Future generations will look at scrap power plants and say, “How did our ancestors made such stupid wrong decisions?”

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.

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