Coal Age

APR 2019

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12 April 2019 worldwide news continued d a t e l i n e w a s h i n g t o n A Warning Not to be Ignored by conor bernstein How valuable is a bal- anced, diverse mix of energy sources? Just ask the Midcontinent Inde- pendent System Operator (MISO), the grid operator that manages the elec- tricity grid for much of the U.S. Midwest and parts of Canada. When the polar vortex hammered the Midwest at the end of January, the grid weathered the storm, but it was hardly smooth sailing. The grid was nearly pushed to the limit and providing much of the stress on the grid was wind power — or rather the lack of it. At the start of the three-day stretch of subzero temperatures, wind turbines from Minnesota to Iowa were providing about half of the region's power. Then, as temperatures continued to drop, so did wind generation. On January 30, when MISO declared a maximum generation event — a call to all hands on deck — just half of the wind gen- eration forecast to supply power to the grid actually could. When temperatures fell below minus 20°F, wind farms automatically started shutting down. Extreme cold can damage different pieces of the turbine. Instead of helping keep the power and heat on for the region's consumers, wind farms became electricity users — they needed electricity from the grid to heat them to avoid damage. As wind power evaporated from the grid, it was primarily coal generation that came to the rescue. In two regional grids most heavily affected by the bitter cold, coal plants provided about half of the electricity needed at the coldest moments of the deep freeze. On a normal day, they supply about a third of those grids' power needs. A balanced, diverse energy mix mat- ters. When one fuel source can't deliver, an- other can step in to ensure a reliable supply of power. While every energy source comes with limitations, wind and solar power's de- pendence on the whims of the weather is a challenge that can't be overlooked. And yet, states such as Minnesota, are considering phasing out their fossil fuel gen- eration. Green energy boosters there are push- ing 80% reliance on renewables by 2035 and 100% by 2050. These are goals that clearly jeopardize the reliability and affordability of the grid, but also fly right in the face of well-demonstrated technological limitations. Nonetheless, this proposal — as impractical as it clearly seems — is hardly the most rad- ical to have surfaced at the state or national level. Here's looking at you, Green New Deal. The technological hurdles of account- ing for the sudden and extended loss of renewable generation are something that must inform state and federal energy policy. Batteries and grid-scale energy storage are hardly a cure-all. The best grid-scale batter- ies appear to offer but a few hours of backup. Germany, pressing on with its own radical energy transition and now weigh- ing phasing out coal generation, is staring down the challenge of the peaks and valleys of renewable generation as well. Wind and solar power accounted for 40% of German electricity generation in 2018, but on some days they were nowhere to be found. For example, On December 14, 2018, weather variability meant that wind and solar power barely contributed to Germany's energy needs. Conventional power plants — namely coal plants — were required to meet three-quarters of Germany's power demand. Yet, it's not one- or two-day events that are the real test for managing the variabili- ty of renewable sources of power. The bigger challenge comes from the seasonal changes that can — and do — mean weeks or months when wind and solar generation falls dramat- ically. Even if our current mix of fuel sources makes providing a reliable, affordable and secure supply of power seem easy, it's not. We are teetering on the edge of ditching what works for a crisis of our own making. It's past time to better value coal power, the foundation of our balanced, reliable and affordable grid. Conor Bernstein is a spokesperson for the National Mining Association. revenue stream. The official said the government was also considering an option to grant bundled approvals at the time of the auction of coal blocks to investors to enable them to bring them into production within the min- imum gestation period. In the current fiscal year, the federal Ministry of Coal would also be coordinating with state govern- ments to ensure faster methodology in land acquisition, which falls with- in the legislative jurisdiction of the local governments. However, a department within the ministry said that despite an in- creased focus on ramping up coal production from captive mines, it would have limited impact on easing demand pressures on government coal companies. This was largely because last month the government eased norms for thermal power companies en- abling them to source coal from gov- ernment coal miners even without having power purchase agreements (PPAs) with electricity distribution companies. The revised rules announced last month said thermal power compa- nies would be able to bid for long- term coal supply linkages even with- out PPAs in place, but would have to mandatorily sell the electricity gener- ated through spot power exchange or a government portal. This was expected to see an incre- mental demand for coal for an esti- mated 25 Gigawatt (GW ) of installed thermal-power capacity, which cur- rently did not have assured supplies of dry fuel. Hence, it was unlikely that captive coal production, even at its current high rate, would ease demand from merchant miners, and India's depen- dency on imported coal was expected to sustain through the current year. During April 2018-February 2019, Indian coal imports had surged 8% at 212 million mt, according to prelimi- nary industry estimates.

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