coal-fired power station

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View of a coal-fired power plant in Werdohl-Elverlingsen
The railway's own power plant for 300 V direct current of the Frankfurt-Offenbacher Trambahn-Gesellschaft from 1884

A coal power plant is a steam power plant in which coal is burned by electric power generating. There are power plants for lignite and for hard coal . The power plant types are specially designed for the respective fuel with its procedural peculiarities, its calorific value and its ash content.

In Germany, lignite-fired coal-fired power plants generate electricity for the base load and hard coal mainly for the medium load . In Germany, 23% (149.5 TWh) of electricity was generated from lignite and 17.2% (112.2 TWh) from hard coal . In 2019 it was only 113.9 TWh (minus 24%) from lignite and 57.3 TWh (minus 49%) from hard coal. Worldwide, coal had a share of 40.7 percent in electricity generation in 2015. A single power plant block has a typical electrical output of up to 1000 megawatts ; When several power plant blocks are interconnected to form a large power plant, the installed capacities of the individual blocks add up .

With the exception of the PR China, more old capacities have been decommissioned than new ones since 2018. In Europe, coal-fired power plants with an estimated 8,300 MW capacity will be shut down in 2020.

Plant parts

Material and energy flows in a coal power plant

A coal power plant has the following typical system components:

Basic functionality

Electrical energy distribution in a coal-fired power plant

In a coal-fired power station, the lignite or hard coal first reaches the heavy bunker building via the coal conveyor belt system. The coal passes through a foreign body separator that z. B. xylitol , and a crusher tower that crushes the coal. The coal is distributed to the individual coal mills by means of feeder conveyor belts. In the coal mills, coal is ground, and with exhaust gases from the dust firing dried, and in the combustion chamber is blown to the pulverized coal firing and there completely burned . The heat released as a result is absorbed by a water tube boiler and converts the water fed in into water vapor . The steam passes through the superheater and flows through pipes to the steam turbine , where it releases part of its energy , relaxes and cools down. After the turbine, there is a condenser , in which the steam transfers its heat to the cooling water and condenses .

A feed water pump conveys the resulting liquid water as feed water back into the water tube boiler, which closes the cycle . The flue gases from the combustion chamber are used to preheat the feed water in the economiser and the combustion air drawn in via the fresh fan in the air preheater (LUVO). Steam-air preheaters are optionally connected upstream. The mechanical power generated in the turbine is used with the generator ( turbo set ) it drives to generate electricity.

The flue gas produced by combustion in the burner chamber is subjected to flue gas cleaning ( dedusting with an electrostatic precipitator, flue gas desulphurisation and possibly flue gas denitrification ) before it leaves the power plant via the chimney or sometimes via the cooling tower.

The cooling water heated in the condenser is cooled in the cooling tower , some of it is reused or discharged into an existing watercourse .

So - called FGD gypsum (also known as power station gypsum ) is produced in the flue gas desulphurization , which almost completely covers the gypsum requirements of the construction industry.

The ashes of the fuel are drawn off as slag from the burner chamber or as fly ash from the electrostatic precipitator. It is dumped or partly used as an aggregate for cement.

Simplified diagram of a coal-fired power plant

Control of the processes

All information arising in the coal-fired power plant ( measured values , switching states, actuator positions) is displayed, evaluated and processed in the control room . The control technology must carry out essential processes automatically, as the system is too complicated to be controlled by humans. The staff can intervene in the operational process to a limited extent, for example to reduce the performance. The control commands are transmitted to auxiliary drives (actuators) and, in some cases at a great distance from the control room, cause a valve to open or close, for example, or a change in the amount of fuel supplied.

Start-up behavior

With most hydropower plants , the output can be increased and reduced in a matter of seconds if required (see also load-following operation ); It is similar with gas-fired power plants. The times given cover the ignition of the first burner until full load is reached . When starting up a coal-fired power plant, a distinction is made between hot start, warm start and cold start. Hot start describes a start-up after a standstill of less than 8 hours, a warm start a period of 8 to 48 hours and a cold start a restart after a standstill of more than 48 hours.

Hard coal power plants need 2 to 4 hours for a hot start; a cold start after a long period of inactivity takes 6–8 hours. Lignite power plants need 9 to 15 hours for a cold start and are much more difficult to control. In addition, today's lignite power plants cannot be throttled below 50% output, as otherwise the boiler temperature would drop too much. The aim is to achieve greater controllability, although a reduction to below 40% of the nominal power is considered unlikely.

If coal-fired power plants are operated at partial load , the efficiency drops somewhat. In the most modern hard coal-fired power plants, the efficiency in full load operation is around 45–47%. If these power plants are throttled to 50% output, the efficiency drops to 42–44%.

In 2012, coal-fired power plants had significant flexibility potential compared to the previous level. They were and still are inferior to combined cycle power plants and gas turbines in terms of efficiency, maximum load change in five minutes and cold start-up time , even if the technical optimization potential can be exhausted. In addition, gas units are usually much smaller than coal units and can therefore be operated well in cascades.

Due to their cumbersome start-up behavior, lignite-fired power plants in particular sometimes pay negative electricity prices so that they can get their electricity. Lignite-fired power plants and nuclear power plants are most affected by this phenomenon when low demand with high feed-in e.g. B. coincide with wind energy. Between September 2008 and May 2010, a negative electricity price was recorded for 91 hours on the electricity exchange; During this time, wind turbines fed an above-average amount of power into the grid (over 10 GW). In times of negative electricity prices on the exchange, lignite power plants continued to run with a capacity utilization of up to 73%, and at low prices with up to 83%, because they could not be shut down flexibly enough. A utilization of 42% was never undercut.


Major construction site of units F and G of the lignite power plant with optimized plant technology (BoA) Neurath near Grevenbroich
BoA block in Niederaussem in April 2006

The efficiency of coal power plants is usually in the range of 30 to 40%, modern supercritical power plants can reach up to 45%. In Germany, the mean efficiencies in 2010 were 35% for lignite power plants and 38% for hard coal power plants. In other countries, especially in emerging and developing countries, the efficiencies are e.g. T. lower.

To improve the efficiency of coal-fired power plants, in addition to optimal management and configuration of the combustion, the steam must enter the steam turbine at the highest possible temperature and leave it again at the lowest possible temperature. The high inlet temperature is achieved by overheating , a method also used in steam engines. The steam has a temperature of over 600 ° C, the aim is a temperature of 700 ° C, which is currently still encountering material problems. The steam then enters the high-pressure steam turbine and then again into a reheater, where it is again heated to around 600 ° C. The medium-pressure and low-pressure turbines ensure further relaxation and cooling. The limit for the highest temperature is the heat resistance of the steels used for the tubes of the superheater. The low outlet temperature of the steam is achieved by a downstream condenser - the steam can relax down to low pressures that are far below atmospheric pressure. The inlet temperature of the cooling water into the condenser is therefore kept low. The tubing of the condenser is continuously freed of contamination by the recirculating ball process , since contamination at this point reduces the overall efficiency. The lowest possible temperature is the condensation temperature, since water droplets must be avoided in the turbine due to wear. The last turbine stages are very large and only contribute a fraction of the percentage to the efficiency.

After leaving the steam generator, the combustion gases are used to preheat the air and feed water before they reach the electrostatic precipitator. They must not be colder than about 160 ° C to avoid acid condensation and thus corrosion. The residual heat then still present in the exhaust gas is used to preheat the air before the gas reaches the flue gas desulphurisation system. The mostly aqueous desulphurisation processes make the exhaust gases moist and cool, so that the discharge via chimneys is problematic due to the lack of draft. One variant is the introduction of the cleaned exhaust gases into the cooling towers, if available.

An improvement in the overall efficiency (fuel utilization) is possible through the use of combined heat and power , but this is practically impossible due to the decentralized locations of the power plants in the vicinity of the coal deposits and not in the vicinity of the heat consumers. In addition, no heating is required in the warm seasons . However, there is experience with district heating lines more than 20 km long ( Greifswald nuclear power plant ). Some large power plants in the Rhenish lignite district have potential customers for district heating within this radius.

In the case of lignite power generation, the current state of the art is represented by lignite power plants with so-called "optimized plant technology" (RWE designation BoA ). In the power plant Niederaußem the first block in operation, a further system provided with two power units in the power plant Neurath RWE since 2012. Two blocks with an installed power of each 1,100 megawatts have an efficiency of more than 43%. The 675 MW block of the Boxberg power plant ( Vattenfall company ), which was commissioned in 2012 , achieves an efficiency of 43.7%. Potentials that increase efficiency are higher steam temperatures using new materials, coal drying with heat recovery and optimized flue gas cleaning. The pre-drying of the lignite leads to an increase in efficiency of up to 4 percentage points if the heat used for this can be recovered. The abbreviation WTA stands for fluidized bed drying with waste heat recovery. The dry coal burns at temperatures up to 100 K higher, which increases nitrogen oxide emissions somewhat.

If the energy consumption for the fuel supply is included, the efficiency drops. The energy expenditure depends on the factors of the type of coal extraction ( open pit or underground mining ) and the length of the transport route to the power plant.

Ecological and social problems

Coal-fired power plants have come under fire from science , environmental and conservation organizations, and human rights activists for a number of reasons . The main reasons for this are the poor greenhouse gas balance of coal-fired power plants, their high pollutant emissions, the associated ecological and economic consequences and social problems resulting from coal mining.

Effects on the climate

Since coal has a higher carbon content in the fuel than hydrocarbons such as natural gas or crude oil , the combustion of coal physically releases more carbon dioxide per unit of energy obtained than with other fossil fuels. The increasing release of the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide since the beginning of the industrial revolution is the main cause of global warming . About 78% of the total anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions in the period 1970 to 2010 can be traced back to the burning of fossil fuels. Lignite power plants emit 850–1200 g CO 2 per kWh more carbon dioxide than hard coal power plants with 750–1100 g CO 2 per kWh. This means that the output of coal-fired power plants is significantly higher than that of the fossil-fueled combined cycle gas power plants , which emit 400–550 g per kWh. When using the latest technology, such as In the Irsching gas power plant , for example , these emissions are only 330 g CO 2 per kWh. Renewable energies have even significantly lower emissions : while wind energy and hydropower have about 10–40 g / kWh of carbon dioxide emissions, the value for photovoltaics is 50–100 g / kWh. For nuclear energy it is 10–30 g / kWh.

The heavy weight in power generation the transition comes from the use of coal towards CO 2 low-carbon technologies an important role in international climate protection to. In order to be able to achieve the 1.5 ° target set at the UN climate conference in Paris in 2015 , global greenhouse gas emissions must be reduced to zero between 2045 and 2060 at the latest by accepting the "overshoot" of greenhouse gas emissions. Subsequently, a considerable amount of the previously too much emitted carbon dioxide has to be removed from the earth's atmosphere again through negative emissions . In addition, the set goal can only be achieved with a very consistent climate protection policy that is started immediately , as the time window in which this can still be achieved is quickly closing (as of 2015). The coal phase-out is therefore seen as a key measure for the decarbonization of the world economy and for the creation of a sustainable society, with the rapid reduction of coal consumption being of great importance due to the tight CO2 budget .

In Germany, around 85% of emissions in the electricity sector come from coal-fired power generation. The shutdown of old and CO 2 -intensive coal-fired power plants in Germany could therefore make a major contribution to achieving the federal government's climate protection goals. With an additional shutdown of around three gigawatts of hard coal and six gigawatts of lignite capacities, the result is a CO 2 reduction of 23 million tons. In addition, there are savings resulting from the dismantling of around three GW hard coal-fired power plants announced today. At the same time, wholesale electricity prices are rising, which improves the profitability of electricity generation, especially from flexible gas-fired power plants. Due to the increased wholesale price, the EEG surcharge also falls.

From climate protectors and conservation organizations such as BUND , DUH , Greenpeace therefore the operation as well as other environmental organizations, in particular the construction of new coal power plants criticized.

Air pollutants and health hazards

Coal-fired power plants are also criticized for their pollutant emissions. Even after the installation of electrostatic precipitators and exhaust gas scrubbers in the 1980s, which remove most of the dust and sulfur, coal-fired power plants emit relevant amounts of harmful fine dust , sulfur dioxide , combustion- related nitrogen oxides and PAHs, as well as heavy metals introduced with the coal. In the case of mercury, heavy metals are present in gaseous form in the exhaust gas, other heavy metals such as the carcinogenic substances lead , cadmium and nickel are contained in fine dust. Air-side limit values ​​are specified in the 13th BImSchV , waste water discharges in Appendix 47 of the Waste Water Ordinance .

The emission of sulfur-containing compounds, together with nitrogen oxides, is considered to be the main trigger for acid rain and the resulting damage to plants and trees, which experienced a broad public impact as forest diebacks. When they are precipitated, nitrogen oxides cause environmental damage through over-fertilization . Mercury cannot be broken down; it is converted into toxic methyl mercury and ends up in the food chain.

The pollutant emissions increase the population's risk of diseases , especially of the lungs and heart, but also of diseases such as nerve damage and cancer . a. the average life expectancy is also falling. At the same time, the air pollution leads to increased expenditures for the health system as well as additional economic costs, e.g. B. through lost working hours due to illness. According to the Health and Environment Alliance , these costs in the EU are between 15.5 and 42.8 billion euros annually. Polish coal-fired power plants had the highest absolute follow-up costs, followed by power plants in Romania and Germany. In relation to the kilowatt hours generated, the follow-up costs of German coal-fired power plants are in the middle of the EU-27 .

Fine dust from German coal-fired power plants is responsible for 6% to 9% of the total fine dust emissions in Germany (the largest emitters are traffic and combustion systems from trade, commerce, service providers and private households with a total of 57%). Together with nitrogen oxide and sulfur dioxide emissions, the dust from coal-fired power plants in Germany statistically leads to a loss of around 33,000 years of life every year, as a partially controversial study by the University of Stuttgart on behalf of Greenpeace has determined using calculation methods from the European Commission. Greenpeace has derived 3,100 premature deaths from this, without it being mentioned in the study. In the study, it was calculated as an example for Unit 4 of the Datteln power plant, which is under construction , that the highest risk is not in the immediate vicinity, but 100–200 km away from the power plant. Every person there would lose an average of 10.5 minutes of life in each year of stay due to the fine dust emissions from the power plant.

The pollutant emissions of all large coal-fired power plants are published in the European Pollutant Emissions Register ( PRTR ). An evaluation by the EU Commission in spring 2014, based on the PRTR data from 2012, showed that among the ten plants in Europe that are most damaging to the climate, the environment and health are five German lignite power plants operated by RWE and Vattenfall . Many German power plants are among the worst plants in terms of the absolute amount of CO 2 , as well as in terms of emissions per unit of electricity generated (among the 30 largest emitters). In the top ten are from Germany: Niederaussem and Jänschwalde each 1.2 kg / kWh (RWE / Vattenfall), Frimmersdorf 1.187 kg / kWh (RWE), Weisweiler 1.18 kg / kWh (RWE), Neurath 1.15 kg / kWh (RWE), Boxberg 1.10 kg / kWh (Vattenfall).

Coal-fired power plants are also responsible for a large part of the energy-related mercury emissions . Mercury emissions from the energy industry are estimated at around 859 tonnes worldwide for 2010, around 86% of which come from the burning of coal. In Germany, the energy industry contributed 70% (6.96 tons) to total mercury emissions in 2013. While the mercury emissions of other industries have decreased significantly since 1995, the mercury emissions of the energy industry have been constant at around 7 tons for 20 years. Eight coal-fired power plants alone are responsible for 40 percent of mercury emissions. In January 2016, a study commissioned by the Greens showed that the mercury limit values that have been in force in the USA for 1,100 coal-fired power plants since April 2015 are exceeded by all power plants in Germany, as there are no correspondingly strict legal requirements. If the same limit values ​​for mercury emissions were to apply as in the USA (a monthly mean equivalent to around 1.5 µg / m³ for hard coal power plants and 4.4 µg / m³ for lignite power plants), of the 53 reportable coal-fired power plants in Germany, only the power plant, which has now been closed Dates (block 1–3) stay on the net.

For several years now, the Federal Environment Agency has recommended lowering the limit value in the exhaust gas from coal-fired power plants to 3 µg / m³ daily and 1 µg / m³ annual. Similar measures in the USA have proven very successful. When implementing the European Industrial Emissions Directive , the Federal Government and the majority of the Bundestag decided at the end of October 2012 for coal-fired power plants to have limit values ​​of 30 µg / m³ as a daily average and (for existing power plants from 2019) 10 µg / m³ as an annual average. At the expert hearing in the Environment Committee of the Bundestag on October 15, 2012, an adjustment to the US limit values ​​was recommended. In June 2015, a working group led by the European Commission with representatives from member states, industry and environmental associations determined that annual mean emissions of less than 1 µg / m³ can be achieved in coal-fired power plants with mercury-specific technologies. Low mercury emissions can be achieved by adding activated carbon, using a precipitant in the flue gas scrubber or special filter modules. Catalysts and the addition of bromine salts can improve mercury discharge because they convert elemental mercury into ionic mercury. The increase in electricity generation costs associated with these processes is estimated to be less than 1 percent.

Low mercury concentrations in the range of 1 microgram per standard cubic meter and under reach for example, coal-fired power plant in Luenen mute port , the coal-fired power plant in Wilhelmshaven , the coal-fired power plant in Werne , the coal-fired power plant in Hamm-Uentrop , the coal Power plant in Großkrotzenburg near Hanau and the lignite power plant in Oak Grove (Texas / USA )

The PRTR 2010 names u. a. the emissions of the nine largest lignite power plants and fourteen largest hard coal power plants listed below (emissions below the reportable quantity threshold are entered with "<"). Together, these 23 largest coal-fired power plants are responsible for a quarter of all greenhouse gas emissions in Germany and for a fifth of sulfur dioxide, 10% of nitrogen oxides and 44% of mercury emissions.

Carbon dioxide and air pollutants from the nine largest lignite power plants in Germany ( PRTR 2016)
power plant operator CO 2 (tons) NO x / NO 2 (tons) SO x / SO 2 (tons) Fine dust (tons) Hg (kg) As (kg) Ni (kg) Cd (kg) Pb (kg) Cr (kg) Cu (kg) Zn (kg)
Neurath power plant RWE 31,300,000 21,700 5,570 483 576 1,170
Niederaussem power plant RWE 24,800,000 16,500 8,650 309 442 126 19th 389 452
Jänschwalde power plant LEAG 24,100,000 19,200 16,100 541 743 281 340 2,580 283 1,100
Weisweiler power plant RWE 18,900,000 12,700 3,100 325 271 29.7 207 39.2 141 112 270
Boxberg power plant LEAG 18,600,000 13,300 11,000 393 512 484 48.9 297
Black Pump power plant LEAG 12,300,000 6,000 8,440 105 292 106 262 26.6 342 117 228
Lippendorf power plant LEAG 10,800,000 8,660 10,600 95.8 538 31.9 64.8 120
Schkopau power plant Uniper 55.6%

EP Energy 44.4%

5,130,000 3,120 2,820 68.7 288 126
Frimmersdorf power plant RWE 4,350,000 2,760 8,840 85.4 64.1
total 150,280,000 103.940 75,120 2.406 3,726 449 1,610 134 2922 541 2,246 1892
Threshold value according to PRTR 100,000 100 150 50 10 20th 50 10 200 100 100 200
Carbon dioxide and air pollutants from the 23 largest hard coal power plants in Germany ( PRTR 2016)
power plant operator CO 2 (tons) NO x / NO 2 (tons) SO x / SO 2 (tons) Fine dust (tons) Hg (kg) As (kg) Ni (kg)
Large power station Mannheim RWE , EnBW and


7,880,000 3,500 1,980 124 136 106
Moorburg coal-fired power station Vattenfall Heizkraftwerk Moorburg GmbH 5,550,000 1,360 1,020 64.9 19th 68.3
Duisburg-Walsum power plant STEAG and EVN AG 4,850,000 3,550 2,320 60.3
Voerde power plant STEAG 4,560,000 3,440 2,300 54.8 31.4 20.8
Ruhrort power plant ThyssenKrupp Steel Europe 4,400,000 902 888
Scholven power plant Uniper 4,120,000 3,000 1,590 99 106
Ibbenbüren power plant RWE 3,920,000 2,540 1,730 53.9 41.2 297 74.5
Lünen-Stummhafen power plant STEAG 3,430,000 1,030 990 40.1
Westphalia power plant RWE 3,410,000 2,410 1,170 29.1
Heyden power station Uniper 3,000,000 2.120 1,420 20.4
Rheinhafen steam power plant in Karlsruhe EnBW 2,970,000 1,610 1,570 93.6
Werne power plant RWE 2,950,000 1,530 1,270 36 58.2
Bergkamen power plant RWE 2,840,000 2,100 1,500 20.8 54.8
Wilhelmshaven power station Uniper 2,810,000 1,830 1,360 31.2
Rostock power plant EnBW (50.4%)

Rhine energy (49.6%)

2,640,000 2.130 355 24.3 50.9 86.7
Wolfsburg power plant VW AG 2,600,000 1,770 1,000
Reuter West thermal power station Vattenfall 2,530,000 2,060 208 56.6 13.6 32.3 88.4
Thermal power station north (Munich) Stadtwerke München , Munich waste management company 2,520,000 1,680 191 19.2
Staudinger power plant Uniper 2,430,000 1,650 417
Heilbronn power plant EnBW 2,360,000 1,380 1,030 37.7
Herne power plant STEAG 2,210,000 1,440 1,030 39.1
Power plant Hamborn ThyssenKrupp Steel Europe 2,070,000 131 186
Coking plant, Schwelgern plant Pruna operator GmbH 2,050,000 1,420 450
Threshold value according to PRTR 100,000 100 150 100 10 20th 50

Financial follow-up costs of air pollutant emissions

The social costs of lignite mining and electricity generation were estimated at 15 billion euros for Germany in 2015.

In November 2011, the European Environment Agency published a study on the societal costs of air pollution from large industrial plants, which had to report their emissions in the European Pollutant Emission Register (EPER) . These are external costs that are not borne by the polluter, in this case the industry. In the study, the costs of this environmental pollution across the EU are estimated at at least 102 to 169 billion euros for the year 2009, with a large part of the costs being attributable to the generation of energy by coal-fired power plants (especially lignite-fired power plants). With costs of 1.55 billion euros in 2009, the Polish lignite power station Bełchatów ranks first among the industrial plants with the highest follow-up costs.

Only coal-fired power plants can be found in the first 10 places. These include five German lignite power plants: Jänschwalde (3rd place with 1.23 billion euros), Niederaußem (4th place), Weisweiler (7th place), Neurath (8th place) and Frimmersdorf (9th place with 742 million euros).

Warming of rivers

Like all thermal power plants , coal-fired power plants have to give off a large amount of waste heat to the environment. If the cooling does not take place via a cooling tower , but by direct cooling with river water , then the waste heat leads to a warming of the water. Environmental protection organizations fear that the falling oxygen content of the rivers due to the warming will lead to a change in the river fauna or even to its death. To prevent this, the maximum warming of the rivers is set by the authorities. If the limit temperature is exceeded, the power plant output must be throttled or the power plant must be completely disconnected from the grid.

Radioactive emissions

Coal almost always contains traces of the radioactive elements uranium , thorium and radium . The content is between a few ppm and 80 ppm, depending on the deposit . Since around 7,800 million tons of coal are burned in coal-fired power stations worldwide, the total emissions are estimated at 10,000 tons of uranium and 25,000 tons of thorium, which is largely contained in the ash. The ash from European coal contains around 80-135 ppm uranium. Between 1960 and 1970, around 1,100 tons of uranium was extracted from coal ash in the United States. In 2007, the Chinese National Nuclear Corp commissioned the Canadian company Sparton Resources, in cooperation with Beijing No. 5 Testing Institutes conduct trials to extract uranium from the ashes of the Xiaolongtang coal-fired power station in Yunnan Province . With an average of 210 ppm uranium (0.021% U) , the uranium content of the ash is higher than the uranium content of some uranium ores.

Fuel supply

While hard coal is mined underground and in open-cast mining, lignite is usually extracted in open-cast mining . Funding can lead to serious interventions in the cultural landscape and massive ecological problems . For example, underground coal mining can cause major mining damage . These include, for example, damage to buildings and other infrastructure due to subsidence and changes in hydrology , the compensation of which results in so-called perpetual costs . According to a report by the auditing company KPMG on behalf of the Federal Ministry of Economics, these amount to at least 12.5 to 13.1 billion euros for the German hard coal mining alone , of which 5 billion euros are only attributable to mine water management.

Where hard coal is relatively close to the surface, hard coal can also be mined in open-cast mining. An example of this is the El Cerrejón mine in Colombia, one of the largest hard coal mines in the world with an area of ​​690 km². In the USA, on the other hand, they rely on mountain top removal mining , in which mountain tops are first removed and the coal is then extracted in open-cast mining. For this purpose, around 500 mountain peaks were removed from an area of ​​5,700 km² in the Appalachians .

Since raw lignite is a rather regional energy source due to its high water content, an energy balance of raw material extraction and energy generation can be drawn up relatively easily. In the Rhenish lignite mining area (bucket wheel excavators, belt conveyor systems, electric freight railways, spreader, groundwater management) z. B. 530 megawatts of electrical power are kept. That is around 5% of the installed electrical output of the power plant park in the Rhenish lignite district. In 2012, the Lusatian lignite mining district consumed around 2.5% of the electricity generated from lignite in its open-cast mine. Do power plants use other energy sources, e.g. B. hard coal or natural gas, the balancing is much more difficult due to the different types of extraction and processing, transport stages and distances that these energy sources travel through.

The mining of lignite in open-cast mining is associated with an immense amount of land used (see also: List of German open-cast lignite mines ). So were z. In the Rhenish lignite mining district alone, for example, 296 square kilometers of area had been excavated by 2006. In total, the land consumption of all German lignite opencast mines is approx. 2400 km², which corresponds to around four times the area of Lake Constance or almost the area of Saarland . This was accompanied by large-scale resettlements for the population (see also: List of excavated localities ). According to estimates by BUND-NRW, 45,000 people will be resettled in the Rhenish lignite mining area in the period 1950–2045 alone if the previously approved open-cast mines are completely exhausted. Among other things, due to the social components associated with resettlement, e.g. B. the tearing apart of local communities, the loss of home, etc., open lignite mines encounter strong criticism within the population, which u. a. in the founding of citizens' initiatives against the re-designation of open-cast lignite mines. In addition, critics have complained that open-cast lignite mines have had a massive impact on the environment, damage tourism and the local recreational function of the landscape, and lead to major losses in the value of buildings and properties. Residents are also exposed to a large amount of dust, which manifests itself in health problems.

Political discussion

Development in Germany

The Bund für Umwelt und Naturschutz Deutschland (BUND) and Deutsche Umwelthilfe (DUH) presented a report in 2013 which examined the legal instruments to prevent the construction of new coal-fired power plants and to limit the running times for existing coal-fired power plants. It shows that it would be legally possible to prevent new plants and to limit the life of existing plants. With the criteria for emissions and efficiency proposed by the environmental associations, the legislature could end this climate-damaging type of generation, according to their vote. An expert opinion on behalf of the Greens shows the existing legal possibilities for public participation, for example in the plan approval procedure. There were several demonstrations against coal-fired power generation, for example in August 2014 in the form of a human chain with around 7500 participants from Brandenburg to Poland.

In Germany, the contribution of coal to the electricity supply will decrease significantly by the middle of the century, parallel to the expansion of renewable energies . By 2050, renewable energies should provide at least 80% of the electricity supply, so that fossil energies only have to cover a maximum of 20%. According to a key issues paper by Federal Minister of Economics Sigmar Gabriel (2015), old coal-fired power plants are to be used significantly less often by 2020, which is to be achieved through the partly criticized capacity reserve.

international Developement

The Canadian province of Ontario was the first major administrative unit to phase out coal-fired power generation when the last coal-fired power plant went offline in 2014. The World Bank and the European Investment Bank only invest in coal-fired power plants in exceptional cases.

In other countries (e.g. in 12 of 34 Chinese provinces) and among some investors (e.g. the state pension fund in Norway ) there are discussions or plans to phase out coal-fired power generation.

As of the end of 2019, 950 new coal-fired power plants are being planned or built in Africa alone.

CO 2 capture

Since carbon dioxide is the most important driver of man-made global warming , the technological advancement of coal-fired power plants in the next few decades must be largely based on their CO 2 emissions. In Germany, the average CO 2 emissions from hard coal power generation in 2010 was approx. 900 g / kWh and from lignite power generation approx. 1160 g / kWh. The construction of coal-fired power plants with carbon dioxide capture and storage , which remove the greenhouse gas from the flue gas and safely store it, is currently being researched, and there are also a number of pilot plants. However, evidence of the technical and economic feasibility of CCS technology in practice is still pending.

Three principles of CO 2 separation are discussed:

  1. Pre Combustion : Separation of the carbon-containing components of the fuel before combustion,
  2. Post Combustion : separation of carbon dioxide from the flue gas after combustion,
  3. Oxyfuel process : combustion of the fuel in a pure oxygen atmosphere and liquefaction of the carbon dioxide produced.
Former pilot plant on the site of the Schwarze Pump power plant

All of these processes involve a considerable amount of personal use within the overall process of electricity generation . With the same electricity yield, the primary energy requirement of a CCS power plant is 14-25% higher than that of a conventional power plant, which is mainly caused by the energy consumption of the flue gas separation and the compression of the CO 2 . In return , the CO 2 emissions can be reduced significantly, even if not reduced to zero. While conventional hard coal power plants show CO 2 emissions of 790–1020 g / kWh in a life cycle analysis, the output of a CCS power plant is 255–440 g, which is significantly higher than renewable energies or nuclear power plants.

The substances obtained during the CO 2 separation process, such as liquid carbon dioxide or pure carbon, can be used elsewhere if necessary. It is planned, for example, to inject the carbon dioxide in oil production into the subsoil to increase the deposit yield. However, this storage of carbon dioxide is controversial because catastrophes are feared if large amounts of carbon dioxide suddenly escape (see also: Lake Nyos ). There are also fears that there will be a risk to groundwater and increased earthquake activity in the affected areas.

Another negative aspect is the high water consumption of coal-fired power plants with carbon dioxide separation, which is higher than that of all other types of power plant. In industrialized countries, thermal power plants are among the largest water consumers; in the US, about 40% of all water abstraction from fresh water sources is from thermal power plants.

From September 2008 to August 2014, Vattenfall Europe Technology Research GmbH operated a first pilot plant based on the oxyfuel process. It was built on the site of the Schwarze Pump power station and had an output of 30 megawatts (thermal).

Costs for new coal-fired power plants

The following table lists data on the cost structure of a new power plant for hard coal. It should be noted that the costs have increased significantly since 2003. For the new power plant in Herne, for example, a specific system price of 2133 euros per kilowatt of installed capacity was used.

Cost structure and other key data of a modern coal-fired power plant for hard coal (as of 2003)
Cost category unit amount
Installed gross power MW 600
Specific system price / kW (gross) 798
Absolute system price Million € 478.8
Own electrical consumption % of gross output 7.4
Own electrical consumption MW 44.4
maintenance %/Year 1.5
Operating personnel people 70
Personnel costs per employee Euros / year 70000
Raw materials and supplies Euro / MWh 1.00
Fuel price 1) Euro / t SKU 106.01
Fuel costs 1) Cent / kWh 3.3
Electricity generation costs 1) Cent / kWh ≈5.2 without CO 2 emission
1) As of Q2 2008, excluding hard coal subsidies

In new construction projects there are regularly unforeseen cost increases and construction delays. RWE's new coal-fired power plant in Hamm was supposed to go online in 2012, but there were repeated delays. The costs rose from 2 billion to 2.4 to 3 billion euros in 2014. In December 2015, one block of the coal-fired power plant was finally shut down before completion.

Numerous plans for new coal-fired power plants in Germany have been withdrawn in recent years for various reasons. According to the Handelsblatt, the reasons are “repeated protests by local residents” and economic factors: “In view of the rapidly growing share of renewable energies, the generation of which fluctuates strongly, it is becoming more and more difficult to run a coal-fired power plant at full load for long periods of time. That makes the operation less economical, ”states the Handelsblatt. In addition, rising costs for the construction of new power plants, coal as a fuel and for emission certificates are causing the profitability of new coal-fired power plants to shrink, as is the prospect of longer operating times for nuclear power plants. The Danish energy company DONG is therefore investing in gas-fired power plants in Germany instead of in coal-fired piles, reports the Financial Times Deutschland . As a flexible compensation for fluctuating amounts of electricity from wind and sun, they are the best alternative and also emit significantly less carbon dioxide than coal-fired power plants. In 2014, E.ON boss Johannes Teyssen no longer assumed "that a significant amount of money can be made with conventional electricity generation in the future."

A study financed by WestLB in 2009 comes to the conclusion that new coal-fired power plants are rarely economically viable under the new conditions of emissions trading and the expansion of renewable energies: “Under the current conditions on the German electricity market, investments in large-scale fossil-fuel power plants often pay off no more. ... An expansion of renewable energies has the effect of lowering electricity prices on the electricity exchange. This leads to a deterioration in the yield of all power plants that have to assert themselves on the electricity market. (...) The increased investment of the large electricity suppliers in renewable energies is (...) to be seen as the economically correct step. "

The Office for Technology Assessment at the German Bundestag warns in a report for the Research Committee against investments in new coal-fired power plants and describes them as "stranded investments". In addition to the economic aspect, coal power plants are counterproductive for climate protection and a hindrance to the further expansion of renewable energies, since coal power plants can hardly compensate for fluctuations in solar and wind power due to their inertia.

In Germany, coal is subsidized by the state with around 3.2 billion euros annually. This corresponds to 51% of all coal subsidies in the ten most emitting European countries.

External costs

Various external effects occur in electricity generation , which cause external costs. These external costs are not included in the electricity price, but are borne by the general public to varying degrees. According to the polluter pays principle, these costs would have to be paid in addition to the electricity price in order to reduce the distortion of competition between conventional and renewable energy sources in the field of electricity generation.

Since external effects are diffuse in their impact, external costs cannot be directly assessed in monetary terms, but only determined through estimates. One approach to deriving the external costs of the environmental pollution of electricity generation is the methodological convention of the Federal Environment Agency. According to this, the external costs of electricity production from lignite are 10.75 ct / kWh, from hard coal 8.94 ct / kWh, from natural gas 4.91 ct / kWh, from photovoltaics 1.18 ct / kWh, from wind 0.26 ct / kWh and from water 0.18 ct / kWh. The Federal Environment Agency does not give any value for atomic energy, as different studies come to results that fluctuate by a factor of 1,000. In view of the great uncertainty, it recommends that nuclear energy be valued at the cost of the next worst energy source.

See also


  • STEAG Aktiengesellschaft Essen (ed.): Electricity from hard coal. State of power plant technology . Springer-Verlag, Berlin 1988, ISBN 3-540-50134-7 .
  • Ernst Riensche, Sebastian Schiebahn, Li Zhao, Detlef Stolten: Carbon dioxide separation from coal-fired power plants - from the earth into the earth. In: Physics in Our Time. 43 (4) (2012), ISSN  0031-9252 , pp. 190-197.

Web links

Wiktionary: Coal power plant  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations
Commons : Coal Power Plants  - Collection of pictures, videos and audio files

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