New coal power is alive and kicking -- in Asia and East Europe

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Who says coal is dead? While it may be currently struggling to compete against gas and wind generation in North America, coal power accounts for over 50 per cent of new build projects worldwide. Two-thirds of these coal power plant projects are located in Asia, but in Eastern Europe steam and steam turbine technology continue to play a major role in driving economic growth.

Poland rightly thinks itself as the king of coal in Europe. Compared with the European Union (EU) average of 30%, coal accounts for 93% of Poland’s power generation mix. In total, the countryburns 77 million tons of coal a year, making it the tenth largest coal consumer in the world and second largest in the EU after Germany.

Unfortunately for Poland, two-thirds of its installed coal capacity is more than 30 years old.Due to European Commission directives,the Polish power industry finds itself in somewhat of a crisis.Strong economic growth has placed already tight Polish reserve margins under strain yet the Industrial Emissions Directive (IED), which controls pollutants such as nitrogen oxides, sulphur dioxide and particulates, is forcing the closure of 6-8 GW of capacity by 2020.


Warsaw expects renewables to account for 16% of final energy demand by the fourth decade of the 21st century, while nuclear power is expected to comprise 10%. The remaining 74% will come from fossil fuel generation, the majority of which will be coal. Why not gas? The EU recently approved a request from the Polish governmentfor free Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS) emission allowances for power plants. Suddenly, the risks of investing in gas-fired plant in a country with abundant supplies of lignite and hard coal became toohigh. While Polish utilities have announced plans to develop over 6 GW of gas generation, including Energa's 900 MW Grudiadz plant and CEZ's 400MW Skawina plant, analysts believe much of the slated investment might never see the light of day. 

The Commission granted the free permits on the condition that revenues accruing from their sale are channelled into retrofitting and upgrading power plants. Poland will, therefore, mostly replace its aging coal plant with best available coal technology compliant with EU emissions directives.Consequently, despite a wider European trend away from investment in coal plant, the market for steam turbines in Poland is undergoing a boom.

Steam turbine hub

Built in 1948, the Elblag steam turbine factory in Northern Poland was inherited by Alstom in 1999 when it acquired ABB’s power generation business.It operates as the company’s European centre for the manufactureof steam turbines up to 1000 MW.Since 1999, when Alstom doubled the capacity of the smelter to an annual 12,000 tons of pig iron and steel, 320 steam turbines installed in power plants globally have been produced at the site.60% of the power equipment manufactured in Poland is consumed within its borders, and the site is now gearing up for a spate of new orders for steam turbines from Polish utilities.These include a €900 million deal awarded byEDFto supply the steam turbine island for a new 900 MW plant to be built in Rybnik.

Many of Elblag’s orders are for retrofits; Alstom is currently executing a retrofit of the turbine islands at units 7 to 12 of Belchatow, Europe’s largest coal-fired power plant. This involves an upgrade by 20 MW each of Zamech 370 MW 18K-370 steam turbines commissioned between 1985 and 1988. The project will boost cycle efficiency by 2.4%.

In May, Alstom signed a €65 million contract to deliver new high pressure (HP) and intermediate pressure (IP) steam turbines for units 2 to 7 of the 8 x 225 MW of GDF-Suez’s Polaniec plant. Polaniec’s original 215 MW, 13K-215 turbines made by Zamech in the early eighties were modernized by ABB between 1992 and 1995. Using RS41A type blades for a low pressure (LP) turbine retrofit modernisation and replacing the blades and diaphragms of the HP turbine, units 1 through 8 of Polaniec saw output raised to 225 MW. When completed in December 2014, this latest modernisation will result in each unit generating in excess of 240 MW on average and extend the plant’s lifetime by an additional 25 years.

In order to help meet this demand, an iron foundry was commissioned at Elblag in 2009. The existing steel foundry produces around 7,000 tons/year of steel castings for turbines and turbo compressors, while the new iron foundry produces heavy castings with a production capacity of 6,000 tons/year. The company recently added a €30 million rotor welding shop on site.