A major source of energy in Europe
Coal is the world’s largest source of energy for electricity generation. Of total electricity generation in the EU coal power accounts for almost one third. Vattenfall uses coal to generate heat and electricity in Germany, Denmark and the Netherlands.
Some of Vattenfall’s German coal-fired power plants use a type of coal known as lignite. Vattenfall owns and operates its own lignite mines in the Lausitz region of eastern Germany. Vattenfall also uses another type of coal, hard coal, which is purchased from subcontractors.
In 2011, lignite accounted for a total of 53.5 TWh and hard coal for 19 TWh of Vattenfall’s electricity generation. In the same year, Vattenfall produced 4 TWh of heat using lignite and 19.4 TWh using hard coal.
In a coal-fired power plant, the coal is ground into a fine powder and then blown into the combustion chamber of a steam boiler. It burns at a very high temperature and heats water to generate steam. The steam is transferred to a turbine with hundreds of propeller-like blades, causing the turbine axle to rotate at high speed.
At one end of the turbine axle, a generator produces electricity. After the steam has passed through the turbine, it is condensed and recirculated to the steam boiler to be heated up again. The technology used to generate electricity and heat from coal is proven, cost-effective and reliable in terms of supply. In addition, coal is a relatively inexpensive and secure source of energy in many countries, providing a high degree of energy self-sufficiency.
During the last 30–40 years, great progress has been made in developing new technologies designed to increase efficiency and reduce emissions. Advanced cleaning and firing technologies minimise the output of sulphur, nitrogen oxides, complex hydrocarbons, dust and heavy metals.
Vattenfall is investing in technological development to make its coal-fired power plants as efficient as possible and is also working to develop Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) technology, which could help achieve significant reductions in carbon dioxide emissions. Also, increased co-firing with biomass will be important to reduce CO2 emissions.
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