In 2019 the Czech government convened a coal commission to recommend an end date for coal, with a decision due by the end of 2020.
The decision follows a broader European trend, as the share of coal power in the EU-28 electricity production fell from 29 per cent in 2005 to 14 per cent in 2019. This trend has been driven by three main factors: a steadily rising ETS carbon price, stronger regulation on pollutants from large combustion plants and the increasing competitiveness of clean generation.
Independent, not-for-profit climate and energy think tank Ember has modelled a pathway to a coal-free Czechia by 2030. The objective was to investigate the scale and feasibility of changes necessary to achieve a 2030 coal phase-out.
“With ambitious but realistic action, Czechia can phase out coal from electricity and heating by 2030,” said Chris Rosslowe Energy and Climate Data Analyst at Ember and lead author of the report. “The least-cost energy pathway modelled by Ember sees Czechia deploying new wind and solar at a speed and scale already achieved by other EU countries, as well as developing a more modern and efficient heating system. A 2030 coal phase-out would invest in Czechia’s future economy and enhance its international reputation as it delivers emissions cuts in alignment with the EU Green Deal and Paris Agreement.”
Coal and lignite provided 43 per cent of gross electricity production in the Czech Republic in 2019, gradually declined from 50 per cent in 2016, mainly due to a reduction in hard coal generation and the COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated the demise.
Indeed, there is a feasible route to phaseout coal from electricity and heating in Czechia by 2030, the lowest cost one being a strong focus on wind and solar.
A sizeable but realistic expansion of renewable electricity capacity is required. The Czech Republic’s power system can incorporate much higher renewable capacity than current ambitions. Ember’s pathway adds 3.7 gigawatts (GW) onshore wind and 7.9 GW solar, reaching 4 GW and 10 GW respectively by 2030, without curtailment of generation.
Additionally, at least two-thirds of heat from coal Combined Heat and Power (CHP) plants could be replaced by large heat pumps and waste heat recovery. These are the most economic replacements for coal heat and sufficient potential exists in the Czech Republic.
A 2030 coal phase-out would allow the Czech Republic to achieve new EU climate targets. Modelled emissions from power generation decrease by 85 per cent between 2020 and 2030. Ember finds that a 2030 coal phase-out can save an additional 32 megatons of CO2 on top of plans outlined in the National Energy and Climate Plan (NECP). These additional savings would allow Czechia to reduce total GHG emissions by more than 60 per cent from 1990 levels, meeting 2030 targets proposed by the EU Green Deal.
Other than deploying renewable energy sources, grid-scale battery storage is important in order to reduce the need for new dispatchable thermal capacity. Ember’s study assesses the impact of adding 2 GW battery storage (equivalent to 20 per cent of installed solar capacity) to the system in 2030, finding it reduces the deployment of flexible gas capacity by 1 GW.
In addition to achieving climate targets, phasing-out coal power can deliver several economic and social co-benefits. It’s estimated that coal generation caused 1,200 premature deaths and incurred 1.9 billion euros health costs in the Czech Republic alone. The mining of lignite also has a considerable impact on the local environment, causing air pollution and adding pressure to water supplies, as highlighted in the case of the Turów mine at the border of Czechia and Poland.
Ember’s study finds that significant policy support will be required to achieve deployment at the required speed and scale. This will need to address the urgent need for capital investment, streamlining of planning processes and building social acceptance. The economic stimulus being delivered by the EU in response to the coronavirus pandemic could play a major role in leveraging the necessary investments.
In conclusion, the report notes that without an ambitious commitment to renewable sources, the Czech Republic risks replacing one generation of unsustainable assets with another. If coal generation is replaced primarily with fossil gas, not only would this deviate from the lowest cost route, but these new assets would be at significant risk of becoming stranded.