Low carbon voltage

Conventional electricity producers seek innovative solutions in order to continue operation

Just a month prior to Europe being blocked by the Coronavirus, the main excitement on the sidelines of the European institutions in Brussels was towards a sustainable low-carbon future. The COVID-19 crisis has dramatically changed priorities, and for a while it seemed that the so-called “Green Deal” will be postponed for a more distant and less foreseeable future. But with the return to the “new COVID-19 reality”, plans to achieve full carbon neutrality and the need for a corresponding change in member states’ energy policies are back on the agenda and seem increasingly inevitable. For Bulgaria, the topic is particularly sensitive. If the “Green Deal” is implemented in full and on time, the country will have to part with its base coal capacity, which currently provides nearly 60% of its electricity for the domestic market. And in the very near future. These capacities, in addition to guaranteeing the country’s energy security, are also a serious economic factor of regional and national importance, which provides for the livelihood of tens of thousands of families.

In the region of Stara Zagora and the Maritsa East complex, electricity production is a way of life. Coal-fired power plants and coal mines are a field for professional realization of generations of highly qualified power engineers. In the light of the EU’s new energy priorities, the lifeline for a key complex such as Maritsa East seems to be in adopting sound national policies in the public interest and creating a smooth and sustainable transition through the introduction of innovative technologies.

Sustainable operation of the base capacities is possible in the future with the introduction of modern technologies. The challenges for our coal-fired power plants are growing over time, given European climate policies, even if there is no explicit deadline for their operation.

The sustainable operation of the modernized power plants in Maritsa East will be based on the introduction of modern technologies. such as for the capture and storage of carbon dioxide. The International Energy Agency predicts that fossil fuels will continue to account for 75% of the global energy mix by 2030, and assumes that carbon capture and storage is needed to achieve the almost 20% reduction in carbon emissions needed by 2050 The readiness for adaptation and implementation of new modern technologies will allow to continue in a sustainable way the work of this strategic complex for the Bulgarian electricity system.

One of the key power plants in the Maritza East complex is ContourGlobal Maritsa East 3 TPP, which employs nearly 500 people. Every year it produces about 10% of the electricity in Bulgaria. It is also the first lignite-fired thermal power plant in Southeast Europe to operate in accordance with European environmental standards. During the years of modernization and so far, more than BGN 1.4 billion have been invested in the plant, ensuring its reliable operation. Additional investments are planned to ensure full compliance of the power plant with the new environmental requirements, which will come into force in a year. In addition to the Stara Zagora power plant, ContourGlobal operates 107 power plants in 18 countries on 3 continents, or a total of 4,845 megawatts of installed capacity, and 1,600 employees. Some of the company’s projects have long relied on an innovative approach to developing a successful strategy – both environmentally friendly, and efficient for consumers and businesses. Years of operation improve this knowledge with experience that may at some point prove crucial to Europe’s energy reality.

In the waters of the Caribbean Sea, not far from mainland Venezuela, lies the island of Bonaire, part of the Netherlands Antilles. The need for electricity of 16,500 inhabitants of the popular exotic destination is fully met by “ContourGlobal’s hybrid power plant. The Bonaire project is a unique facility. It relies on conventional resources for electricity generation and at the same time integrates renewable energy sources -10 diesel engines provide 24 MW and 13 wind turbines provide another 12 MW. This makes the most efficient use of the island’s natural resources and reduces the carbon footprint of energy production. In just a few months, ContourGlobal successfully builds special batteries for storing already produced energy, which can support up to 6 MW of energy supply for 1 hour. This allows the smooth switching of the generating capacities * from diesel to wind and vice versa, without causing interference to the electricity transmission network, as the power plant is its only producer. The whole process is controlled by an innovative energy management system connected to all components of the local infrastructure. Thus, the power plant meets environmental standards and market demand for electricity in the region in a sustainable and secure way. Thanks to hybrid system operated by ContourGlobal, Bonaire Island reduces its fuel costs for electricity generation and carbon dioxide emissions by 36%.

In 2019, ContourGlobal also acquired two highly efficient gas power plants on the territory of the second largest market in Latin America – Mexico. The country has ambitions to reach an increase in clean energy production of up to 35% of its energy mix by 2024. In addition to being able to provide additional heat – steam or hot water, for various household needs and industrial processes, the two power plants use energy efficient CCGT (Combined Cycle Gas Turbine) technology. It produces electricity in 2 stages: the gas turbine contributes, and the residual heat from its operating cycle is used for steam production for the steam turbine – the same one used by coal-fired power plants in our country. Due to this efficient use of resources, their efficiency is 2 times higher than that of conventional power plants (60% compared to 30-32% efficiency).

The possibilities for the future of the Bulgarian energy and the Maritsa East complex are to be analyzed. The proven experience of international investors, the excellent expertise of local professionals and the active participation of all interested sides will ensure the development of sustainable plans in the interest of the entire energy sector.