Ivan Tzankov, AES: The Carbon Capture Systems are a Possible Solution for the Maritza East Complex

On March 10, 2021 Ivan Tzankov, Executive Director of AES Bulgaria gave an Interview for the Bulgarian National Radio hosted by Anna Turlakova.

How do you see the future of TPP AES Galabovo in the light of the Green Deal and the targets of the European Green Pact for transitioning to a low-carbon economy? The target is 2050 but we know that the closer goal is 2030, when we are supposed to reduce the coal use in the economy.

The Green Pact or the Green Deal of the EU, I would say, is a big challenge not only for Bulgaria, but for the rest of the EU member states, on the one hand. On the other hand, this is a huge opportunity because for the transitioning to a low-carbon economy many resources are allocated, which are available for the member states for investment in new technologies. The deal is a challenge because it represents a transformation not only of the energy sector but, in general, of the economies of the member states. And the big question is how exactly this transformation will happen. In my opinion, we should approach that process carefully, considering all characteristics of the member states. What does this mean for Bulgaria? It is not a secret that the energy production from coal in Bulgaria represents 40% of the total mix. That is a significant percentage. Those power plants are very important not only for the provision of energy, to provide electricity at any time, when we need it. But also, because those capacities provide very important additional services to the Electricity System Operator, and the stability of the electricity network depends on them. Thus, if it is possible to find such a solution, which, on the one hand, can contribute to the decrease of the carbon emissions and the fulfillment of the Green Deal, and on the other hand, preserve that extremely important strategic resource. We all should focus on that. And there is such a potential technical solution, and it is called carbon capture and storage systems. But, of course, for that purpose, the efforts of us all, who are in the complex, should be united as well as all stakeholders like government, industry, etc.

What would that mean in terms of investment for a power plant like TPP AES Galabovo if you decide to implement those carbon capture systems? And have you already worked on that topic?

By now, only preliminary researches on this topic have been made, based on the experience of other states, which are far ahead in the realization of such projects. Norway is one of those states. It is about serious investments, which, at this stage, cannot be realized only by the individual investors, i. e., the cooperation of the state is crucial. But when the preparation of these analyses for the necessary investments starts, the potential sum should be compared to how much any other alternative would cost. Because, as you know, the future of tens of thousands of people, industries, etc., depends on that. So, it is mandatory to prepare such an analysis, but based on the experience of other states, the support on behalf of the state for the realization of one such project is crucial.

When you said to compare the different variants and their cost, is it possible for those power plants to transition to gas, and how much would that cost? Is such an investment efficient enough, although it slightly contradicts the concept of energy independence because gas is not a local resource?

This is a very good question. And, as you mentioned, that analysis should take into account the replacement of one strategic local resource like coal, which contributes to Bulgaria’s energy independence, with gas, which, we do not have by now as a local production. That means we will be exposed to any kind of fluctuations from the gas prices on the international markets. I would say that theoretically, the transition of the coal-fired power plants to gas is possible. But, of course, it should be considered very carefully at what price that can happen, and the equation should include the loss of energy independence. On the other hand, we agree that gas as a fuel, although a carbon fuel, emits less CO2 than coal and can be used as a type of replacing fuel for some transitional period in Bulgaria.

Is this an option particularly for AES Bulgaria? Do you think of some idea on how to continue the operations of TPP AES Galabovo?

Of course. As a company, we make our analyses. Simultaneously, researches are running in several directions. One of them is the transformation of the power plant to gas. In the same time, with our colleagues, we talk about one more detailed study on the carbon capture systems, storage, and its subsequent use. All those things develop simultaneously. I am sure that after the preliminary researches and analyses are completed, a good and complex decision will be made for the future of the Maritza East complex. For me, it is most logical to include several innovative technologies like carbon capture and storage, transitioning to gas and subsequently – to hydrogen, combined with new renewable energy projects, from which the so-called ‘green hydrogen’ can be produced in a combination with new industries, because the captured CO2 and hydrogen are an extremely good resource for subsequent chemical production. There is not a single solution. That is why we should implement a complex approach for that task.

When do you expect to reach a solution? On what does it depend?

Such a solution depends on that all stakeholders to sit at one table, and not without the help of third parties. Such meetings have been already launched. You know that there is a selected consultant of the government in the face of PriceWaterhouseCoopers. So, all parties have started the conversation on this topic long ago. Recently, a Sustainable Development Institute was established at the Trakia University. We are meeting our colleagues from the regional economic agency and discussing that topic for a long time. Thus, if there is a will, that thing will be realized. I am an optimist.

Thank you for that interview, Mr. Tzankov. We finish it with your optimism.

Always! I am an optimist. I believe better days are coming, but I will say again, it is very important for all stakeholders to think in one direction and debate on those topics. And sooner or later, the optimal solution for our region and state will be achieved.

Listen the full interview with Ivan Tzankov in Bulgarian HERE.