Frydenberg says "clean coal" could help Australia meet Paris targets | RenewEconomy

Frydenberg says “clean coal” could help Australia meet Paris targets

Frydenberg guarantees RET support, but it’s ultra-super-critical coal that has his attention, and he says it may help Australia meet Paris climate targets.


Energy and Environment Minister Josh Frydenberg has insisted that the federal government has no plans to change or walk away from the Renewable Energy Target (RET), despite a strong push from the far-right rump of his Coalition, led by former prime minister Tony Abbott, with vocal support from the Murdoch media.

However, in doing so, Frydenberg also reiterated that meeting the 2020 target of 33,00GWh will not be “cost free” and that new coal-fired generation, such as ultra-super-critical power plants, may have a role in providing a stable and “more affordable” low(er) emission electricity network.

josh frydenberg

Indeed, Frydenberg appeared to suggest that “clean coal” could be an important part of meeting Australia’s Paris climate target of 26-28 per cent, saying that so-called ultra-super-critical plants could reduce emissions by 40 per cent from “business as usual.”

He said Australia would not walk away from its Paris target even if the new Trump administration withdrew its support.

But his language also indicated Australia would not look to increase its target, something that it actually signed up for when it ratified the Paris climate deal that aims to cap average global warming at “well below” 2C and as low as 1.5C.

Most independent analysis suggests that would require emission reduction cuts of at least 45 per cent, but Australia’s emissions have actually risen since it scrapped the carbon price.

Building new “clean coal” plants – with a shelf life of more than 30 years – would make it almost impossible to meet a target of net zero emissions by around 2050, which even the Coalition-friendly Climate Change Authority says should be the country’s target.

In an interview on ABC Radio National Frydenberg temporarily poured cold water on calls from within Coalition ranks that the RET should be scrapped – although that may have more to do with the realities of the Senate than the Coalition’s attachment to building more wind and solar.


While confirming the support for the current RET, he repeated claims that the government will pursue a lower-emission electricity generation portfolio while placing “a priority on affordability and security.”

In the interview, Frydenberg cited the interim Finkel report’s findings that replacing existing coal generation with new ultra-super-critical power stations that emission intensity would be reduced from 820kg/MWh today, to 700kg/MWh.

(Most black coal plants have emissions intensity of more than 1000kg/MWh while brown coal generators have emissions intensity of up to 1400kg/MWh).

However, when pressed as to whether his office has crunched the numbers as to the cost of making the switch towards ultra-super-critical coal technology he was evasive.

“All of these choices do cost, but the point is that we need to achieve more affordable power, but we also need a more stable system,” said Frydenberg. “The integration of renewables into the grid is very challenging because they don’t have the characteristics that coal and gas and hydro do have.

“So if you can get more baseload power in through cleaner coal and gas, then that can provide more stability in the system as well as more affordable prices.”

Finkel’s review also made it clear that while wind and solar do present challenges to the grid, the technologies that could smooth this transition were already available and cost effective, but Australia’s energy policies and rules were not supportive.

Frydenberg also backed Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce’s statement yesterday that Australia would not follow suit if a Trump administration pulls the U.S. out of the Paris climate change treaty.

“Of course, we want America to be at the table, they are 16% of the world’s emissions, they are the greatest economy in the world and a great friend of Australia,” said Frydenberg. “But we made a commitment in Paris, and we will stick to that commitment.”

He also noted that the new head of the US Department of Energy, former Texas Governor Rick Perry, is making energy efficiency, energy security and the promotion of “all forms of energy” a priority.

Frydenberg did not, however, touch on the massive expansion of wind generation, being followed now by solar, in Perry’s home state of Texas – where he was Governor for 15 years.

Bloomberg New Energy Finance (BNEF) figures show that new wind farms can be developed in Texas for US$22/MWh and solar projects for less than US$40/MWh.

On the basis of these project economics, and the ability to develop renewable assets far more quickly, BNEF concludes that a Trump administration will be largely unable to prevent the further expansion of solar and wind capacity in the U.S. in the coming years. It forecasts that wind and PV capacity will grow by 33 percent over the next two years, or 40GW of capacity.

BNEF calculates that Australia will require $2.5 billion in new investment into large scale renewables annually through 2020 to meet the 33,000GWh RET.


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  1. solarguy 4 years ago

    He has a face you just want to smack some sense into.

  2. Colin Nicholson 4 years ago

    Another brain explosion-

  3. Brian Tehan 4 years ago

    He was evasive about the cost of new coal because he must know that it doesn’t stack up at all.

    • hydrophilia 4 years ago

      Yep, avoid numbers that tell the “wrong” story. US Park service is doing this, too, after the recent upset about inauguration attendance:

      >After the Park Service’s account returned on Saturday morning, it published a new tweet expressing regret for Friday’s “mistaken” retweets. And in an interview with the Washington Post, Crosson said that due to “the difficulty of accurately assessing crowd estimates for large events,” the agency “no longer makes it a practice to provide crowd estimates for permitted events.” <

  4. john 4 years ago

    It is apparently true that Wind and Solar is cheaper than any other energy producer.
    The only fall back position for the FF producers of power is reliability.
    While it is true that solar is only less than 12 hours of the day and while it is true that wind is basically the same, the solution is to put in stored energy my preference is hydro, when the power generator is making more than needed pump that water up into a stored reserve which can be used when a low period of generation is needed.
    As to the Ministers statement it reads like rubbish from some one who does not understand how pathetic clean Coal statements are.
    I expect that nothing will change over the next 10 years frankly.
    On the international stage America will be seen as a pathetic non achiever.
    I hope Australia is not painted with the same brush.

    • Cooma Doug 4 years ago

      It is possible in the present grid to store 6 qwh a day. It doesnt happen because market rules create greater opportunity in a peaky profile. Also less coal stns to keep I/S over night requiring such loads. The market rule changes will flatten the profile and HV grid peaks will be shifted to the other side of the meter.
      Pumping infrastructure will then be many times more valuable as an investment.

  5. Ray Miller 4 years ago

    Minister Frydenberg seems to be very easily conned and somehow thinks that with smoke and mirrors he can con the rest of us. Every time one of these “brain explosions” takes place I keep on asking myself the questions; Why is this happening? Who or what industry is unduly influencing this push and what benefit do they gain? and What money is involved and to whom?
    Please Minister Frydenberg in the interest of transparency please name the person or organization which is pushing this clanger?

    If the Federal government was transparent about the decisions that are made and governed for the People based on science, considered and researched facts it all would be a different story.

    But alas I stare out the window at that flock of flying pigs (they keep circling, very strange), I must be in the wrong Universe or must stop reading Steven Hawking.

    • john 4 years ago

      Unfortunately it would appear true flying pigs have the secret.
      I expect the situation will be that nothing will be done.
      A government statement will be released showing how brilliant we are doing by using farmers to contain carbon.
      This will go down well with the majority of the population who drive a 4X4 v8 diesel, who honestly think they are doing the right thing by their fellow beings.
      Are we honestly that stupid?
      My thoughts are yes we are.

    • Cooma Doug 4 years ago

      His alternative facts are yuge. What about the new health minister? He was the smoke and mirrors champion in the climate change policy.

      How about we get a million people to write to Mal.
      Dear PM
      If you stop the BS and do something positive in the energy sector to enhance emission reductions to an optimum we will come to Pitt Water and hug you and Rupbert. A million hugs. Think aboug it Mal.

    • Ian 4 years ago

      Give Frydenberg a break. His new power plant concept is fantastic, it combines ultra, super and critical. What more can you ask for: three superlatives in one power plant – perfect!

    • Greg Hudson 4 years ago

      Every time an Australian Minister signs his name, it should have, underneath it…
      ‘Financed by xyz coal co.’ or whatever.

      Lobbyists should be illegal, or at the very least who they work for…
      ‘Paid for by xyz coal co’ or whatever.

      The USA has a ‘registered lobbyist’ scheme. We should at least have the same if we don’t already.

  6. lin 4 years ago

    Fryin’ ‘bergs is just the latest in a long line of politicians whose number one objective is to continue the rivers of gold that flow from our pockets into the pockets of their FF donors. it is bewildering how they manage to ignore experts and evidence in favour of their own narrow ideology, and outrageous that the majority of the media cowtow to their bullshit. # their abc.

    • Steve 4 years ago

      Actually, Frydenberg is more of a nuclear power sort of guy.

  7. Peter Campbell 4 years ago

    I suspect a lot of it is an ‘argument from incredulity’. They simply cannot believe that anything that was advocated by greeny-types could actually be practical for anything more than operating at the fringes. That ‘base-load’ power might be a redundant concept is just beyond their comprehension.

    • Richard 4 years ago

      They are not called the “coal-ition” for nothing

  8. Cooma Doug 4 years ago

    We have to make it clear about the market rules. They now have a CEO at AEMO who will change the maket rules to allign it with 21st century technology.
    That will make large base load clean coal a disaster for the owner.
    As solar and wind increase share, a change to market rules will eradicate the need for billions of dollars worth of infrastructure. As the new load side options are encouraged by market rule tweaks, the load goes down, the security goes up and emissions will vanish.
    Renewable energy is not the same price as clean coal. Its less than half.

    • Calamity_Jean 4 years ago

      Call it pseudo-clean coal, ’cause it isn’t really clean.

  9. Rob Campbell 4 years ago

    One of the most glaring issues, one which no popularly elected government seems to look at or indeed comment on is the future of our kids and theirs. You can look at this from two perspectives, one is the environment and the other is economic. In order to make the argument audible to the Liberals we will focus on economics.
    Coal and Gas ARE essential for providing base load and peaking power right now, and yes the digging up of coal and gas for export is necessary to try to pay down our state and federal debts and maintain our declining standard of living. But the focus upon ripping everything out right now and using up as much as we can is in total ignorance of the future. Gas in particular is a resource that should be reserved only for peaking and or reserve generation which should exclusively support renewables deployment. The sums are already clear that renewables can produce energy, albeit inconsistent at a significantly cheaper cost than fossil fuels when all costs are considered. Why is it not a priority of government to deliberately try to displace as much fossil fueled generation as it can, leaving these finite reserves for either export (to fix up the books) or extend the life of these resources so that our kids might have some security. Either way it seems the bottom line is all that matters and in the hands of the few players policy seems to be driven away from this logical course of action.

    • hydrophilia 4 years ago

      Just a hypothesis, but perhaps they have noticed the numbers, that 80% (as I seem to recall) of known fossil fuel reserves can not be burned if we are going to stay below 2degC. Whatever we don’t burn now will have to stay in the ground!

      • Ian 4 years ago

        Rob, you use a capitalised ARE in your second paragraph. The whole thrust of the renewables argument is that these sorts of intermittent resources are complimentary to each other, solar and wind tend to occur at different times, conservative and judicial use of hydro can dispatch power when these other resources are lacking, battery and other types of storage can provide other stabilising functions to the grid and load can be made smart to use electrical energy opportunistically. Using existing resources and technology and appropriate investment within our means, we can achieve close to, or even 100% of renewables for all our energy needs.

        The reality, as you suggest, is that coal and gas are part of this country’s energy-mix, but this does not need to remain so, we do have to transition away from all forms of carbon dioxide emissions in energy production as quickly as possible. The cost to do this is not that high, and the rewards are ultimately economical if not only environmental.

        How much would the cost be to convert our whole electricity generation system to renewables? Why not a quick calculation using some simplifying assumptions. 1. Capacity of 24 GW at any time 2. Solar capacity factor 1/3, 3. Wind 2/5, 4. Existing transmission infrastructure used 5. Hydro and biofuel used as backup . Cost of solar and wind $1.00/W. solar and wind installations split 50/50 . We would need 12 x 3 =36GW of solar and 12/.4 =30GW of wind 66GW @$1.00/W = $66 Billion. To put this huge sum of money in perspective the electricity market is 200TWH and the average whole sale price of electricity about 10c/KWH = $20 billion.

        • Barri Mundee 4 years ago

          And who is going to build them and fund them. Please soemone correct me if I am wrong but as far as I know there have been NO coal plants of any size built by the private sector.

          • Ian 4 years ago

            International firms mostly will build the renewables projects and ultimately the Australian public will fund them through government incentives, LCG’s, and purchases of electricity, via PPA’s or Merchant bidding into the Electricity market That’s how it’s being done right now as we speak and will probably continue to be done. How did you think new projects would be financed?

          • Steve 4 years ago

            I think the last one was built around 2008 in Queensland – I can’t recall if it was private or public. You are right that none were ever built in NSW, Victoria or SA.

            There were two planned when we had a carbon price. One was a mega big, super efficient (for coal) station at Wallerang and one was meant to use carbon capture an Munmorah to replace the one that closed down. Both were cancelled after the liberals got in.

  10. john_48 4 years ago

    Can someone, somewhere explain to this Minister that the laws of nature are impervious to linguistic gymnastics? Clean coal is an oxymoron

  11. Chris Drongers 4 years ago

    Well let the renewables lobby prove their stuff.
    Post the capital costs and LCOE for replacing Heywood. If it comes under ultra-super-critical coal Frydenburg will have some explaining to do

  12. DogzOwn 4 years ago

    Since when was hyper-super-ultra-ctitical considered to be “clean coal”? Isn’t this title reserved for CCS? Have never heard about retro-fit before.

    Huge smugliness. Why do we let ourselves get ever more distracted fighting succession of ridiculous economic or political crises? Can we not contend more effectively if we concentrate on fighting against their undermining of democracy itself and even foundation layer on which it’s built, morality?

    • Ian 4 years ago

      Don’t you just love the idea of carbon capture and storage. The pokè balls in the pokèmon cartoon are more realistic than this! Or if you prefer the realism of Dr Who, the Tardis.

  13. howardpatr 4 years ago

    Frydenberg in simply a fraud – did he table a document on his “new coal-fired generation, such as ultra-super-critical power plants”.

    Of course not – just more garbage from the mouth of Frydenberg. The same sort of garbage that flowed after the South Australian storms when he did his best to bag the renewable energy future.

    How much extra do the ultra-super-critical power plants cost? Has he not noticed that they still spew out vast amounts of GHGs.

    Meanwhile, as the cost of renewable technologies keep on going down, he keeps in line with the RWRNJs who have control of Turncoat Turnbull.

  14. Askgerbil Now 4 years ago

    The Federal Government has used taxpayer funds to pay for a mountain of research on coal-fired electricity generation and options to reduce power generation emissions.

    Josh Frydenberg’s pronouncements contradict the research his government has commissioned, but are similar to baseless claims made by Matt Canavan and the Minerals Council of Australia on 17 January.

    See for a list of the research undertaken recently and Matt Canavan’s baseless claims on ultra supercritical coal power stations.

    The coal industry and the LNP Government is deceiving developing countries into building coal-fired power stations. When many are in operation, the owners will be hit with the news that CCS technology must be fitted. This will require an increase coal consumption and a hefty increase in the cost of electricity. Financially draining developing countries to fill the purses of coal magnates.

  15. Ken Dyer 4 years ago

    Dear Mr Frydenberg, THERE IS NO SUCH THING AS CLEAN COAL. It is an oxymoron, an alternative fact, and a truthful hyperbole. It is in short, BULLSHIT.

    • hydrophilia 4 years ago

      Of course there is: “clean coal”, aka “leave it in the ground”.

      • Ken Dyer 4 years ago

        Dear Hydrophilia
        I stand corrected. You are absolutely correct. Coal can only be deemed clean if it is left undisturbed in the ground.

    • Barri Mundee 4 years ago

      There is only “less dirty” coal.

  16. Marc Hudson 4 years ago

    I wrote this about the history of clean coal claims going back to the 70s and 80s – may be of use for historical context –

  17. johnnewton 4 years ago

    And he kept repeating the bullshit that SA’s higher costs and electricity blackouts are the fault of renewables. I’m afraid we’re fucked.

    My neighbour, a marine biologist, told me, as i have heard from other marine scientists, that the Great Barrier Reef is lost. too late.

    Bring on the clean coal.

    • hydrophilia 4 years ago

      Down we go, dragging multitudes of species along with us! No species lasts forever… but I used to hope for considerably more human wisdom.

    • Ian 4 years ago

      Don’t worry, the stories of hardship and pestilence by our politicians never stopped the gold-rushes of the past and will doubtfully stop the very profitable renewables gold rush now.

  18. Miles Harding 4 years ago

    When reading this latest COALition fig leaf proposal, I was struck by the parallel with a Bjorn Lomborg story. Both take the facts, and put them through the logic mincer to produce the same inevitable outcome:
    “What we really need is more coal fried power.”

    The problem the LNP has is that, unlike Lomborg, they are faced with producing results againat a verifyable target, while arguing against well modelled and researched alternatives that all demonstrate coal is dead.

    In case some of the more obvious facts have escaped the COALition’s attention, let me reiterate some of them here:
    a) The due date for 33000 GWH from renewables is 2020 and no amount of ‘clean coal’ will help here.
    b) We have a lot more brown coal than black and the black we have is mostly at the brown end (sub-bituminous), making it fradulent to claim that coal fired electricity can be cleaned up by more than about 15%.
    c) Apart from generator age, the other reason a lot of domestic power generation is at the top end of the emissions spectrum is the lousy coal quality being consumed. This will not change with a new generator.
    d) Almost all of the big new coal mines are at the bottom of the quality spectrum, one of the worst being the Adani Carmichael mine at 4950 KCal and 25% ash. This may go a long way to explain why it’s still in the ground.

    Source: ABC fact check

  19. Dennis Kavanagh 4 years ago

    The coalition is just continuing it’s successful strategy of promoting uncertainty so that the transition to clean energy is delayed as much as possible. They don’t care about the clean energy jobs that won’t be created or the increased cost of energy for the consumer. And their other motivation is to stay in power by exaggerating the cost of Labor’s clean energy plans.

    • Greg Hudson 4 years ago

      ”increased cost of energy for the consumer” Say what ?
      Have you had a look at the wholesale price of power on the AEMO web site?
      It is truly an eye opener. Average price seems to be around 5c/kWh and I am paying 33c to my retailer (Time Of Use plan with Peak/Off Peak). Talk about an excessive mark up ! We are getting ripped of something terrible.

      • Dennis Kavanagh 4 years ago

        Yes, we are being ripped off. And the Coalition’s deliberate strategy of promoting uncertainty will increase wholesale prices and ultimately retail prices further.

        • Greg Hudson 4 years ago

          I never thought I’d be saying this, but I doubt I’ll be voting Liberal any longer.

  20. Radbug 4 years ago

    Jonathon, ever heard of a firm called Mullard? No? They were the largest manufacturer of thermionic valves in GB. In the early 1950’s when transistors first came on the market, the response of this huge firm, and firms like it, like RCA, was … to make better thermionic valves. With only one exception, Motorola. I call this response the “best before end” response. It happens everywhere. Market incumbents respond to challenge by upstarts by making the best, most complicated, version of what they’ve always done. Just look today! The Morris Minor, very simple. Today, the Prius. Go on, I dare you, look under that hood. … To no avail. The upstarts blew the incumbents all away. From simple subcriticals to the incredibly complicated, and extreme, ultrasupercriticals, steam turbines are following the same process. Jonathon, only a fool invests his capital in “best before end” technologies. Put your money on the upstarts, Jonathon.

    • nakedChimp 4 years ago

      Like flat screen CRTs.
      That ‘best before end’ response is a nice concept – I like it.
      Thanks for sharing.

      • Radbug 4 years ago

        It’s a natural human response, Naked Chimp. It takes nerve to move outside your comfort zone, and most people, like Matt Canavan, lack it. The winners can, the losers can’t … only, Minister Canavan is a loser with OUR money!!!

    • Richard 4 years ago

      Thanks, very nice angle. It’s a Kodak moment on the cusp of digital, too.
      But this is all the above, times eleven.

  21. Hendo 4 years ago

    Just a word about ultra-super-critical power plants. The name sounds great, and infers great promise.In fact it is likely the case that these power stations are more efficient and extract more power from coal. They are also more expensive to endure the very high temperatures and pressures involved.
    But the technologies refer to the generators/turbines. There is no connect to the “clean coal” claim. To infer that these power stations are associated with, or fueled by “clean coal” is spin. I got this from the coal industries journal. Here’s the link:

  22. Petra Liverani 4 years ago

    God, he’s a creep. I noticed today that his very first first question in Parliament was to Julia Gillard asking what action she would take to “discipline” Kevin Bracken for his “unacceptable” statement about the official story of 9/11 not standing up to scientific scrutiny.

  23. Ian 4 years ago

    Never was so much risked for so many by so few!

    Here is one biased politician threatening to invest huge volumes of public money into more coal fired power plants, possibly committing electricity consumers and tax payers to 30 years plus higher prices and ongoing production of greenhouse gasses.

    Can our political system stop such a blunder or will it fail? Have we invested too much political and financial power in those that govern this Country, has our tax and welfare system so weakened the working population that the say and decision of the hard-working person over the fruits of their labour is given to a small cadre of politicians?

    It’s a good thing that Frydenberg , mistaken as he is about the value of coal or baseload, is at least wanting to be seen to be concerned about our access to reliable electricity, in another country he might just want to feather his nest with the political power he has been given, but if politicians like him have unbridled power to make large partisan decisions like this super critical coal thingy, what’s to stop others from wasting our money on corruption and graft?

    When we elect babies as our baby-sitters do we have to give them all our dummies?

  24. DevMac 4 years ago

    Anyone (and the party supporting them) suggesting the building of new coal power plants is bought and paid for. There is no logic behind building new plants based on century-old technology (unless the logic of those who are heavily invested in the continued use of coal is factored in, of course, hence: bought and paid for).

    The Port Augusta coal power plant shut down because it was no longer profitable. I’m aware that it was old and cost a lot to maintain, but fundamentally it seems that coal power generation is getting less and less cost-effective.

    If a new coal plant is intended to run for 30 years there is no way it will make a profit unless it’s able to regularly charge $10,000+ / MWh spot fees during peaks. Which is exactly the situation everyone wants to avoid.

  25. Rob G 4 years ago

    They simply cannot let go of coal. It’s getting to the desperate point now and they look more and more foolish by the day. You know that we have reached the final death roll…

  26. phred01 4 years ago

    Clean coal was used to get govn’t grants to see the viability, Guess what, no practical

    commercial plants have been constructed yet!

  27. Richard 4 years ago

    He’s doing what comes naturally, – frying bergs!

  28. Robert Comerford 4 years ago

    ‘clean coal’, I guess that is one of those alternate truths we are going to hear about for the next few years.

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