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About Cleaner Electricity Production


  • Regulatory and policy dialogue
  • Sharing best practices in the field of cleaner electricity production from fossil fuels in the ECE region
  • Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS), as well as carbon utilization
  • Enhanced oil recovery with carbon dioxide (CO2)
  • Advanced fossil fuels technologies for power generation
  • Evaluation of efficiency enhancing measures for coal-fired power plants including steam generators, air and flue gas systems, steam turbines, generators.

The work of the Group of Experts on Cleaner Energy Production from Fossil Fuels is not limited to CCS. ECE member States could decide to develop other concrete and results-oriented activities within agreed mandates. CSE encourages the exchange of know-how and best practices between relevant experts of all member States in order to attract investments in advanced fossil fuels technologies for electricity generation with a view to supporting industrial and economic competitiveness and achieving low-carbon sustainable development.


The Group of Experts have defined the following task forces to carry out activities over 2016–2017:

(a)     Assess a future role for thermal power plants in sustainable electricity systems

Description: Electricity generation currently contributes to 40 per cent of annual global energy related CO2 emissions. Nearly 70 per cent of all electricity is produced using fossil fuels and electricity demand is growing at a faster rate than other energy vectors (such as the direct use of oil, gas and coal) which makes decarbonizing power production an urgent imperative. Additionally, in 2012 for the first time the growth of renewables in new generation outpaced fossil fuels, increasing variability in electricity systems.

In the ECE region, 60 per cent of electricity is produced from fossil fuels, but national shares range from zero to 100 per cent and vary significantly across input fuels of coal, natural gas and oil. Large shares of natural resources of coal and natural gas in the region provide a ready resource for centralized electricity production, but in parts of the region there is also growth in the deployment of renewable generation and other distributed generation sources. The drivers for coal use across the countries will vary – with different weightings applied to energy security, energy affordability, electricity access and environmental sustainability.

It is expected that fossil fuels will remain an important and cost-effective fuel for electricity production on a global and regional basis, especially in the medium term, but the changing dynamics of electricity systems (such as the inclusion of energy storage and smart grid technologies) contribute to uncertainty on the role fossil fuels will play.

There are two main aspects to consider for fossil fuel generation to remain a viable part of future sustainable electricity systems: decreasing the carbon intensity of electricity production and increasing the flexibility of fossil generation to support deployment of variable renewable power generation. These aspects will be assessed under a systems context under this task. Targeted aspects such as flexible generation, efficiency of fossil based power generation and CCUS will be addressed specifically in separate activities.

(b)     Increasing flexibility in coal power generation

Description: Increasing the flexibility of existing and new coal power plants could allow for deeper renewable energy penetration and thus reduce the carbon intensity of system wide electricity generation. However, coal is mostly used as a baseload resource due to historical electricity system development and limited flexibility in design and operation procedures. Operating this capacity under a different operating regime could reduce efficiencies substantially (to the detriment of the carbon intensity reduction objective) and lead to non-compliance with other environmental limits (sulphur oxides (SOx), nitrogen oxides (NOx), and particulates, for example). However, with proper design and operating procedures, it seems possible to support larger renewable energy integration using coal as a flexible balancing resource where coal-fired power plants and fuel resources are abundant (the role of natural gas power generation for such purposes is being considered by the ECE Group of Experts on Gas).

(c)     Decreasing emissions and increasing efficiency from new and existing coal power generation using best practices across the ECE region and globally

Description: Both existing and new coal power generation will play an important role in global electricity systems in the short and medium term. It can be assumed that for each 1 per cent increase in efficiency of a coal burning power plant there is a 2–3 per cent reduction of CO2 emissions and other air pollutants. Improving energy efficiency has been a focus of intensive energy research over the past two decades. As a result, there has been steady technological innovation towards increasing efficiency and reducing emissions from the power generation of fossil fuels, most notably from coal (where most of the research has been focused).

For existing plants, increasing the energy efficiency can offer both economic benefits while reducing GHG emissions. Over the past few years, some countries have recognized concerns with their increasing energy demand and ageing power plants. For example, Mongolia, Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan have recently begun programmes of modernization or of constructing new power plants. However, the average energy intensities in countries with economies in transition are generally still significantly higher than most other countries. Building on the efforts to implement the Work Plan for 2014–2015, as well as the scoping effort undertaken in preparing and developing this Work Plan, a number of best practices guidance documents for improving plant efficiencies were identified as well as an opportunity to disseminate best practice guidance. Collaborative opportunities have been identified with a number of partners that could support this effort in the region.

For new construction of coal-fired power plants, there are a number of High Efficiency – Low Emissions (HELE) coal power generation technologies that could increase efficiencies significantly and decrease power generation emissions in the region. Coal gasification, for example, is a promising technology that offers a versatile and clean way to convert coal into electricity, hydrogen, and other valuable energy products. Introduction of HELE technologies that enhance efficiency, environmental performance and reliability is critical for countries in which electricity generation is based on coal. Activities under this topic will be developed with a view to developing best practice guidance in the deployment of HELE technologies across the ECE region and globally. It will provide member States the opportunity to adjust policy and regulation in a way that could find the right answer to ongoing coal utilization and a pathway towards CCS retrofits.

(d)     Assess means for development and deployment of carbon capture, use and storage (CCUS) technology and know-how

Description: CCUS is starting to be demonstrated or deployed at scale for a broader range of applications with government support in a number of ECE member States. This is an essential first stage in bringing these technologies to the point where they can be regarded as a routine extension to the emission control equipment already fitted to fossil-fuelled power plants and large energy-intensive industrial processes. However, differences in CCUS knowledge, capacity for deployment, energy infrastructure and operating practices exist across the ECE region. There is also natural variation in the type and availability of deep geological CO2 storage sites, as well as a lack of detailed storage assessments in many parts of the region. Whilst existing storage mapping initiatives are very active globally, in some parts of the ECE region such initiatives are extremely limited.

Know-how for CCUS development and deployment is an important way to support progress in developing countries. This will allow such countries to consider new technology options in the development of sustainable electricity and energy systems, especially as many countries have economies based on fossil fuels. Since it is likely that the majority of CCUS capacity will be deployed in developing countries over the long term, such knowledge sharing has potential advantages for both the technology developer and user.


The UNECE region faces significant challenges in meeting growing electricity demand. Electricity dominates almost all sectors of final energy consumption, with the exception of the transport sector. Global demand for electricity is expected to double by 2030 led largely due to growth in developing economies , while the UNECE region will see a 50% increase in demand. According to the International Energy Agency (IEA), if present trends continue, US$16 trillion of investment will be needed globally over the next three decades to maintain and expand energy supply of which US$4 trillion will need to be invested in the UNECE region, about equally in generation and in transmission and distribution.

Although renewable sources and nuclear energy play very important roles in supplying primary fuel for electricity production, fossil fuels, especially coal and natural gas, are the dominant fuels for generating electric power globally and in the the UNECE region. Over 60% of the electricity generated in the UNECE region comes from fossil fuels and this trend is expected to continue given that the region holds 40% of the world’s natural gas reserves and 60% of global coal reserves. Combustion of fossil fuels, however, presents a range of environmental challenges, including carbon dioxide emissions, release of traditional criteria pollutants such as SO2 , NOx and particulate matter, and waste disposal. Production of electricity from fossil fuels must also deliver on environmental performance to ensure its long-term sustainability and acceptance.


In November 2006 at its 15th Session, the UNECE’s Committee on Sustainable Energy recognized the importance of encouraging investment in the power sector while ensuring that it is done so in an environmentally sustainable manner. To carry out this work, the Committee created the Ad Hoc Group of Experts on Cleaner Electricity from Coal and Other Fossil Fuels. Specifically the Ad Hoc Group of Experts provides a forum for an intergovernmental dialogue on investment and regulation for the promotion of cleaner electricity production between governmentally appointed experts, complemented by the participation of representatives from the electric power industry and other related industries, as well as the international financial sector and relevant international organizations.

In creating this Group, the Committee on Sustainable Energy consolidated the efforts of two earlier working groups, the Ad Hoc Group of Experts on Coal in Sustainable Development which focused principally on coal production and coal industry restructuring, and the Ad Hoc Group of Experts on Electric Power which focused on investment in the electricity sector and facilitation of cross-border transfers. Consolidation recognizes first that many of the issues related to coal have shifted from production to utilization. In addition, it also acknowledges the strong interrelationship and interdependency between liberalizing electricity and natural gas markets, improving environmental performance, and successfully attracting investment to the power sector.