Discussion paper

Suboptimal supercritical: reliability issues at Australia’s supercritical coal power plants

Power resources Energy resources Energy industries Energy security Coal-fired power Electricity demand Australia

A number of federal and state politicians and mining industry groups have called for new supercritical or ultra-supercritical coal-fired power stations to be built in the National Electricity Market (NEM).

Data from The Australia Institute’s Gas & Coal Watch shows that coal plants are unreliable and prone to break downs – as they have dozens of times since the Institute began monitoring in 2017.

Furthermore, of Australia’s black coal plants, the supercritical plants have performed just as badly as subcritical plants relative to generating capacity, despite being newer.

A close study of Kogan Creek, Australia’s newest supercritical coal plant, shows that its breakdowns:

  • Occur often;
  • Are the biggest in the NEM;
  • Have contributed to price spikes, and;
  • Have caused frequency losses outside of the safe operating band.

The Victorian Nationals, the “Monash Forum” of federal Coalition backbenchers and the Minerals Council of Australia have proposed building supercritical plants in Victoria that would burn brown coal. This raises two concerns. Firstly, Australia’s brown coal plants are more unreliable than its black coal plants and, secondly, supercritical brown plants would still be more emissions intensive than the majority of Australia’s existing coal plants.

Publication Details