Coal has been a popular source of energy globally. However, coal remains a dirty source of power, and many nations are reducing their dependence on this fossil fuel. One of the countries making the transition is Turkey. Turkey has the option of switching to renewable energy instead of coal mines.
What does the future hold for Turkey as it looks forward to a coal-free future?
Turkey’s Coal History
Turkey is the seventh-largest coal producer globally, with most of its production being lignite. The country has about 15 billion tons of lignite and is mainly mined opencast. The Energy Ministry is prospecting for more coal.
In addition to lignite, Turkey has about 500 million tons of anthracite reserves. However, it is difficult to mine due to the complex geology of the sites.
Turkey mined over 80 million tons of coal in 2017 and 90 million in 2018. Private companies do most coal mining, but Turkiye Omur Isletmesi Kurumu is a state-owned company involved in mining operations.
Coal mining took almost 100 lives between 2000 and 2014, with most accidents occurring in coal mines. This makes Turkey’s coal mines the most dangerous globally on a per-GW-of-electricity-generated scale. The country continues to battle illegal coal mines.
In 2017, Turkey produced about 300 TWh of electricity. Coal-powered stations accounted for 22 percent. During that year, Turkey imported about 30 percent of the coal used to produce electricity. Turkey added 1,320 MW of coal-powered installed capacity, costing €1.38 billion. The power produced from coal doubled between 2008 and 2018.
Turkey’s Energy Future
Turkey is aware of the dangers of burning coal for energy. Back in 2017, then Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim spoke about his country’s blueprint to tackle climate change. It set the goal of producing 45 percent of its energy from renewable sources. Turkey has also ratified the Paris Agreement, which mandates it to limit its carbon emissions.
What Alternatives To Coal Does Turkey Have?
As Turkey seeks to reduce its dependence on coal, the country has several options. One of them is solar energy, using photovoltaic (PV) cells.
According to experts, Turkey can produce 20 percent of its total energy need without investing in transmission by combining solar with other renewable energy sources. The share could reach 30 percent with moderate additional investments in power transmission.
Turkey can augment power from solar and wind sources with energy storage. This will make for the stability promised by fossil fuel plants. Also, excess energy not stored could be channeled into water desalination, an energy-intensive process.
Other alternative sources of power include concentrated solar power, CSP, which could meet evening peak demand and overnight power needs. Turkey can also set up hydropower and nuclear plants.
However, a solution hiding in plain sight in Turkey is converting the country’s numerous coal mines to solar farms.
From Coal Mines To Solar Farms
Turkey can make a giant stride in renewable energy by using an unexpected resource; coal mines. According to research by Europe Beyond Coal, about half of the coal mines in Turkey are suitable for siting solar farms.
Turkey can boost its solar capacity by 170 percent by using the opencast mines. The installations can supply enough power for 6.9 million households.
Using the coal mines will help Turkey cut its annual CO2 emissions significantly. To put things in perspective, the reduction is equivalent to the emission produced by 50 million passengers flying from Istanbul to Rome.
Turkey will also be able to reduce its energy reliance on a single country, as the events surrounding Russia’s war with Ukraine have shown is vital.
Duygu Kutluay, who campaigns for Europe Beyond Coal, commented, “In a fortuitous arc of history, the mines that have provided the coal which has so damaged our climate and communities can play a vital role in decarbonising our energy systems, and tackling the climate crisis. Turkey has recently upped its climate ambitions by ratifying the Paris Agreement, and setting a net-zero goal. The sooner we start delivering on these targets, the greater the benefits will be for our health and our economy, which was hit hard by last year’s climate change-induced wildfires.”
Turkey will join countries including China, Germany, the UK, and the US in converting coal mines into solar farms.