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Project: Carbon Dioxide Capture from Coal-Fired Power Plants: A Real Options Analysis

Research Team: Ram Sekar, Henry Jacoby, John Parsons, David Laughton and Howard Herzog

Sponsor: Carbon Sequestration Initiative

Year: 2005

Investments in three coal-fired power generation technologies are valued using the “real options” valuation methodology in an uncertain carbon dioxide (CO2) price environment.  The technologies evaluated are pulverized coal (PC), integrated coal gasification combined cycle (baseline IGCC), and IGCC with pre-investments that make future retrofit for CO2 capture less expensive (pre-investment IGCC).  All coal-fired power plants can be retrofitted to capture CO2 and can be considered “capture-capable”, even though the cost and technical difficulty to retrofit may vary greatly.  However, initial design and investment that take into consideration such future retrofit, makes the transition easier and less expensive to accomplish.  Plants that have such an initial design can be considered to be “capture-ready”.  Pre-investment IGCC can be considered to be “capture-ready” in comparison to PC and baseline IGCC on this basis.  Furthermore, baseline IGCC could be taken as “capture-ready” in comparison to PC. 

Cash flow models for specific cases of these three technologies were developed based on literature studies.  The problem was formulated such that CO2 price is the only uncertain cash flow variable.  All cases were designed to have a constant net electric output before and after CO2 retrofit.  As a result, electricity price uncertainty had no differential impact on the competitive positions of the different technologies.  While coal price was taken to be constant, sensitivity analysis were conducted to show the impact of varying coal prices.

Investment valuation was done using the “real options” approach.  This approach combines (i) Market Based Valuation (MBV) to valuing cash flow uncertainty, with (ii) Dynamic quantitative modeling of uncertainty, which helps model dynamic retrofit decision making.

The thesis addresses three research questions:

• What is the economic value of temporal flexibility in making the decision to retrofit CO2 capture equipment?

• How does the choice of valuation methodology (DCF v. MBV) impact the investment decision to become “capture-ready”?

• Among the coal-fired power plant technologies, which should a firm choose to invest in, given an uncertain CO2 policy?  What are the economic factors that influence this choice?

The answers to the research questions strongly depend on the input assumptions to the cash flow and CO2 price models, and the choice of representative cases of the technologies.  For the specific cases analyzed in this thesis, it was found that investing in “capture-ready” power plants was not economically attractive.

Sekar, R.C., J.E. Parsons, H.J. Herzog and H.D. Jacoby, "Future carbon regulations and current investments in alternative coal-fired power plant technologies," Energy Policy 35: 1064–1074 (2007).

Sekar, R.C., J.E. Parsons, H.J. Herzog & H.D. Jacoby, "Future Carbon Regulations and Current Investments in Alternative Coal-Fired Power Plant Designs," MIT Joint Program on the Science & Policy of Climate Change Report Number 129, December (2005). <PDF>

Sekar, R.C., "Carbon Dioxide Capture from Coal-Fired Power Plants: A Real Options Analysis," M.I.T. Masters Thesis, May (2005). <PDF>

Sekar, R.C., "Carbon Dioxide Capture from Coal-Fired Power Plants: A Real Options Analysis," M.I.T. LFEE 2005-002 RP, May (2005). <PDF>