Expect Diversity to Rule Tomorrow`s Economy
By Henry E. Bartoli, Foster Wheeler Corp.
In 25 years, we expect to deploy more natural gas-fueled, high-efficiency, combined-cycle plants. The coal-based technologies will continue to have a large Rankine cycle component with atmospheric circulating beds supple-menting the traditional pulverized-coal units in regions of the world with low-grade coal (such as China and India). Coal-based combined-cycle plants will begin to make inroads in areas of the world where efficiency and emissions are at a premium. We will see more pressurized-fluidized beds and advanced (partial gasifications combined) pressurized-fluidized beds because of their low capital cost and high efficiencies. Depending on the regulatory environment, integrated gasification-combined cycle plants will also be built to meet stringent environmental requirements. During this period, we will also see more distributed generation using fuel cells and photovoltaic technology. Of course, where economically and environmentally feasible, we will continue to see hydroelectric plants.
In 100 years, we anticipate a decline in natural gas supply. Hence, coal will have to shoulder a larger share of the power generation load. We should also see more rapid development of renewable technologies such as biomass. Nuclear power remains an excellent techno-logical option. Perhaps by then, cultural, emotional and political impediments against the nuclear options will have been overcome so we can revive the nuclear option. In our opinion, even 100 years from now, we will still be using a lot of coal to generate electricity. We see a continuing conversion to electrotechnologies in all aspects of our lives. Figure 1 is an example of the rapid rate of electrification. However, we do not have a crystal ball on any radically different use to offer. In general, we will see a more concerted drive toward efficiency. In that regard, superconductivity comes to mind as a promising breakthrough.
The utility industry is undergoing drastic changes due to deregulation. However, we expect there will always be utilities in the future, although their way of operation will change significantly in order to accommodate the new market forces. Electricity will become more of a commodity in which the generation (production) and distribution will be offered in separate pieces. Energy efficiency, and hence cost of electricity, is the engine that drives our gross domestic product and therefore, our standard of living (Figure 2). The current rapid develop-ments in information technology have increased our productivity dramatically. However, we are only in the very beginning of a revolution. For example, we believe the ability to communicate remotely will enable many of our workers to work from home. This will bring into our work force many talented women with school-age children and others who are located at long distances from the `office.` As this trend continues, we will see a more decentralized work-place environment. This will also give rise to a more mobile work force.
The environment will dominate the developed countries, while the economy and population will dominate the less developed ones. For the less developed nations, there will be more difficult decisions between investments in growth and investments in environmental protection. It is for these reasons we are concentrating on the develop-ment of more environmentally friendly and more efficient (e.g., pressurized and advanced pressur-ized fluidized bed) technologies.
Longer term, a transition from fossil energy has to take place. A hydrogen economy is a possibility. Perhaps a combination of nuclear energy and hydrogen economy is viable.
Higher gas turbine efficiencies, more gasification plants and an ever-increasing focus on the environment worldwide are among the issues that will shape the power generation industry in the next few years and into the next century.
For fossil energy systems, gas turbines have emerged as the technology of choice because of their high efficiencies. Already, operating efficiencies of 55 percent and above in combined-cycle, advanced gas turbines will be achieving 60 percent thermal efficiency by the end of this decade. With the next generation of gas turbines, we could be seeing combined-cycle efficiencies a few points higher by the year 2010.
Contending with higher firing temperatures is a critical factor in reaching these higher gas turbine efficiencies. GE`s approach for its 2600 F advanced gas turbines involves steam cooling along with single-crystal airfoils and new thermal barrier coatings. As the pressure for even higher gas turbine efficiency continues, we may see the use of ceramics, at least for stationary components of the next-generation machines. The ability to apply aircraft engine and gas turbine technologies in a synergistic manner greatly enhances the speed at which advances can be achieved.
Fuel costs and availability will drive a trend toward greater use of integrated gasification combined-cycle (IGCC) plants based on coal and residual oil. The cost of these fuels is expected to go down, compared to the cost of
Henry E. Bartoli began his career as Foster Wheeler Corp.`s vice president and group executive of its Power Systems Group in December 1992. He became senior vice president and group executive of its Energy Equipment Group in 1996. In addition, he serves as chairman and chief executive officer of Foster Wheeler Energy International Inc. Prior to joining Foster Wheeler, Bartoli was Burns and Roe Co.`s vice president and general manager.
Bartoli received a bachelor`s of science degree in mechanical engineering from Rutgers University and a master`s of science in mechanical engineering from New Jersey Institute of Technology. He serves on the Advisory Committees of the Rutgers University College of Engineering and New Jersey Institute of Technology.