One of the main themes at POWER-GEN International, held recently in Las Vegas, centered around how current political, economic and environmental issues are causing many generators to consider a mix of generation technologies and fuels.
By Teresa Hansen, Associate Editor
Finding the right mix of generation technologies was a major topic during POWER-GEN International’s keynote session. “Diversity is again in vogue – not in the cobbled nature of Enron’s far-flung enterprise, but in the measured tones of a focused strategy that incorporates natural gas, coal, nuclear, renewables, distributed generation and on-site power into a reliable mix of baseload, intermediate, peaking and emergency resources,” said Brian Schimmoller, Power Engineering magazine’s chief editor, in his opening remarks at the event, held December 6-8 at the Sands Expo in Las Vegas. The keynote speakers echoed this basic theme, discussing the Energy Policy Act of 2005, fuel price volatility, especially that of natural gas, environmental concerns, rising electricity demand and homeland security, and how these issues are causing most energy suppliers to reevaluate their strategies and supply mix and, in many cases, consider a broader mix of generation technologies.
Andrew “Andy” White, President and CEO of GE Energy’s Nuclear Division, spoke not only about the company’s nuclear business, but also about its entire generation portfolio. He summed up today’s power generation environment: “We are living in interesting times in the energy industry. Growing populations, rising fuel costs, environmental challenges and security concerns all must be addressed.”
The speakers agreed that the current dynamics in the energy industry are complex. “We live in a carbon constrained world where diverse energy technology is necessary,” White said. “The energy bill will help drive new technology, but innovation is the key to success.”
White believes the nation needs a balanced portfolio of generation technologies to effectively address the industry’s concerns and challenges. He spoke briefly about GE Energy’s Ecomagination program aimed at developing a mix of environmentally responsible generation technologies. “GE plans to invest $1.5 billion in research and development by 2010 to coal, gas and nuclear, as well as alternative energy technologies such as wind, solar, biomass and eventually fuel cell technology,” White said. “The Energy Policy Act is making alternative technologies more viable.”
Jim Gordon, President of Energy Management Inc. and Cape Wind Associates, spoke about the promise of renewable energy, specifically offshore wind energy. Gordon, who is leading the first offshore wind energy project in the United States, pointed out that New England has huge generation potential for wind energy, and he believes it will become a big part of the generation mix. “Wind has made quantum leaps in reliability and availability in the past 20 years, and the cost has continued to drop,” he said.
More than 1,030 exhibiting companies participated in POWER-GEN International 2005, making it the largest POWER-GEN exhibition to date.
It is for these reasons that Cape Wind is developing the Cape & Islands offshore wind project that will consist of 130, 3.6 MW wind turbines in about 18 to 30 feet of water. Although the project has been in development for almost five years, and 17 federal and state agencies are involved in the review and permitting process, Gordon believes the Cape Wind project will become a reality and will set the stage for more on- and off-shore wind projects in New England.
Although not often thought of as an alternative generating technology, nuclear generation can be categorized as an alternative energy source when it comes to emissions. White pointed out that nuclear energy is completely emissions free and has a better safety record than any of its peers. He also mentioned that nuclear energy has an outstanding operational performance record and existing nuclear plants are the lowest cost electricity producers in the nation. In addition, White said that nuclear energy currently provides 20 percent of the United State’s electricity and 17 percent worldwide. White believes all of these facts coupled with the provision of the Energy Policy Act of 2005 add up to a promising future for nuclear energy.
Volatile Natural Gas
Although much was said in the keynote about the roles renewables and nuclear power are expected to play in the future of electricity generation, all the keynote speakers agreed that gas-fired and coal-fired generation will continue to furnish a large portion of the nation’s electricity. Michael Niggli, President of Sempra Generation, spoke about the United States’ natural gas dilemma. “Since I’ve lived in Las Vegas, I’ve developed a huge respect for the cowboys who participate in the National Rodeo Finals. (This event was taking place in Las Vegas the same week as POWER-GEN International.) Every day they put their life and career on the line riding bucking broncos and roping steers,” Niggli said. “Like the cowboys in Las Vegas, those of us in the industry also have our bucking bronco – the natural gas market. It is one of the most frightening pieces of the (generation) equation. In the United States, there is a supply and demand imbalance and the gap is widening quickly.”
Niggli pointed out that today’s four trillion cubic foot gap could double in the next decade. Although liquefied natural gas (LNG) imports could help shrink that gap, at least six to eight new terminals will be needed and there is still much public opposition to such terminals. Sempra currently has two new LNG facilities under construction and another in the permitting stage, but even if all three become a reality, Niggli isn’t sure if the extra natural gas supply from these terminals will be enough to bring down the price of natural gas to a level that will make it attractive for new gas-fired plant construction.
Even though gas prices are high, White pointed out that today’s newest gas-fired turbines are still viable due to their high efficiency. Advanced steam cooling and integrated control systems have enabled some of the newest combined-cycle gas-fired turbines to reach 60 percent efficiency, he said.
Coal Still Reigns
Niggli also spoke about the role coal is playing in Sempra’s generating strategy. The company is proposing three new coal plants in Idaho, Texas and Nevada, some of the first new plants to be planned in many years. He believes their locations, as well as new coal generating technologies’ improved environmental performance – 85 percent to 90 percent cleaner than the technology of the late 70s and early 80s – will make the three plants successful in today’s generation market.
White added that coal still has 51 percent of the nation’s generation mix. Currently 132 new coal plants with a total capacity of 82 GW have been proposed and are in the permitting stage.
In addition to the keynote session, coal’s role in U.S. power generation was discussed at length throughout the conference during several conference sessions, as well as during a megasession on integrated gasification combined cycle (IGCC).
No single coal technology presently garners more attention than IGCC. The IGCC megasession panel discussion represented some of the major players in the IGCC industry. Jim Childress, executive director of the Gasification Technologies Council, led off the session terming IGCC as the cleanest coal-based alternative for power generation whose appeal is enhanced by its ability to produce other products as well.
Robert Rigdon, director of IGCC for GE Energy, said that among IGCC’s major advantages is its ability to remove 90 percent of mercury at about 10 percent of the mercury removal cost for pulverized coal plants. Other environmental advantages include lower water use than by pulverized coal units. Although capital costs for IGCC have historically been 20 percent to 25 percent greater than supercritical pulverized coal technology, he said GE is committed to narrowing that gap significantly. GE plans to introduce a 630 MW IGCC standard reference plant design in the fourth quarter of 2006.
Ross Fava of Shell Global, described his company’s commitment to IGCC through Shell’s dry gasification process that uses its membrane wall gasifier. Shell has operated a 253 MW IGCC plant in Holland since 1994, a 338 MW plant in Spain since 1997 and currently has 14 gasification projects in China, most of which convert coal to ammonia or fertilizers. Fava says the process is especially applicable to low-rank coals. Shell Global has formed an alliance with Black & Veatch to bring its gasification process to greater commercial application in the electric power sector.
Conoco-Phillips, one of the major suppliers of gasification technology, was represented by Phil Amick, who was project manager for the design and construction of the Wabash River Coal Gasification Repowering Project in Terre Haute, Indiana, owned and operated by Cinergy. The 262 MW plant supplies power to the grid using high sulfur coals and petroleum coke. Echoing Fava’s comments on IGCC’s adaptability to low- rank coals, Amick noted that 94 percent of all coal used to date in gasification projects has been lignite.
Bill Trapp of Eastman Gasification Services Company noted that in grappling with the power generation cost comparison of coal gasification versus pulverized coal, consideration must now be given to comparing potential disputability of gasified coal plants to gas-fired plants that now run on today’s much higher-priced natural gas. “Natural gas dispatches poorly now due to price,” he said. He offered one scenario that cuts to the heart of how decisions on siting an IGCC plant might be made. “The ideal IGCC plant might be located on top of coal in the Midwestern United States,” he said. “But Midwest power prices are low due to lots of coal and nuclear. So, you would want to add polygeneration – making a product such as methanol – to the plant’s capability. Polygeneration with IGCC will be a major boost for power plant applications.”
Rebuilding Iraq’s Electricity Infrastructure
In addition to three of the industry’s top experts, POWER-GEN International was also honored to host Iraq’s Deputy Minister of Electricity, Mr. Salam Kazzaz, during the keynote session. Mr. Kazzaz told the audience about the condition of his country’s electricity infrastructure and the technical and non-technical challenges the electricity ministry is facing while trying to repair that infrastructure and provide reliable electricity to the country’s population.
He explained that most Iraqis have limited access to electricity, with some having no electricity at all and others having none for extended periods. He said misappropriation of funds for years, looting, sabotage, war damage, security and a reluctance to invest in the country’s power infrastructure due to low tariffs have resulted in power plant and infrastructure decay. He also said that even though Iraq has much oil, little has been made available for use in power generation; therefore, the lack of fuel availability along with aging plants and infrastructure, limited spare parts availability, poor quality control practices and lack of training are also major challenges.
Mr. Kazzaz estimates that $20 billion is needed between now and 2010 to bring electricity to all parts of the country 24 hours per day. Table 1 illustrates the past and current status of electricity availability, as well as the predicted availability.
A Stage for Unveilings
In addition to the keynote session and other conference sessions, POWER-GEN International included a large exhibit floor with more than 1,030 companies showcasing their latest products and services. Some exhibiting companies took advantage of the event to unveil their newest products.
On Wednesday, Dec. 7, Waukesha Engine unveiled its new APG1000 Enginator genset, a 1 MW unit that extends Waukesha’s high-speed product offering into the 800 to 1,100 kW range. The APG1000 was developed in cooperation with the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) as part of the DOE’s Advanced Reciprocating Engine System (ARES) program, which was created to accelerate the development of large natural gas engines that operate with increased efficiency while meeting tight emissions requirements, maintaining current levels of reliability and durability, and reducing ownership costs.
Caterpillar also used POWER-GEN International to announce the availability of a new line of engines for stationary diesel-fueled generator sets with ACERT Technology, which Caterpillar originally introduced to meet EPA ‘04 regulations for on-highway trucks. With this introduction, Caterpillar can now offer the North American marketplace generator sets that meet EPA Tier 2 and Tier 3 stationary emissions standards. The generator sets provide power 225 kW to 1,000 kW – 60 Hz; 250 kVA – 1,100 kVA – 50 Hz for standby, prime and load management applications.