New, Environmentally Friendly Power Plants Being Sought

Issue 1 and Volume 111.

Providing new power generation capacity in an environmentally responsible way was the message at POWER-GEN International

By Teresa Hansen, Associate Editor

The world’s appetite for electricity is growing and must be fed with new power plant construction. These new plants must be designed and built in an environmentally responsible way. This was a common theme at the POWER-GEN International Conference and Exhibition held in Orlando, Fla., on November 28-30.

Keynote Highlights

Steve Bolze, GE Energy’s Power Generation president, was the first guest speaker to address the audience of more than 4,000 attending the event’s kickoff keynote session. Bolze said that electricity is the common thread supporting the world’s population and economic growth, as well as much of the world’s improving standard of living. Bolze said worldwide electricity demand will double by 2030-roughly 146 GW of demand growth each year for the next 10 years-and the world’s power generators must “meet this demand with responsible growth.”

Bolze said the industry faces challenges including price inflation (steel, copper and so on), skilled labor shortages, unpredictable fuel supplies and prices and environmental policy uncertainties, especially CO2 regulation.

“Electricity generators must meet demand growth while reducing emissions,” Bolze said. “There is no silver bullet.” No single policy, fuel or technology will meet tomorrow’s challenges; the solution will be a mix of new gas, cleaner coal, biomass, nuclear, wind, solar and hydro technologies, coupled with improvements in efficiency and reliability among existing power assets. He called for investment in all technology platforms, project execution excellence, stable public policy and increased public awareness of the need for additional generation capacity.

William Rohner, Caterpillar’s Electric Power Division vice president, also was a keynote speaker, discussing the unprecedented worldwide demand for electricity, tightening environmental regulations and the need for reliable electric power production, much of it fueled by a growing digital economy. Rohner talked specifically about reciprocating engine trends, which are similar to the trends seen elsewhere in the industry. “We are seeing an unprecedented demand for reciprocating engines,” Rohner said. “Demand is higher than production in all areas of the world.”

Steve Bolze, GE Energy; William Rohner, Caterpillar; and Bradley Jones, TXU Generation (L to R), were the keynote speakers.
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Rohner attributed the increased demand for Caterpillar’s engines on demand for reliable, high-quality electricity. He ssaid “today’s electricity demands reach beyond the industry’s traditional customers” to include internet infrastructure customers with large data centers, such as Yahoo, Google and MySpace. Such customers cannot afford to have a power interruption or drop in power quality for even a fraction of a second. Customer demands and the need to keep emissions in check create challenges for distributed generation, Rohner said.

Bradley Jones, TXU Generation Development vice president, explained TXU’s plan to add 9.1 GW of new coal-fired generation in Texas by 2011. Saying his company plans to “blaze a trail” of its own, Jones talked about the increasing demand for electricity and the need for environmentally responsible solutions to meet that demand. He spoke about the massive gas unit build out that has occurred across the United States and how that has increased demand for natural gas. TXU’s generation plans will be carried out with unregulated, independent power producers and will reduce Texas’ reliance on this volatile fuel, which has seen an average price increase of 343 percent since 1995, Jones said.

Jones said that Texas’ growth rate is expected to outpace most of the nation, adding 6 million people to its population in the next 10 years-a 2.3 percent annual growth rate. He said that TXU plans to add generating capacity while cutting emissions levels 15 percent from current levels. This will be done by reducing existing plant emissions 70 percent before bringing the new plants online. TXU’s plan is the largest voluntary emissions reduction plan in U.S. history, Jones said.

The first four new coal plants are expected to cost about $1,100 a kW. This will be met by buying goods from “low-cost” countries. If TXU can raise to 80 percent the amount of goods sourced from such countries, the price for its remaining coal plants could fall to $850 a kW, Jones said. TXU plans to displace existing gas and coal plants with these new plants.

When asked about TXU’s plans for carbon capture and storage, Jones said the new plants will be carbon capture ready and the company plans to spend $2 billion on carbon sequestration research. Jones did not, however, want to predict when carbon sequestration will actually begin, saying a cost-effective and proven technology must come first He compared carbon capture and sequestration to a bulldog chasing a car: “Once he catches it, he’s got to figure out what to do with it.”

Hot Topic: Environmental Issues

Building new plants was a big part of POWER-GEN International’s focus, but cutting emissions at existing plants and addressing environmental concerns were also discussed.

An Alstom Power press briefing focused largely on the “carbon challenge.” Philippe Joubert, President of Alstom’s Power Turbo-Systems and Power Environment Division, told reporters that the power sector is responsible for 40 percent of CO2 emissions worldwide. Alstom is positioning its environmental business on existing plants, as well as on future plants. Joubert said that the world cannot wait on future generation technologies to address global warming issues. “We need to clean the installed base now,” he said.

David Elkins of Alstom’s Enviornmental Group described a carbon capture effort that Alstom, the Electric Power Research Institute and We Energies are pursuing. ALSTOM is constructing a 5 MW pilot plant, Pleasant Prairie, in Southeast Wisconsin that incorporates its CO2 capture process, which is targeting 90 percent carbon capture using ammonia.

Joubert said that Alstom is looking at various sequestration methods, but is focusing on carbon capture. He said that CO2 capture is not as much a technical problem as it is a cost/competitive, political and social problem. “My biggest fear is that policy makers will make decisions that dictate technology, which often causes viable technologies to fail,” he said.

When asked about the possibilities of integrated gasification combined-cycle (IGCC) as a way to cut CO2 emissions, Joubert said that IGCC lags current pulverized coal technology in reliability and is at least 10 percent more expensive than pulverized coal with carbon capture capabilities. “We are working on IGCC, but we don’t think it is the solution for emissions,” Joubert said.

When asked when he thought IGCC will become competitive with pulverized coal outfitted with CO2 capture technology, Joubert said “At this moment, I don’t see how it will ever be competitive. ” Joubert later said that IGCC might one day become cost competitive, but not before 2020. “We can’t wait that long, we need to clean the installed base now,” he said.

Mega Sessions

Besides the breakout sessions, three mega-sessions were offered. The Gasification and Synfuels Panel Discussion featured a panel of gasification experts, who described how gasification will free untapped North American oil reserves, convert some of the nation’s 250-year supply of coal to syngas, help free an estimated 1 billion barrels of domestic oil from oil sands and generate electricity-or electricity plus commercial by-products such as ammonia and hydrogen.

Lukes also questioned whether or not a pulverized coal plant could be made as clean as an IGCC plant, noting that NOX isn’t an issue with IGCC because of the low temperatures used to fire the gasified fuel. As for carbon capture, he described the plant’s history of shipping 200 million-plus cubic feet a day of CO2 through a 200-mile-long pipeline to a Canadian oil field, where it is used for enhanced oil recovery.

Regarding carbon capture, Harry Morehead, Siemens Power Generation, said Siemens will soon have its gas turbines fully able to run on hydrogen, essential for pre-combustion carbon capture. “We offer pulverized coal plants as well,” said Morehead.

More than 1,100 companies showcased their products and services in the exhibit hall, shown here just before the show’s opening.
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Tim Challand of KBR discussed his company’s involvement with Southern Company to build a 285 MW IGCC demonstration plant at the Orlando Utility Commission (OUC) Stanton Plant using KBR’s transport gasifier technology to create a gasified coal power plant that incorporates elements of a circulating fluidized bed plant. The Stanton IGCC will be fired by gasified Powder River Basin coal processed by a single air-blown transport gasifier. It will be co-owned by Southern Company and OUC. Scheduled for operation in June 2010, the U.S. Department of Energy is providing $235 million to co-fund the project.

Dave Wakefield of Econo-Power Corp. told the audience he believes conventional pulverized coal plants could be enhanced by using gasified coal and by incorporating scalable air-blown gasifiers to add 60 MW or more thermal capacity.

Alan Fiorente, Bechtel Nuclear Power’s Marketing and Strategic Planning manager, opened the mega-session titled “The Nuclear Renaissance: Straight Talk from the Customer” by saying that U.S. nuclear power plants displace approximately 680 million tons of CO2 each year. This statistic alone is one reason why U.S. power generators are considering new nuclear plants, he said.

Executives from South Texas Project, South Carolina Electric and Gas, Southern Company and UniStar Nuclear spoke about their progress with nuclear licensing, providing insight into each company’s approach. The utilities have submitted Combined Construction and Operating License (COL) applications to the NRC and are awaiting approval. All of the speakers pointed out that their utilities have not committed to building a new nuclear power plant.

George Vanderheyden, UniStar Nuclear’s president, discussed the importance of standardization and rapid decision making for successful, on-schedule and on-budget nuclear projects. UniStar plans to deliver its first unit no later than 2015.

He said that building a new nuclear plant is a three-step process: selecting a technology and filing an application for a COL, which at least 10 utilities have already done; ordering long-lead time components and commodities, which will likely begin in 2007/2008; and proceeding with construction.

The large frame gas turbine mega-session provided an update on forthcoming performance improvements and new products from gas turbine vendors. Major themes included fuel flexibility from liquefied natural gas, syngas, biofuels and hydrogen sources and efficiency upgrades reaching near the 60 percent net efficiency line.

Alstom announced the near completion of its GT24 188 MW turbine, which the company says will achieve near-zero emissions. And Siemens discussed improvements to its SGT6-5000F simple or combined-cycle turbine after 3 million hours of fleet operational experience.

Turbine flexibility was another area where considerable research and development have taken place.

Mitsubishi presenter Carlos Koeneke described the company’s work in the MHI G Class steam cooling technology and the improvements made concerning steam purity and reliability. MHI is focusing on G class technology.