Air Pollution Control Equipment Services, Coal

Will the Lights Go Out?

Issue 1 and Volume 118.

Robert Nicolo   By Robert Nicolo, AQCS, Hitachi Power Systems America LTD

Every day we read of another utility coal unit retirement. With GHG limitations coming, new water regulations and coal combustion residue requirements, it seems logical that utilities are looking seriously into retirement of their coal fleets. This puts the pressure on alternate fuels and energy sources. But, are we ready?

EEI predicts that our electrical load demand with growth over 20 percent between 2010 and 2020.

How are we going to make this gap up with all of these retirements?

Natural gas prices are low at the moment, and the name of the game today is combustion turbine and gas conversion.

Alternate power should be encouraged, but in the foreseeable future, they can only contribute a small percentage of our ever-growing needs.

Nuclear is clearly on the mend and probably will not be sustainable for many years.


Even if we started today, a new nuclear plant would take decades to get on line, and with plenty of opposition.

But yes, natural gas is abundant too…right? New methods are now available to reach previously un-attainable gas reserves. This is great news, but, is putting so much dependency on gas the right thing to do in a volatile climate of price fluctuations, supply concerns, fracking issues, etc.? Certainly it is a large piece of this complex solution, but most any utility executive will tell you that a diversified portfolio is most desirable.

A portfolio of coal, gas and renewables makes a lot of sense to combat price fluctuations reaching their customers.

In the midst of current confusion in power industry, one tends to forget that “all of the above” is in fact the official policy approach to energy, which is accepted by most elected officials.

We cannot stop our current coal fleet from getting older, and now is the time to consider replacement.

Yes, replacement. Why not make our fleet more efficient, cleaner, and create thousands of jobs right here in our own country with our own abundant natural resource? Tremendous efficiency gains can be realized with ultra-supercritical cycles.

Burn less fuel with clean combustion combined with the full suite of air quality controls, and certainly more reliability than the old aging fleet.

Top this off with stable lower electricity prices.

Concerned about carbon? Let’s take care of that too. With clear policy guidance, CCS technologies can be commercialized in time to make new coal power plants a low carbon intensity option for generating electricity.

Contrary to all the horrible images of dark clouds of smoke spewing out of stacks whenever a coal power plant is mentioned, clean coal technologies are real and available today.

EIA predicts that by 2020 the U.S. will require over 500 GW of reliable power needs.

Where is that electricity going to come from?

In the developing nations of the world, coal is still king and will remain the lowest cost reliable power supply to keep their economies flowing. Here in the US, we will be relying mostly on natural gas and all that it comes with.

New coal plants would include ultra-supercritical cycles, with advanced air pollution control equipment that will achieve near zero emissions. Coal is domestic.

Coal is affordable. Coal keeps jobs in America. Coal can be clean.


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