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The future of coal-fired generation uncertain, but in good hands

Coal is not a political issue at POWERGEN International.

It’s far more long-term than that. Coal-fired generation will be both an operational and environmental topic of immediate and relevant interest when POWERGEN convenes Nov. 19 in New Orleans.

The event’s Future of Coal-Fired Generation track will feature numerous sessions looking at how coal-fired plants achieve greater, leaner and cleaner output, while also adapting to the changing generation mix both in the U.S. and globally.

The Future of Coal-Fired Generation track, featured in the Summits upstairs at the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center, has three sessions including 10 industry experts offering insights on everything from sustainability to the challenges of cycling the modern coal plant fleet to carbon capture technology and a look at the first supercritical coal-fired unit in the Philippines.

Surely, the generation mix in the developed world is changing, as utilities and corporations embrace ever more affordable renewable energies and historically low-cost natural gas. In the U.S., coal now accounts for 27 percent of the electricity mix, far below the nearly 40 percent stake it had held decades ago.

Throughout the world, though, coal-fired generation is hanging in an uneasy balance between economic need and environmental challenges. India, for example, expects that its coal generation output will rise about 22 percent in coming years, while China and parts of the developing world add capacity because they need baseload power and need it yesterday to provide for citizens who often don’t have any reliable electricity or simply desire a more comfortable way of life.

POWERGEN will not be focused on yesterday, for it is not reliving the glory days of coal generation past. The sessions, as the titles suggest, are focused on the future.

Speakers in the Future of Coal-Fired Generation track’s first session–happening Tuesday, Nov. 19– will include experts from Babcock Power, Black & Veatch and the SEFA Group. They will present topics on cycling load, dealing with coal fly ash, maintenance challenges and the long-term prospects.

On Wednesday, Nov. 20, a panel of utility and engineering firm leaders will dialogue on the operating challenges of cycling the modern coal fleet. The panel, moderated by POWERGEN advisory committee member Brandon Bell of Valdes Engineering, also includes managers from We Energies-Wisconsin Public Service, Salt River Project and La Cygne.

“Understanding the volatility in the domestic power markets and developing strategies to keep the current coal fleet competitive is key to a utility’s success,” Bell said. “This panel brings key individuals from various utilities to speak about the challenges they are facing in their markets along with strategies they are implementing to remain competitive.”

The third and final Future of Coal-fired Generation sessions on that Wednesday will elaborate on advanced technologies for the fuel type. The U.S. National Carbon Capture Center, Osaki Coolgen Corp. of Japan and Quezon Power of the Philippines also will present their papers.

So in the end, the future of coal-fired generation may largely be uncertain, but it’s in good hands considering the talent and commitment of those who work in the plants and others who figure out the ways to make it cleaner, more efficient, adaptive and, yes, scaled down.

POWERGEN International also has tracks on natural gas-fired turbines and plants, optimizing plant performance and the digital transformation of the power plant, as well as the Future of Conventional Power and Natural Gas hubs on the exhibit floor. Click here to find more information about all of the sessions upstairs and Knowledge Hubs on the exhibit floor.

Go to the Education tab to see the Summit and Hub lists and to view all speakers. The list of sessions is growing every week.

Nearly two dozen utilities are participating in POWERGEN as presenters and/or on the advisory committee which helps choose the sessions. A Power Generator Discount is offered to those utilities wanting to attend the conference.

Among the utilities participating in POWERGEN on speaking or leadership levels so far include host utility Entergy Corp., American Electric Power, Lincoln Electric System, Seminole Electric Cooperative, Commonwealth Edison, Salt River Project, Southern California Edison, Cleco Corp., Evergy, NRG Energy, We Energies, Duke Energy, Louisville Gas & Electric/Kentucky Utilities, Public Service Co. of Oklahoma, Kissimmee Utility Authority, Avista and Tampa Electric.