(Power Magazine, November 14) – The Office of Fossil Energy (FE) in the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) this week said it will fund research and development (R&D) efforts “that will advance first-of-a-kind coal generation technologies.”
The FE on November 13 said its Coal FIRST (Flexible, Innovative, Resilient, Small, Transformative) program “will develop the coal plant of the future needed to provide secure stable, and reliable power.” The group said it wants to support R&D into coal-fired power plants “capable of flexible operations to meet the needs of the grid; use innovative and cutting-edge components that improve efficiency and reduce emissions; provide resilient power to Americans; are small compared to today’s conventional utility-scale coal; and will transform how coal technologies are designed and manufactured.”
The funding is for the federal government’s fiscal year 2019, which began October 1 of this year and continues through September 2019.
Coal-fired power generation has fallen in the U.S. in recent years, with increased generation from gas-fired units and renewable energy resources such as sold and wind. The Trump administration, though, supports coal-fired generation and has worked to support coal plants, including rejecting the Obama administration’s Clean Power Plan, and rolling back some rules on power plant emissions, wastewater discharges, and disposal and storage of coal combustion residuals, or coal ash.
Coal plant retirements have continued despite the federal government’s actions; most recently, Northern Indiana Public Service Co. said it will retire its last five coal-fired units in Indiana over the next decade as it transitions to renewables. The U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) said its most recent data shows about 17,000 MW of coal generation capacity was retired between January 2017 and June 2018—about 6,300 MW in 2017, and about 10,650 MW in the first six months of 2018.
Improving Plant Efficiency
The DOE, in a news release Tuesday announcing its program, said “wide-scale retirements of the nation’s existing fleet of coal-fired power plants—without replacement—may lead to a significant undermining of the resiliency of America’s electricity supply. Nevertheless, the need for considerable dispatchable generation, critical ancillary services, and grid reliability—combined with potentially higher future natural gas prices, and energy security concerns, such as the importance of onsite fuel availability during extreme weather events—create the opportunity for advanced coal-fired generation, for both domestic and international deployment.”
Analysts in recent months have said coal plants must adapt and become more flexible to survive in the current and future energy landscape.
Angelos Kokkinos, director of Advanced Fossil Technology Systems at the DOE, earlier this year at the MEGA Symposium in Baltimore, Maryland, said his group’s R&D is focused on “advancing small-scale modular coal plants of the future, which are highly efficient and flexible, with near-zero emissions. They must be small, nimble units located close to the source of renewable energy. Renewable energy is not a fad, it’s not going away. We have to adapt to that. We need coal plants that are available all the time [to provide power].”