By - Jim Vess

DOE announces $38 million program aimed at making coal-fired power plants more efficient

Energize Weekly, January 30, 2019

The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) announced a $38 million, cost-share program to support projects aimed at making the country’s coal-fired power plants more flexible and compatible with renewable energy. 

The stated goal is to develop “enhancing technologies that improve the overall performance, reliability and flexibility of the nation’s existing coal-fired power plant fleet.”

“Utilizing all of our energy resources to ensure the reliability and resiliency of our nation’s electricity is a top priority for the Department of Energy,” Under Secretary of Energy Mark Menezes said in a statement. “Modernizing and advancing the existing coal fleet is imperative to this mission. By improving the efficiency of our baseload generation, we are strengthening the reliability of all our electricity generation.”

Coal provides about 30 percent of the nation’s electricity, down from 39 percent in 2014, with more than 8,000 MW of capacity slated to be retired or converted to natural gas in 2019.

The DOE said that coal remains “vital to the Nation’s energy security,” but acknowledges challenges, particularly with the growth of wind and solar generation.

These “intermittent” sources have been backed up by baseload generation that can easily ramp up and down when required. Natural gas has shown itself to be more flexible on this score.

“The increased availability and use of alternative energy sources has made it imperative that the existing [coal] fleet become flexible to accommodate electricity needs that are less than baseload,” the DOE said.

The DOE has initiated a variety of programs to help buttress the coal industry and coal-fired power. In early January, the department launched a $9.5 million cost-sharing program to find new markets for coal and improve it as a fuel.

In December, the DOE announced it Coal FIRST initiative to develop a new generation of coal-fired power plants that will be flexible and economically competitive.

“Along with the Department’s Coal FIRST initiative, modernizing the existing coal-fired fleet is critical to our effort to allow existing coal plants to load follow and operate more efficiently,” Assistant Secretary for Fossil Energy Steven Winberg said in a statement. “This research and development will lower emissions and foster new technologies beneficial to our electric grid.”

The National Energy Technology Laboratory (NETL) will manage these projects.

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