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Solar-Thermal Energy Could Reduce Coal Plant’s Carbon Footprint

coal_power_plantUsing solar-thermal technology at coal-fired power stations could turn out to be the cheapest way to simultaneously expand solar energy use and reduce coal plants’ carbon footprint. Or at least that’s what the Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI) is hoping to find out with a nine-month study, Technologyreview.com reports.

The nonprofit organization recently launched a $640,000 study to understand the scale of the opportunity and the engineering challenges involved with making the two technologies work together. The study will examine the potential use of solar-thermal technology at two coal-fired power stations in New Mexico and North Carolina.

Last month, five electric utilities in the U.S. and Canada joined EPRI to host studies of the impacts of retrofitting carbon capture technology to existing coal-fired power plants.

The idea is not entirely new: about six new and existing natural-gas power stations are being designed or adapted to incorporate solar-thermal technology.  However, the overall efficiency of retrofitted hybrid solar-gas plants is still limited – when the sun goes down, a gas steam turbine that has been modified to accommodate waste heat plus solar heat will suffer an efficiency penalty from running at partial load.

However, for the hybrid technology to work, power plants will need a combination of strong sun and flat, open ground to host a solar thermal collector field. Moreover, governments need to put a firm price on carbon emissions from coal to justify trading cheap coal for more costly solar-thermal energy.

In January, EPRI noted that energy efficiency programs in the U.S. could realistically reduce the rate of growth for electricity consumption by 22 percent over the next two decades – if key barriers can be addressed.

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2 thoughts on “Solar-Thermal Energy Could Reduce Coal Plant’s Carbon Footprint

  1. There could be no better investment in America than to invest in America becoming energy independent! We need to utilize everything in out power to reduce our dependence on foreign oil including using our own natural resources. Create cheap clean energy, new badly needed green jobs, and reduce our dependence on foreign oil. The high cost of fuel this past year seriously damaged our economy and society. The cost of fuel effects every facet of consumer goods from production to shipping costs. After a brief reprieve gas is inching back up. OPEC will continue to cut production until they achieve their desired 80-100. per barrel. If all gasoline cars, trucks, and SUV’s instead had plug-in electric drive trains, the amount of electricity needed to replace gasoline is about equal to the estimated wind energy potential of the state of North Dakota. There is a really good new book out by Jeff Wilson called The Manhattan Project of 2009 Energy Independence Now.

  2. it sounds like a good idea, but what i want to know is what will happen to the enviroment and globle warming if this project goes forward

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