Brazil’s state-owned oil producer, Petrobras, on Dec. 31, 2009, said it had inaugurated the world’s first power plant to run exclusively on ethanol.
The race is on to claim the title of "most efficient coal-fired power plant" on the planet. However, it’s tricky identifying finalists because of the widespread misuse of the term "efficiency" and all those nagging assumptions. Let’s first establish clear definitions and then identify the title contenders.
With the eighth-largest economy in the world, Brazil has a clear need for power, but balancing supply and demand has proven tricky in recent decades. Even in a country where over 80% of generation capacity comes from renewables, planning for future capacity additions isn’t straightforward or easy.
The European carbon trading system experience suggests that North American generators should expect severely altered coal-fired power plant operating profiles if cap-and-trade legislation becomes law. In a groundbreaking study, Solomon Associates predicts the reduction in mean run time that North American generators should expect. The trends outlined in this study provide an overview of some of the broad challenges facing generators in moving to a carbon-constrained market environment.
"It’s déjà vu all over again," said Yogi Berra. The Hall of Fame catcher could easily have been predicting the coming resurgence of natural gas – fired generation. Yes, a few more coal plants will be completed this year, but don’t expect any new plant announcements. A couple of nuclear plants may actually break ground, but don’t hold your breath. Many more wind turbines will dot the landscape as renewable portfolio standards dictate resource planning, but their peak generation contribution will be small. The dash for gas in the U.S. has begun, again.
This September, as Siemens Energy wrapped up testing of its H-class SGT5-8000H gas turbine at E.ON’s Irsching 4 gas power plant in Bavaria, Germany, the company raved about what it is calling "the world’s most powerful gas turbine."
Midwest Energy has a history of thinking and acting independently, especially since breaking away from the Rural Utilities Service almost 15 years ago. Two years ago, when its board of directors grappled with finding a balance between purchasing and generating electricity, it decided to construct its first power plant in 37 years. A matched set of nine 8.4-MW gas engines at Goodman Energy Center now provides efficient peaking electricity, improved overall system reliability, and backstop capacity for a 325-MW electrical system that features 16% wind power generation.
One key area at the 800-MW Michoud power station where O&M excellence is evident is in maintaining plant water quality.
The Edward W. Clark Generating Station, which has supplied electricity to the Las Vegas Strip for more than half a century, has learned the secret of life in the desert: adaptability. The plant’s early years featured conventional steam plants operated around the clock. By mid-life, Clark had been upgraded with two combustion turbine combined-cycle power blocks operated as intermediate-load resource. Today, the old steam plants have been replaced with fast-start peaking gas turbines.
Over the past decade, the development of new natural gas – fired generating assets has been similar to an amusement park roller coaster ride — very high peaks and the lowest of lows, with fast and stomach-churning movement between. Expect the ride to continue into the near future.