Top 10 Power Industry News Stories of 2021

It’s been another news-filled year in the power industry. The following stories were the top 10 traffic-getters posted in 2021 on POWER’s website. Did you see them all as they were released?

10. Mitsubishi Power Developing 100% Ammonia-Capable Gas Turbine

Mitsubishi Power is developing a 40-MW class gas turbine that can directly combust 100% ammonia under an initiative that responds to heightened global decarbonization ambitions, as well as Japan’s recent roadmap for ammonia fuel.

The Yokohama-headquartered power equipment firm, a subsidiary of Mitsubishi Heavy Industries (MHI), on March 1 said it is targeting commercialization of the novel ammonia-capable gas turbine, which will be derived from its H-25 series, “in or around” 2025.

“When achieved, it will mark the world’s first commercialized gas turbine to make exclusive use of ammonia as fuel in a system of this scale,” the company said. The gas turbine will “aid in the promotion of decarbonization of small to medium-scale power stations for industrial applications, [and] on remote islands,” it said.

To read the entire story, see “Mitsubishi Power Developing 100% Ammonia-Capable Gas Turbine.”

9. A Game-Changing Vision for Geothermal Energy

According to a report released in 2019 by the U.S. Department of Energy, geothermal electricity generation could increase more than 26-fold by 2050—reaching 60 GW of installed capacity. That may seem like a pipe dream to some power observers, but if new well-drilling techniques allow enhanced geothermal systems to become economical, the reality could be much greater. In fact, Quaise Energy, a company working to develop enabling technologies needed to expand geothermal on a global scale, claims as much as 30 TW of geothermal energy could be added around the world by 2050.

Most of the geothermal systems that supply power to the grid today utilize hydrothermal resources. These tap into naturally occurring conditions in the Earth that include heat, groundwater, and rock characteristics (such as open fractures that allow fluid flow) for the recovery of heat energy, usually through produced hot water or steam.

Enhanced geothermal systems contain heat similar to conventional hydrothermal resources but lack the necessary groundwater and/or rock characteristics to enable energy extraction without innovative subsurface engineering and transformation. The technology that Quaise Energy is working on would allow drilling down as far as 20 kilometers (12.4 miles) to utilize heat from dry rock formations, which are much hotter and available in almost all parts of the world.

To read the entire story, see “A Game-Changing Vision for Geothermal Energy.”

8. Ethiopia Outlines $40 Billion Plan as GERD Hydro Startup Nears

Ethiopian officials have said they are moving closer to commissioning the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) hydropower installation, part of 71 power projects included in a $40 billion investment package to increase the country’s electricity generation over the next decade.

The 6,450-MW GERD project, being built on the Blue Nile River and set to more than double Ethiopia’s current power generation capacity, also is expected to reduce the flow of Nile River water to Sudan and Egypt as the dam’s reservoir is filled. Disputes about water rights, along with concerns about water supply and the safety of the dam, have caused years of tension between Ethiopia and the other countries, who depend on water from the Nile to serve their populations. The countries have said the GERD threatens not only their water but also their national security.

Ethiopia, which began building the dam in 2011, has said it will fill the reservoir in stages, a process that could take up to seven years. The second year of filling was completed in July, according to government officials. The United Nations Security Council, meanwhile, on Sept. 15 urged Ethiopia, Egypt, and Sudan to resume African Union-led talks to reach a binding deal about the dam’s operation “within a reasonable timeframe.”

To read the entire story, see “Ethiopia Outlines $40 Billion Plan as GERD Hydro Startup Nears.”

7. Countries Roll Out Green Hydrogen Strategies, Electrolyzer Targets

Countries are increasingly embedding green hydrogen’s potential to decarbonize hard-to-abate sectors within ambitious strategies. In December 2020, Canada joined a long list of countries, which includes France, Japan, Australia, Norway, Germany, Portugal, Spain, Chile, and Finland, as well as the European Union, with plans to stimulate the production of hydrogen.

The policies take into account an explosion of global interest in the gas, which is dominantly being produced with methane and coal today. According to the International Energy Agency’s Hydrogen Projects Database, nearly 320 green hydrogen production demonstration projects have been announced worldwide—a total of about 200 MW of electrolyzer capacity—with new projects being added on almost a weekly basis.

To read the entire story, see “Countries Roll Out Green Hydrogen Strategies, Electrolyzer Targets.”

6. Zinc-ion Batteries Are a Scalable Alternative to Lithium-ion

Lithium-ion batteries are the most popular battery storage option today, controlling more than 90% of the global grid battery storage market, according to some estimates. However, the lithium-ion supply chain is becoming constrained. Zinc-ion batteries may offer a safer, and ultimately cheaper, energy storage option.

Like lithium-ion, the zinc-ion battery functions using intercalation. Zinc ions react at both electrodes and travel between them through a water-based electrolyte. During discharge, zinc metal at the anode is dissolved into the electrolyte as zinc ions. At the same time, zinc ions are absorbed into the cathode from the electrolyte. This process is reversed during charge.

Zinc-ion batteries meet the conditions for lithium-ion compatibility. The use of intercalation means that the electrolyte’s only function is as a conduit for ions, enabling a small amount to be used. Also, the active materials used in zinc-ion batteries are very energy dense, allowing for sufficiently high energy to be stored even in thin electrodes.

In fact, zinc-ion batteries can improve on lithium-ion manufacturing processes. Lithium’s violent reactivity with water requires many of its production steps to take place in a highly controlled atmosphere that makes the process more costly, and more complicated. As a water-based battery, zinc-ion does not have this constraint.

Additionally, zinc-ion batteries do not require formation cycling at the end of life. This means they can more quickly move from the manufacturing line to the customers. This ability to use lithium-ion manufacturing means that the production of zinc-ion batteries can be rapidly and inexpensively scaled-up.

To read the entire story, see “Zinc-ion Batteries Are a Scalable Alternative to Lithium-ion.”

5. ERCOT Sheds Load as Extreme Cold Forces Generators Offline; MISO, SPP Brace for Worsening System Conditions

Historically frigid temperatures across Texas forced 34 GW of generation—across all fuel types—off the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT) system, prompting the grid operator to initiate rotating outages starting at 1:25 a.m. CST on Feb. 15. ERCOT said it expects outages will likely last at least through Feb. 16.

The Midcontinent Independent System Operator (MISO) also confirmed it directed Entergy to shed load in Texas early on Feb. 15. “Sustained frigid temperatures and winter weather impacting the [MISO] South Region contributed to the loss of generation and transmission. This led to emergency actions in the region’s western portion to avoid a larger power outage on the bulk electric system,” it said.

Shortly after noon CST on Feb. 15, Southwest Power Pool (SPP) also began directing its member utilities to implement controlled outages to prevent more widespread uncontrolled outages within its 14-state balancing authority area.

ERCOT, MISO, and SPP had all issued calls for conservation on Feb. 14 in preparation for extreme cold weather that is expected to grip the nation and persist through a good part of the week.

To read the entire story, see “ERCOT Sheds Load as Extreme Cold Forces Generators Offline; MISO, SPP Brace for Worsening System Conditions.”

4. Terrestrial Energy Launches 390-MW Molten Salt Nuclear Reactor Design

In late September, Terrestrial Energy unveiled an upgraded 390-MWe design of its Integral Molten Salt Reactor (IMSR) power plant to meet utility requirements and boost its cost-competitiveness as part of an effort to ramp up its candidacy for deployment at Ontario Power Generation’s (OPG’s) Darlington Nuclear Generating Station. The Canadian firm also announced a series of developments that could further its bid to commercialize the Generation IV small modular reactor (SMR) technology and begin operating its first plant by 2028.

Simon Irish, CEO of the Oakville, Ontario–based technology developer, said Terrestrial’s upgraded IMSR power plant design, the IMSR400, pairs two 195-MWe IMSRs. It draws on technology “developed and demonstrated over many decades,” but it “has the efficiency, economics, and flexibility to play a major role in the clean energy transition including the production of clean hydrogen at industrial scale,” he said.

As POWER has reported, Terrestrial’s IMSR uses a molten fluoride salt—which is a highly stable, inert liquid with robust coolant properties—for its primary fuel salt, as well as in a secondary coolant salt loop (without fuel). Notably, however, while the nuclear reactor design derives heavily from Oak Ridge test reactors, it also borrows an “integral” architecture concept from the lab’s small modular advanced high-temperature reactor (SmAHTR)—which means all its primary reactor components, including the graphite moderator, are integrated into a sealed and replaceable reactor core. This so-called “Core-unit” has an operating lifetime of seven years and is “simple and safe to replace,” Terrestrial says.

To read the entire story, see “Terrestrial Energy Launches 390-MW Molten Salt Nuclear Reactor Design.”

3. How an AP1000 Plant Is Changing the Nuclear Power Paradigm Through District Heating, Desalination

Already remarkable for being the world’s second Westinghouse AP1000 reactor plant to be brought online, Shandong Nuclear Power Co.’s (SDNPC’s) Haiyang nuclear power plant is pioneering two significant aspects of nuclear diversification in China: district heating and desalination.

While Haiyang’s overall development plan calls for four more 1-GW reactors to be built at the site (and it has space for two others), the plant has more recently distinguished itself for a set of remarkable projects that would expand its relevance and revenue. Shortly after the plant began commercial operation, State Power Investment Corp. subsidiary SDNPC, Haiyang’s owner and operator, and Tsinghua University began exploring using extracted steam and residual heat from its nuclear units to simultaneously generate district heat and desalinated water.

In November 2019, the plant executed Phase 1 of the unique cogeneration project, providing heat to a 700,000-square-meter area around the plant, including its employee dormitory and some residential areas in Haiyang, a coastal city in Shandong province, eastern China, that has a population of about 658,000. Phase 2 of the project will expand the heating area by 4,500,000 square meters and is envisioned to provide “full coverage” to the urban area of Haiyang City. Phase 2 began construction in November 2020, and completion is expected during the 2021 winter season.

To read the entire story, see “How an AP1000 Plant Is Changing the Nuclear Power Paradigm Through District Heating, Desalination.”

2. Biden Effects Regulatory Freeze, Revokes Trump Actions, Rejoins Paris Agreement

President Joe Biden just hours after his inauguration effected an immediate freeze on several Trump-era deregulatory actions that directly affect the power sector, and revoked a long list of rules and executive actions affecting the bulk power system.

The president on Jan. 20 also kickstarted America’s return to the Paris Agreement, sending a brief letter to the United Nations (UN) that accepts every “article and clause” within the landmark international climate agreement.

The first document made public by the Biden White House’s freshly established Briefing Room on Jan. 20 is a memorandum to the heads of federal agencies imploring a freeze on all proposed rules until they are reviewed by a Biden-appointed head or another delegate.

The memo also urges officials to immediately withdraw any unpublished rules that have been sent to the Office of the Federal Register (OFR), and to postpone—for a further 60 days—the effective dates of any rules that have been already published but have not taken effect. The OFR typically requires that major rules—those that are economically significant and require Office of Information & Regulatory Affairs review—are made effective at least 60 days after the date of publication in the Federal Register.

The White House’s action appears to affect a number of rules under review or recently finalized by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), including at least three rules governing coal combustion residuals, and general revisions to emissions monitoring and reporting requirements for fossil plants.

To read the entire story, see “Biden Effects Regulatory Freeze, Revokes Trump Actions, Rejoins Paris Agreement.”

1. Siemens Will Cut 7,800 Jobs from Gas and Power

Siemens Energy announced in February that it will cut 7,800 jobs from its gas and power division by 2025 as the company attempts to be more competitive in a global energy market that is moving away from fossil fuels and toward renewable energy.

The company in its Feb. 2–issued earnings release said it plans to jettison about one-sixth of the workforce that supplies turbines to the power generation sector. It said most of the cuts would come in the next couple of years, including about 3,000 jobs in Germany and about 1,700 in the U.S. The cuts represent about 8.5% of the company’s total global workforce.

Siemens said the majority of those being let go currently hold management or sales positions. The company, in announcing its first-quarter 2021 fiscal year earnings, for the period ending Dec. 31, 2020, said it “will incur estimated restructuring costs in a mid- to high-triple-digit million euro range for the fiscal years 2020 to 2023.”

Christian Bruch, president and CEO of Siemens Energy AG, said, “The energy market is significantly changing which offers us opportunities but at the same time presents us with great challenges. We will undertake these measures in the most socially responsible way possible.” Despite having to make job cuts, Bruch said, “The first quarter proves that we are on the right path to reach our annual targets. The Siemens Energy team achieved a solid start into the new fiscal year even under difficult circumstances.

“With this program we want to regain our competitiveness and financial strength to shape the energy world of tomorrow,” Bruch said. “I really believe we’re putting together a company that can shape the future of the energy market.”

To read the entire story, see “Siemens Will Cut 7,800 Jobs From Gas and Power.”

Prepare for 2022

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Sonal Patel and Darrell Proctor are POWER’s senior associate editors, and Aaron Larson is POWER’s executive editor.

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