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This year’s PowerGen International show in Orlando, Florida, once again attracted a record crowd, with over 20,000 attendees and more than 1300 exhibitors taking part in the event. The event combined PowerGen with the Renewable Energy World and Nuclear Power International conferences.
(EIA numbers predict that new capacity editions between 2010 and 2035 will be natural gas combined cycle, and not coal)
The three-day event at the Orange County Convention Center included a panel of authorities from the various sectors including nuclear, wind, solar and bio-diesel generation. Gordon Gillette, President of both Tampa Electric and Peoples Gas, delivered the opening keynote address.
Outlining the trends such as lower customer demand and lower energy consumption per customer, Gillette said, “That equates to 1.3 percent customer growth per year and we won’t reach the 2.5 percent we had prior to 2008 any time soon.” He added that with customers becoming more environment-friendly, there is slow but steady proliferation of appliances and iPads, which are energy efficient.
Gillette looks after a generation fleet of 4,700 MW comprising three power plants (60 percent coal, 40 percent gas) as well as 11,000 miles of natural gas pipelines covering most of Florida. Like most speakers these days, he mentioned the exponential growth of shale gas. According to the Energy Information Administration (EIA), by 2035, 50 percent of U.S. gas production will come from shale. As a result, Peoples Gas is expanding its Compressed Natural Gas (CNG) operations. It currently fuels 450 CNG trucks with CNG which works out to be a little more than half the price of diesel.
Due to continued environmental pressure, ongoing energy policy and lower gas prices, Gillette said that all new plants will be natural gas combined cycle and not coal, not even clean coal. He cited more EIA numbers for projected new capacity editions between 2010 and 2035: 60 percent gas, 5 percent coal and 27 percent renewables. He said, “Natural gas combined cycle will beat Integrated Gasification Combined Cycle for some time to come. But there are a few wild cards such as higher than expected gas prices, perhaps due to regulations or accelerated LNG export, or due to accelerated federal energy policy.”
Potential power plant regulations
PowerGen International, in a live webcast at the conference, featured a subject that is applicable to many in the power generation industry. The webcast started off with Diane Fischer, Air Quality Control Systems (AQCS) Area Leader with Black & Veatch, giving an overview of what challenges power producers are facing now and in the future when it comes to regulations and potential future builds of power plants.
Diane Fischer said some current drivers of AQCS projects are the Mercury and Air Toxics Standard (MATS), local consent decrees and regional haze regulations. But Fischer warned that power producers will also have to start thinking about future regulations. He said, “There are options for the front-end projects, such as fuel changes; in situ projects, like retrofitting existing emissions control systems and even add-ons to consider at power plants.”
Some of those add-ons include boiler and flue gas desulfurization, or scrubbers, additives to remove mercury, and low NOx burners and selective non-catalytic reduction systems for the removal of nitrogen oxides (NOx), said Robert Nicolo, Director of AQCS Products with Hitachi. For SOx, HCl and acid gases, power producers can consider fuel switching and dry and wet scrubbers. To remove metals, Nicolo suggested fuel switching, retrofitting existing electrostatic precipitators, or adding particulate controls to power plants.
According to Mike Wood, Business Manager with Solvay, another technology that is available is sodium dry sorbent injection (DSI). The “unsung hero” of emissions controls, as Wood called it, has been used for more than 20 years at coal-fired power plants. Wood touted DSI for its ability to capture multiple emissions, such as sulfur dioxide (SO2) and hydrogen chloride (HCl) without the need to spend excess amounts of money. DSI is generally used for Activated Carbon Injection but if used with trona or sodium bicarbonate, it can also be a cost-effective way of controlling HCl, SO2 and SO3 emissions, he said.
Unfortunately for utilities and power plant operators, many regulations end up stuck in courts after lawsuits are brought against them, and they are not finalized for years, leaving plants operators stuck in limbo about whether they should move forward with projects or not. Add in relatively low natural gas prices, the slowed U.S. economy, NAAQS area designations and uncertainty about greenhouse gas regulations, and there are many unanswered questions remaining.