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Meeting tougher CO2 emissions limits will require deep pockets.
Fortnightly Magazine - June 1 2003

Meeting tougher CO 2 emissions limits will require deep pockets.

It's a tough problem that we have less than 22 years to solve. I had the occasion to chat with Dr. Henry R. Linden, Max McGraw Professor of Energy and Power Engineering at the Illinois Institute of Technology, about how the U.S. power industry must face the necessity of sharply reducing its CO 2 emissions while having to increase its summer electric generating capacity from 781 GW in 2000 to 1,174 GW in 2025, according to the Energy Information Administration.

Most experts had previously thought that the one relatively low-cost means for deferring the day when electric power generators had to cut total carbon emissions by a nominal 90 percent was to meet a major portion of the 2000-2025 projected increase of generating capacity (255 GW out of a total of 393 GW), with natural gas-fired, combined-cycle units.

Unfortunately, Linden says the relative stability of natural gas prices has been permanently upset. The previously "safe" assumption that the delivered gas cost to combined-cycle plants would not rise above $4/million Btu, resulting in a power cost of about 4 cents/kWh at 85 percent load factor, is no longer valid.

If the entire EIA-projected combined-cycle capacity addition of 255 GW is built, it would require an additional 12 Tcf/year of 1,000 Btu /cf gas at 85percent load factor, he says.

Clearly, this would put further upward pressure on natural gas prices, so that even at $500/kW investment cost and a heat rate of only 6,300 Btu/kWh, low-carbon-emission natural gas-fired combined-cycle baseload power is no longer an obvious bargain compared with, say, the replacement of the existing 305 GW of inefficient coal-fired steam-electric capacity with Integrated Coal Gasification - Combined Cyle (IGCC) plants modified for 90 percent pre-combustion CO 2 removal plus CO 2 sequestration.

However, for purposes of argument, he says, let us assume that both the projected additional 2000-2025 natural gas-fired combined-cycle capacity plus the 305 GW of existing inefficient, high-carbon-emission steam-electric capacity, or a total of 560 GW, were replaced by modified IGCC plants with 90 percent pre-combustion CO 2 removal at (an optimistic) $1,642/kW investment cost. This would require a power industry investment of $920 billion, and this does not even include the costs of CO 2 transport and sequestration.

His concern and mine is that no cost-effective technologies have been developed to properly address the CO 2 issue, and if we do not begin seriously looking for a solution, we never will.

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