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The Top 10 Utility Tech Challenges

Innovation must play a key role in each company.

Fortnightly Magazine - August 2006

significant barriers to broader use of coal exist, and technical innovation is a key component in removing these barriers. 6

One barrier is cost. Electricity from initial integrated gasification combined-cycle (IGCC) coal plants without carbon dioxide (CO2) capture and storage will cost 15 to 20 percent more than electricity from conventional coal power plants with sulfur dioxide (SO2) and nitrogen-oxide (NOx) emission controls.

To reduce these costs and accelerate commercial use of advanced coal technologies, EPRI has initiated a collaborative program, called “CoalFleet for Tomorrow,” that includes 40 participants representing more than one-half of U.S. coal-fired generation. Innovative coal-plant configurations, including IGCC, ultra-supercritical pulverized coal, and supercritical circulating fluidized-bed combustion, promise to boost availability or lower heat rate and emissions in the near term, and ultimately lead to the commercial introduction of next-generation plant designs that are approximately 20 to 25 percent lower in capital costs. 7

Challenge 9 Mitigate Environmental Impacts

Closely related to the coal generation challenge discussed above is the greatest environmental challenge facing the electric power industry: the long-term problem of global climate change. While this is a politically contentious issue that will involve a broad range of social and institutional changes and solutions, it is also a technical issue. Technological innovation will go a long way toward mitigating anthropogenic emissions of greenhouse gasses into the atmosphere around the world.

While few scientists refute the convincing evidence that human activities are beginning to affect global climate, more uncertainty exists as to the appropriate combination of technologies to reduce this impact. Clearly, a range of technologies will be needed to capture, transport, and sequester CO2 and other greenhouse gasses emitted from fossil power plants. The expected continuing global reliance on coal and other fossil fuels places a premium on technological innovation in this area.

Recently enacted regulations now bring another environmental issue to the forefront that will require substantial technological innovation to address. The nation’s 600 or so large coal-fired power plants currently emit about 40 percent of total domestic emissions of the hazardous material mercury. After some 15 years of study, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency issued final rules on March 15, 2005, for regulating mercury emissions from these plants. The new regulations require a reduction of mercury emissions by 70 percent, phased in over the coming 12 years. As yet, no technology designed specifically to control mercury in coal plants is in use anywhere in the world, or even has undergone long-term testing. Some improvements can be achieved by modifying existing SO2 and NOx control devices, but new approaches will be required to meet the final 2018 emission limits. 8

Challenge 10 Increase the Resilience of The Power System to Security Threats

The electricity supply and delivery network represents society’s most critical infrastructure, not only because of the service it provides and activities it enables directly, but also because it enables all other critical infrastructures: water, communications, fuel, transportation, finance, and others. Hence, perhaps like no other issue in this list, security cuts across the electric power industry, and beyond.

Increasing the resilience of the power system