Greening of power generation: Energy efficiency, renewables are the solution

Douglas J. Smith,

Managing Editor

State-of-the-art power plant technologies enable electric utilities to optimize fuel usage and operate electric power plants more efficiently. By utilizing advanced technologies power plants are able to reduce their emissions levels to meet today`s stringent pollution control requirements. Because of improvements in energy efficiency over the last few years, electric utilities worldwide are able to use more fossil fuels for the generation of electric power.

Germany has increased the efficiency of its fossil power plants by 10 percent over those operating in the 1960s. Today, Germany`s state-of-the-art, coal-burning power plants are operating at an efficiency of approximately 45 percent while its lignite-fired plants are operating at an efficiency of 43 percent. By simply replacing its old plants with more efficient ones, Germany has been able to reduce the emissions of CO2 from the country`s power plants by 25 percent.

Almost two-thirds of the world`s electricity is generated by fossil fuels, and for the foreseeable future, their use is expected to continue. In newly industrialized and developing nations, the majority of the new capacity is expected to be supplied from power plants burning coal.

Because of the need to protect the environment, it is imperative that all nations work together to reduce pollution. However, there are ways to compensate for power plant emissions so that developing nations can continue to use fossil fuels for electric power generation. Current combined-cycle power plants are able to operate at efficiencies of 50 percent or higher. The next generation of combined-cycle power plants, utilizing the latest gas turbine technology, will operate at efficiencies of 60 percent.

Although the majority of new capacity will be supplied by fossil fuels, it is my opinion that renewable energy will become more prevalent in the 21st century. China is one country where the central government is encouraging the use of renewable energy. Wind farms and other renewable energy sources are now being utilized in China.

Another technology that has great potential as we enter the 21st century is fuel cells. Fuel cells, which have the potential to generate electricity at high efficiencies with relatively low emissions of NOx and SOx, will in my opinion become more widely used over the next decade.

It is my opinion fossil fuels will continue to supply the majority of new electricity generated during the next 50 years. However, countries will invariably put more emphasis on power plant efficiency and the increasing use of renewable fuels. Without electricity economic growth cannot occur.