First ever hybrid solar-coal power plant operating

Jul 12, 2010 by Lin Edwards report
Colorado Integrated Solar Project

(PhysOrg.com) -- The first ever hybrid solar-coal power plant is now operating at Unit 2 of the Cameo Generating Station near Palisade in Colorado. The demonstration project was built by Xcel Energy as part of its new Innovative Clean Technology (ICT) Program, and is designed to decrease the use of coal, increase the plant’s efficiency, lower carbon dioxide emissions, and test the commercial viability of combining the two technologies.

The project was developed by Xcel Energy in conjunction with Abengoa Solar, which developed the solar parabolic trough technology that concentrates solar energy to produce heat. The demonstration project is expected to cut the use of coal at the power plant by around two or three percent, and could be scaled up to cut it by 10 percent.

The system works through a series of parabolic trough made of glass mirrors. On sunny days the mirrors concentrate the onto a line of receiver tubes filled with a heat transfer fluid (mineral oil). The solar energy heats the circulating oil to about 300°C (575°F). The heated oil is then fed to a heat exchanger where the heat is transferred to water to heat it to around 200°C (407°F) before it enters the boiler. Having hotter water entering the boiler means less coal is needed to heat it and produce the steam that turns the turbine to generate electricity.

Vice president of Xcel Energy, and chief supply officer, Kent Larson, said in a press release that if the project meets expectations it may help “move the use of solar energy one step closer to being a potential technology for improving the environmental performance of coal-fired .”

CEO of Abengoa Solar, Santiage Seage, said the company believed the solar-coal combination would provide a cost-effective way of delivering solar energy.

Xcel Energy’s ICT Program is aimed at developing, commercializing and deploying new technologies for , , and so on, to support the company’s clean energy strategy. Xcel Energy is a major utility company in the US, servicing 3.3 million electricity customers and 1.8 million natural gas customers.

Other companies are also developing or evaluating hybrid power generation plants to see if the combination can provide environmental benefits at a commercially viable cost. For example a group or companies have joined with the Electric Power Research Institute to study the feasibility of hybrid coal-solar plants in North Carolina and New Mexico, while in Florida NextEra Energy is developing a hybrid solar-natural gas plant.

Explore further: Green technology saves energy and boosts profits, productivity in factories

More information: Colorado Integrated Solar Project

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CarolinaScotsman
1 / 5 (1) Jul 12, 2010
Coal needs to be totally replaced, not "helped" by solar energy. The money spent developing this system would have been better spent developing a totally solar generating plant. This band-aid approach is a dead end.
Abengoa Solar, which developed the solar parabolic trough technology
My father had parabolic troughs installed on his new house thirty years ago in 1980. The technology is not new. Dad had four parabolic troughs that tracked the sun from sunrise to sunset. The heat exchange liquid was water. The system provided hot water and heat and worked very well.
lengould100
not rated yet Jul 12, 2010
Kudos to Xcel, but i'd still like to see the basis for the statement that solar energy can only displace 10% of the coal going into a hybrid plant. Should be much higher. 1) the issue may be "economically", in which case "I told you so, solar thermal is competitive with coal generation". 2) the issue may be the specific design parameters of this particular coal-burner, in which case lets see a design optimized for use as a solar-coal hybrid.
antialias
4.8 / 5 (4) Jul 12, 2010
What kind of PR stunt is this?

CEO of Abengoa Solar, Santiage Seage, said the company believed the solar-coal combination would provide a cost-effective way of delivering solar energy.


Riiiight...2-3% of the power output of a coal plant is saved and they rename it a solar energy power plant? They have GOT to be kidding.

I can see where the owners of coal power plants are starting to fear the solar competition and try to put a 'green' face on their smoke stacks - but this is ridiculous.
Scott_T
5 / 5 (4) Jul 12, 2010
Let's hope it doesnt collapse from the extreme irony.
finitesolutions
1 / 5 (2) Jul 12, 2010
I am still holding out for nuclear fusion power plants. We just need to harvest the fusion.
http://en.wikiped...gen_bomb
We are already capable of making fusion bombs so we should succeed in developing a clean fusion reactor.
lengould100
not rated yet Jul 12, 2010
antialias and Scott: A large independent energy engineering company (Sargent & Lundy Consulting, Chicago http://www.sargen...cts.html ) has published the results of their + NREL's 2003 very detailed analysis of solar thermal technology at "Assessment of Parabolic Trough and Power Tower Solar Technology Cost and Performance Forecasts" http://www.nrel.g...4440.pdf in which they conclude that solar thermal would be competitive now IF volume production and installation experience from 2.8 GW installed could be initiated.

So what are these utilities waiting for? Perhaps the coal supply companies have a hand in?
ricarguy
2.3 / 5 (3) Jul 12, 2010
2 or 3% is pretty modest, but is a start. Any solar installation being close to competitive with coal, if true, is a BIG deal.

Those of you who say "coal needs to be totally replaced, not 'helped' by solar" with today's technology are living in a dream world. I don't know about you, but I like to have lights and refrigeration at night, too.

Renewables sound great, but there are a lot of times when the wind doesn't blow and the sun doesn't shine brightly. That's what your core energy production is for, or a cheap means of massive energy storage and recovery. These other things by themselves are fair weather friends, at best.
lengould100
5 / 5 (1) Jul 12, 2010
Any solar installation being close to competitive with coal, if true, is a BIG deal.
Exactly. Repeat again and again.

Then wonder why France, Spain and Abu Dhabi own the technology now. (eg. this install is being done by a Spanish company)
antialias
5 / 5 (2) Jul 12, 2010
I don't know about you, but I like to have lights and refrigeration at night, too.
Check out Andasol.
http://en.wikiped..._Station
There you have a solar powerplant that can work under full steam through (the better part) of the night. Saying that solar/wind/waves/biogas is seasonal and prone to fluctuations is true. But combine them and some storage technologies which already exist - and are in operation (!) - and you have no power outage to fear.
Genep34
3 / 5 (2) Jul 12, 2010
this is nonsense - more coal propaganda
trekgeek1
5 / 5 (1) Jul 12, 2010
I don't know about you, but I like to have lights and refrigeration at night, too.
Check out Andasol.
http://en.wikiped..._Station
There you have a solar powerplant that can work under full steam through (the better part) of the night. Saying that solar/wind/waves/biogas is seasonal and prone to fluctuations is true. But combine them and some storage technologies which already exist - and are in operation (!) - and you have no power outage to fear.

Great link, we really need to get off our asses and do the kind of stuff they are willing to try in Europe. We really have this "if it ain't broke don't fix it" attitude in the U.S.. Well, it's broke, time to fix it!
ricarguy
1 / 5 (2) Jul 12, 2010
The referenced Andasol installation in Spain is not economically competitive with coal electrical power generation. It is more expensive by about a factor of 3 to what most in the US are paying today. Not to say that's bad as a starting point at that scale; 50 MW isn't much. My bar napkin calculation gives me 3 or 4 urban residential square miles electrical coverage for the phase 1 facility? (Which per the article you reference is only a year old, so we have to let this develop and see how we can improve.) It is much better than PV solar.
Cut the price in half with a bigger installation to only a 50% price premium and the average guy in sunny locations can hopefully swallow it.

Back to the original story, supplementing one technology with another compatible one makes sense, no matter how modest you start.
HaveYouConsidered
not rated yet Jul 12, 2010
I suspect there is some bigger financial reason to call this PR stunt by the label "solar". For example, perhaps legally they can call this an "alternative energy" design and seek gov't funding or loan guarantees, for what is 97% a conventional and very dirty coal plant.
cmn
not rated yet Jul 12, 2010
Unfortunately you can't just stick a solar power plant anywhere and have it meet the local power demands at competitive costs. There are coal power plants being built all the time (see link below), at least Xcel is offering a slightly less destructive version.

http://solveclima...tandards
skipm
not rated yet Jul 12, 2010
Until every household has a solar roof, there were be this hype. They fear the individual homeowner having its own power. It can be done, but only when the battery has been developed to such an extent to allow for dark days.
ormondotvos
not rated yet Jul 12, 2010
Disgusting greenwashing. Another commercial posing as science news.
eachus
5 / 5 (1) Jul 12, 2010
This is really, really silly. Why? The solar part of the plant could be used at night in an alternate condenser. (The working fluid being used is fine for the purpose.) Reducing the effective low temperature in a heat engine--which is what a coal-fired power plant is--will do much more to increase the efficiency than preheating the feed water in the day.

Of course, you could do both. But it is amazing not just the temperature that can be achieved, but the amout of cooling that can be provided by radiating heat to the night sky. The location is high enough to make clouds and humidity less of a problem. (You will always get some useful cooling at night, the question is how much.) I have seen proposals to use a large heat sink--basically a large swimming pool filled with salt water and ice--for power generation. (It works all right, but most of these systems are used for air conditioning. That bypasses the electricity middleman.)
antialias_physorg
4.5 / 5 (2) Jul 13, 2010
The referenced Andasol installation in Spain is not economically competitive with coal electrical power generation

Yes, but you forget one thing:
Coal/oil/nuclear will become more expensive all the time because the earth has a finite supply - but solar power will only get cheaper (or at WORST stay as expensive as it is right now). We need to switch over BEFORE we don't have the money to do so anymore because we need it all to buy fossil fuels.

And if you calculate the environmental impact and the cost of redressing all the damage done then coal, oil and nuclear are already FAR more expensive than solar. Currently we are just paying that in ways that you don't immediately associate with your energy bill (or we are simply letting future generations pay). That is not a correct way to calculate cost per kWh!
Husky
5 / 5 (1) Jul 13, 2010
there is a motherload of thorium to be unearthed to stretch fission plants for decades, so that fusion pipedream has time to pan out. If it wasn't for nuclear arms race and all the to recoup investments in supportive extraction/recycling/upgrade plants, uranium wouldn't be needed.
ricarguy
1 / 5 (2) Jul 13, 2010

Coal/oil/nuclear will become more expensive all the time because the earth has a finite supply
...
if you calculate the environmental impact and the cost of redressing all the damage...


Your first argument is to spend more now because we may have to some day later, say in 200 years in the case of domestic coal.

To answer the second argument, the costs include environmental remediation. Remember that the 60's are now 40-50 years ago and there are thousands of people who make careers making sure it gets done, more than paid for by energy taxes.

Yes, over time "conventional" energy sources need to be phased out. It can't go on for ever. What we have is far cleaner than it was and we will continue to improve. Solar has a place and this is a good first step. Certainly there will be more to follow. Solar, wind, waves, bio-fuels all suffer from low energy density at their sources. Therefore they will be significantly more expensive for some time to come.

Choice
5 / 5 (2) Jul 14, 2010
In the field of alternative energy there are two basic camps: 1) those who envision a transition to other energies, whether renewable or not, when fossil fuel resources are exhausted or at least when domestic ff resources are exhausted, and 2) those who envision a transition only to renewable fuels and this as soon as possible. The first camp envisions a gradual transition over many decades or even centuries while the second wants the transition to be largely complete by 2050. This project appears more aligned with the goals of the first camp.
ricarguy
1 / 5 (1) Jul 15, 2010
No need to wait to go with alternatives when conventional fuels are exhausted. Now is fine IF...if the alternatives are reasonably cost effective.

"Under my plan of a cap and trade system, electricity rates would necessarily skyrocket." Well Mr. Obama, with most in the country living paycheck to paycheck, and so many lucky to have a paycheck at all, you provide a great reason to resist your plan. Neither do I believe in having one guy forced to pay another guy's electric bill.

Anyone who wants to put a solar or wind installation up themselves, I think is great. Guys buy expensive toys all the time. That would be a toy that's part-way practical, anyway. Have at it, more (expensive) power to you. But don't ask me to pay for a significant chunk of it.
antialias_physorg
5 / 5 (1) Jul 16, 2010
Have at it, more (expensive) power to you. But don't ask me to pay for a significant chunk of it.

That's a contradiction in terms. Where do you think 'more power to you' comes from? Out of thin air? It comes from other people.

And all your argument boils down to is: Let other people switch over while you use up the environment - and then have THEM pay for the extra damage you caused.

Effectively you are not arguing for more power to them but for more power to you!

That's a bit...erm...bigoted.

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