Thermal power stations are used to generate energy through the burning of solid- or gas-type fuel sources (coal or natural gas for example). In today’s alternative energy market, this model relies on a rather old-school energy source. As energy production continues to evolve, thermal generation plants need to adjust in order to remain competitive. In today’s article, we discuss the key areas in thermal generation that need to be focused on in order to keep up with a fast-moving energy market.
Chief among the concerns with thermal generation power plants include the pollution that is created as a result of the burning of solid fuels – coal, lignite, peat, oil-shale, etc. Carbon emissions in particular have come under sharp criticism with the growing public and political concern with climate change and the release of greenhouse gasses into the atmosphere. In order for thermal energy to remain competitive with clean and renewable energy sources such as wind or solar power, the impact of waste products associated with the energy production needs to be mitigated and reduced. While the likelihood that the planet will switch entirely to renewable energy sources any time in the next 20 years is highly unlikely, for thermal energy to remain a key player this issue needs to be addressed.
Coal-based energy has long been considered to be one of the cheapest forms of electricity available to consumers, and that in and of itself has kept fossil fuel energy at the forefront of American energy consumption. But as supply issues, aging infrastructure, and agency regulation of pollutants increases, the cost of thermal energy has outpaced the growing cost of other energy sources, including nuclear energy and hydro-electric (the two other main energy sources across the U.S.)
According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration’s data on the average annual costs of existing power plants, costs to produce energy from fossil fuel or steam-based plants has increased by a rate of 164 percent between 2003 and 2012. In order to remain competitive within the overall market, thermal energy needs to address its rising cost.
Supply issues also remain a high-level concern for the long-term success of thermal energy production. Oil, natural gas, and coal production are all projected to peak and go into decline within the next decade – regardless of technological innovations according to a recent article published in Forbes magazine. Interestingly enough, hitting peak oil status is not so much about running out of oil, but about limits to our extraction abilities, such that the demand for the resource will always outweigh the supply – whether due to the increased difficulty or expense of extracting the fuel to no longer make it financially feasible. The question remains not if, but when.
Upgrades and Retrofits
There are a variety of technologies being, or which have been, developed to increase the lifespan of fossil fuel energy sources. Clean coal has become a recent buzzword that appeals to many who are counting on an established industry continuing on into the age of renewable energy. These technologies are designed to reduce or mitigate the various emissions released by burning the fossil fuel, removing pollutants from waste products, and increasing the efficiency of the energy conversion process. This and various other modernization projects are needed to bring thermal power into the forefront of a competitive and constantly evolving energy market.
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