A concentrated solar BACT for new coal?

nrel_kramerj_overview_final.jpgI recently listed a bunch of Best Available Control Technologies for limiting CO2 emissions from new coal plants, following the landmark ruling by the EPA Environmental Appeals Board.

But a leading expert on solar thermal baseload power points out that I left out one potential control technology. Under the auspices of the Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI), two utilities have just announced they will test the use of solar thermal to add steam into the steam cycle of natural gas plants. And EPRI plans to “add solar thermal technology to coal-powered plants as well.” Why?

In addition to reducing costs and greenhouse gas emissions, EPRI believes that solar thermal technology could also boost coal and natural gas power enough in existing plants to eliminate the need for new infrastructure.

Clearly this is not quite at the commercial stage that BACT requires, as, say, cofiring coal with biomass is. So a high priority for the Obama EPA and Energy Department should be demonstrating solar plus coal.

In fact, we should have coal with solar baseload and biomass cofiring. And we should then pursue demonstrating solar plus coal/biomass gasification with carbon capture and storage. This wouldn’t be the cheapest power, but it would be carbon-negative electricity. And if we are ever going to get back to 350 ppm, as some leading scientists say we must, then we need to aggressively pursue all potential forms of energy that actually reduce atmospheric carbon dioxide.

9 Responses to A concentrated solar BACT for new coal?

  1. Mark Shapiro says:

    Great idea.

    Chicago has two coal fired plants: Fisk, 326 MW, on 60 acres, and Crawford, 542 MW on 72 acres. If CSP needs 3 acres per MW, these two plants could provide about 5-10% of their current output with zero emissions. And the generators and transmission lines are already in place.

  2. yeah, if they can change existing plants to carbon neutral then that’s a step in the right direction.

  3. Ronald says:

    Unless there is a Chicago, Arizona, CSP probably wouldn’t work there. I’m guessing you are mentioning Chicago, Ill. which doesn’t have enough sun. CSP for electricity is mostly in 4 states, Calf. Ar. Nev. and NM.

  4. vakibs says:


    What is the point of cutting emissions, when these coal plants keep on running for an indefinite amount of time ?

    Borrowing the popular analogy from the President-elect, You can put lipstick on a pig, but it is still a pig

    What we need to be thinking of are energy sources to power a zero-carbon economy. We should be making economic blueprints for the construction of such new power plants and infrastructure. We should have a fixed hard deadline on the shutting down of coal plants.

    This is all quite obvious. But you keep on using your Orwelian speak.. Cutting emissions with coal and natural gas plants.. Thank you very much for the joke. Now why are we trying to fool ourselves, here ?

  5. Mark Shapiro says:

    vakibs asks:


    What is the point of cutting emissions, when these coal plants keep on running for an indefinite amount of time ?”

    Yes, Joe always suggests cutting carbon emissions, because EVERY cut gets us closer to zero.

    But your point is well taken — there are some cuts that actually make it more difficult to make the next cuts. That’s why I prefer efficiency, renewables, and conservation to most “clean coal” projects.

  6. Ronald says:

    It would be a shame if these coal plants don’t get replaced with completely new and non-carbon fueled electricity production because somebody added some CSP to the plant. But like the original article said, ‘as long as these fossil fuel plants aren’t going anywhere.’ Which is true, these fossil fuel plants are there whether they stick on some CSP or not.

  7. Charlie says:

    From an overall perspective, the BACT for coal plants is end-use energy efficiency. I’ll leave it to the lawyers as to whether that counts under the regulation, from the perspective of best technology, better utilization of electricity to avoid needing new plants is better than any control technology that could be put in the plant.

  8. Eli Rabett says:

    How about concentrated solar to cook out oil from shale??? We need liquid fuels for transport

  9. Bob Wallace says:

    Obviously we’ve got enough petroleum if we simply keep our demand down to where it is right now. We’re back in the era of $2 a gallon because of demand decay.

    Better we put maximum effort into efficiency and leave as much carbon sequestered as possible….