February 01, 2011

Energy Policy Tied to Electricity

Written by:
Mike Gardella
Engineering Manager - Sorensen Systems

A recent article on the US Dept. of Energy website discussed the importance of electricity to the economic and environmental future of the United States. With more than 50 percent of the electricity in the country coming from coal-fired power plants, it’s hard to imagine that this fuel will soon be discarded. The low cost of coal right now is what keeps it at the forefront of energy policy questions. No one wants to pay too much for electricity.

There are several ways to go here, such as removing some of the environmental objections to the use of coal in current or future power plants. If new technologies are successful in eliminating sulfur, nitrogen and mercury pollutants released when coal is burned, there may be hope to keep it as a continuing participant in the fossil fuel energy world. Further research is underway to increase coal-plant efficiencies and it is predicted that it could double in efficiency in the next 10-15 years. If that’s true, again the future for coal looks brighter.

Even though coal is king right now, natural gas is the fastest growing source of fuel for thermal power plants. As much as 90 percent of future power plant construction in the planning and discussion stage is based on the use of natural gas. Even the so-called “distributed power generators”, which are mini-power plants are destined to be powered by natural gas. The gas-fired turbines in today’s modern power plant is what most of the future looks like, particularly for regions such as New England.

And finally, there is a role to play for new technologies for storage of energy and transmission of energy that will contribute to energy efficiency of the electric industry. Whether its superconducting materials or compressed air storage, there are technologies about to be released that will have a positive impact on your electric rates.