- The U.S. Department of Energy on Wednesday announced it would make up to $38 million available for cost-shared research and development projects that aim to improve the "performance, reliability, and flexibility" of the country's remaining coal-fired fleet.
- The Funding Opportunity Announcement (FOA) notes the importance of coal plants being more flexible and working with a system that's seeing expanding use of alternative energy sources.
- The Trump administration has been increasing funding for coal plant research as part of its plan to breathe life back into the industry, though the focus has largely been on funding new smaller, more efficient plants, rather than making improvements to existing facilities.
Coal's share of the electricity market has been declining, but remains around 30%. DOE's announcement shows the fuel's future may be in supporting renewables, rather than competing with them.
"The increased availability and use of alternative energy sources has made it imperative that the existing [coal] fleet become flexible to accommodate electricity needs that are less than baseload," DOE said in the funding announcement.
The $38 million announced on Wednesday is part of the multi-layered approach the administration has taken in its commitment to supporting the coal industry. With slim chance a new baseload coal plant will be built again in this country, the money is focused on bringing new technologies to plants that are already operating.
"By improving the efficiency of our baseload generation, we are strengthening the reliability of all our electricity generation," Under Secretary of Energy Mark Menezes said in a statement.
The FOA covers three areas:
- Sensors, diagnostics and controls to "improve prediction, performance, and reliability" of coal plants;
- Power plant component improvement; and
- Data analytics driven controls, with a subtopic examining "artificial intelligence for enhanced data analytics and control of coal‐based power plants."
DOE's funding announcement touts the benefits of the nation's coal plants, which it said include: the macroeconomic benefit of low‐cost electricity, the portfolio value of having a diverse mix of fuels and technologies, and "the energy security value of a power generation option that is not dependent upon real‐time fuel delivery/transport and is relatively immune to purposeful attack."
The agency said it is interested research that can result in the commercial deployment of new technology in the next three to five years. Applications are due Feb. 28.
While this new FOA specifies it is not interested in carbon capture, DOE on Jan. 16, announced it intends to issue another announcement to complete "at least two front-end engineering and design studies for commercial-scale carbon capture systems on coal and natural gas power plants."