- The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) has opened an inquiry into possible improvements to the country's fleet of coal-based power plants, with emphasis on making them more efficient, flexible and reliable.
- President Donald Trump campaigned on rebuilding the declining coal industry. While plants have continued to retire amid pressure from cheap natural gas, the administration has backed multiple research initiatives into long-term improvements.
- On Wednesday, DOE's Office of Fossil Energy announced it had issued a request for information (RFI) focusing on three technical areas, including development of technologies for "improved operational flexibility" of coal plants.
The Trump Administration has been considering multiple approaches to avert coal plant retirements, but so far only investments into research have materialized into concrete efforts.
Earlier this month, Energy Secretary Rick Perry told lawmakers the DOE is "looking very closely" at using the Defense Production Act to keep coal and nuclear plants from closing. And last year, the agency asked the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to approve financial support for coal and nuclear plants in the PJM Interconnection market — a request that was unanimously denied.
The new RFI seeks information, particularly from coal plant owners and operators, that could lead to "wide-scale retrofits of existing coal-fueled electricity generating units." The DOE said it is also seeking comment from "equipment manufacturers, architect-engineers, and other stakeholders."
DOE's inquiry will examine three areas: technologies for efficiency improvements at full- and/or part-load operations; technologies for improvements in reliability, availability, and maintainability of plants; and technologies for improved operational flexibility.
DOE says its intent is to "inform the development of targeted Research & Development to develop technologies that can be rapidly deployed across the existing fleet of coal-fueled electricity generating units."
The agency issued another RFI earlier this month, requesting stakeholder input on "technical and market considerations" to assist in the development of a small-scale, modular coal-based pilot-scale plant. The agency said it "envisioned" such a plant to be highly efficient — at least 40%.