- The U.S. Department of Energy on Tuesday issued a request for information (RFI) on the development of small-scale modular coal-fired power plants, continuing the administration's search for ways to support the struggling fuel.
- DOE wants stakeholder input on "technical and market considerations" to assist in the development a small-scale, modular coal-based pilot-scale plant. The agency said it "envisioned" the plants to be highly efficient — at least 40%.
- The coal industry will need some kind of innovation to continue forward, as plants have been pressured by natural gas, renewables and environmental regulations. The nuclear industry is also developing smaller plants that can be built off-site in order to reduce costs and the time required to construct them.
DOE's request includes some lofty language, befitting the challenge ahead. The agency says it envisions "plants of the future" that will be lower in cost, "designed using advanced methods," small scale, highly efficient, and able to "load follow to meet the demands of an evolving electricity grid."
DOE also said the plants would be "highly efficient (greater than 40 percent efficiency)," but that threshold has already been topped at larger plants. Last year, Power Magazine reported the most efficient coal plant in the United States reached 42%, though the fleet averages a bit over 37%.For comparison, Japan's fleet was found to be the most efficient, at 41.6%.
Responses to the RFI are due June 8.
The nuclear industry has been considering a similar strategy, as construction costs of large plants rise and delays make them uncertain investments. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission recently completed the first phase in the design certification application process for a small modular reactor being designed by NuScale Power.
While DOE continues to support coal and nuclear, almost all of the new generation coming online this year is either renewable or gas-fired.
This year, the U.S. Energy Information Administration expects almost 32 GW of new capacity to come online —about 21 GW gas-fired capacity, 4 GW of solar PV and 5 GW of wind. Coal was not mentioned in the report.