3 energy innovations that could deliver powerful results

Wed, 2014-11-19 06:00 -- Kevin Ebi

Power generation and transmission should rank among the biggest growth areas over the next decade, and three new power plants are showing that those investments also lead to big innovations. From reclaimed wastewater to batteries to biomass, these plants aim to deliver more reliable power with a smaller environmental footprint.

According to Navigant Research, investments in smart grid technologies – everything from transmission upgrades and smart metering to substation and distribution automation – have really taken off over the past two years. And they show no signs of stopping. Overall, it forecasts those technologies will generate more than $70 billion in revenue by 2023, up from $44 billion this year.

But getting the power to businesses and consumers is just one part of the equation. Generating that power is also important, and several Council partners are working on three innovative plants that could serve as a template for new facilities around the world.

Cleanest power plant in the U.S.
In Virginia, Bechtel, a Council Lead Partner, and Siemens, an Associate Partner, are working on what could become one of the cleanest power plants in the United States. And it will achieve that goal by finding a positive use for something many cities already have too much of: wastewater.

The Stonewall Energy Project will feature advanced emission-control technology, but the key innovation involves using reclaimed wastewater to help cool the facility. Further, it will be built near existing transmission lines, reducing the need for even more construction.

The plant, due to go online in spring 2017, will generate enough power for three-quarters of a million homes in one of the fastest-growing counties in the country.

The biomass boost
Since geothermal energy is clean, it’s a desirable source where it’s an option. Council Lead Partner Enel is working on a power plant upgrade, which will allow Italy to get more energy out of its geothermal source. The plant in Tuscany will use biomass to boost its output.

By using forest biomass, the temperature of the steam entering the plant can be more than doubled. That higher temperature boosts the plant’s capacity, both by increasing the power potential and energy efficiency.

The biomass is sourced from a renewable forest just a short drive from the facility. It addition to supplying more power, this plant upgrade will help prevent the emission of 17,000 tons of carbon dioxide each year.

A better way to address peak demand
Council Lead Partner S&C Electric proposes using batteries as a more effective way of delivering power during times of peak demand. It recently installed a 150 kW storage system at its Chicago headquarters as a proof of concept for power companies.

The company says that while batteries aren’t the only solution for our power needs, they are oftentimes the most efficient way of dealing with peak demand. Extra generation capacity goes to waste when it’s not needed, and it can take 20 minutes or more to come online when it is needed.

Energy storage is a flexible solution that allows companies to save power for later when demand is dropping, and make it available more quickly when demand is rising. S&C says this is even more important as we become more reliant on intermittent power sources, such as solar.

Further, power plants typically are built to deliver enough power to meet peak demand, even if they seldom have to operate at that level. Energy storage, S&C says, helps even out power generation, claiming that 5 MW of battery storage could replace ten times that much of conventional energy production.

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