Future of Thermal Power Plants in a Carbon Constrained World


With the growing concern over climate change, it may seem to many that it is a “RIP” situation for fossil plants particularly coal. But there is a lot of debate on two questions- the first being “Can we depend 100% on renewables?” and the second “In the hypothetical situation that all fossil plants are shut down, what do we do with the plant? Are these plants designed or can be redesigned for fuel substitution?

Proponents of clean energy also cite that Coal-fired power simply cannot compete with the ongoing cost reductions of renewables. Solar tariffs in countries like India are now below even the fuel costs of running most existing coal-fired power plants. However, it is again debatable how with the ever-increasing demand, clean power can cater to all the load. Fossil power will be there but will it be commercially viable?

Having said that, thermal plants cannot rely on this assumption of increasing power demand and continue with the status quo in terms of emissions or operations. With every passing day with increasing RE penetration, fossil plants are becoming less and less commercially viable.
Below are some areas that existing thermal plants need to focus on to remain viable and future relevant.

A recent revelation from a Texas-based start-up also states that zero-emission fossil plants are possible. Start-up named Net Power has come up with a unique solution where emissions are buried underground. Net Power’s technology uses a new kind of turbine to burn natural gas in oxygen, rather than the air. As a result, the plant only produces carbon dioxide and water as a by-product. The water can be frozen out of the mixture and the pure stream of CO₂ can be buried in depleted oil and gas wells or similar geological structures. To sum up, thermal plants need to look beyond conventional ways and embrace technology and innovation as quickly as possible to prevent its impending death.