The Economic Optimization of Renewable Energy

clean-blog-postGlobal warming is a very popular topic at the present time. With the upwards trend of clean technology and the realization that strict climate policy should be implemented, demand of renewable energy has sky-rocketed while conservative plant popularity continues to fall. Additionally, the number of coal power plants have significantly dropped since its peak era, as they are now known as the largest pollutant contribution, producing nitrogen, sulfur oxide and carbon dioxides.

Renewable energy comes from many sources: hydropower, wind power, geothermal energy, bioenergy and many more. The ability to replenish and have no limit on usage and application makes renewable energy implementation attractive. To make this even better, it also produces low emission. Theoretically, with the usage of renewable energy, human-kind should be able to meet their energy needs with minimal environmental damage. With growth rates ranging from 10% to 60% annually, renewable energy is getting cheaper through the technological improvements as well as market competition. In the end, the main goal is to maximize profit while minimizing our carbon footprint.  Since the technology is relatively new, capital costs are still considerably higher compared to more traditional (–and naturally harmful) implementations. This begs the question of exactly how we maximize the economic potential of a renewable energy power generation plant.

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What is an Integrated Coal Gasification Combined Cycle (IGCC) and What are the Advantages?


Though fossil fueled power plants aren’t as commonly used anymore, coal fired power generation is still a major source of global electricity, making up about 25% of the market in total. Compared to other options in fossil fuel power generation, coal is found to be the most economical choice as well as a reliable option. Making demands that are heavily reliant on other fuels, such as oil-fired for example, slowly levers to coal power generation. The global reserve of coal can be found in abundance when compared to other energy sources (such as oil for example) as there is about 3 times more of it. Also, IGCC comes with an economic benefit as the price of coal has remained relatively constant, which results in a higher degree of confidence when relying on coal as an energy source in the future.

How Does an IGCC Work?

The system uses a high pressure gasifier to turn coal and other carbon based fuels such as high-sulfur coal, heavy petroleum residues and biomass into pressurized clean coal synthesis gas (also known as syngas). The solid coal is gas-fired to produce syngas by gasifying coal in a closed pressurized reactor with a shortage of oxygen to ensure that coal is broken down by the heat and pressure. Before going out of the system, the syngas runs through a pre-combustion separation process to remove impurities,  starting with water-gas-shift reaction to increase concentration of hydrogen and efficiency during combustion process, to a physical separation process (through variable methods). After that, a fairly pure syngas is used as a fuel in a combustion turbine that produces electricity. Waste heat contained in a gas turbine’s exhaust is used to produce steam from feed water that further turns a steam turbine to generate additional electricity.

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Exchanging Steam for SCO2

In recent days, many people find themselves spending time and resources on uncovering the best solution to optimize the power generation cycle. Until recently, 80% of power plants worldwide (whether fossil fuel, nuclear, or clean technology) used steam as its main working fluid and while it is still the most common option, today’s power plants are finding another fluid to use.

Although supercritical CO2 study began in the 1940’s, it was disregarded as an alternative fluid option because it was expensive to explore and steam was still perfectly reliable at the time. Nowadays due to increasing quantity and quality demand in power, researchers are looking into the possibility of replacing steam with supercritical carbon dioxide. The discover of this property,  increases the incentive of exploring the technology further. This year, the US Department of Energy is awarding up to $80 million towards projects to build and operate a supercritical CO2 plant.

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The Economics of Power Generation


Implementation feasibility of power plant design relies heavily on the economic benefits. More often than not, newer technology cannot be implemented due to high cost of electric generation which would not be acceptable in the market since energy is a price sensitive commodity. Sometimes while deciding on a design to choose, we are given a choice between a high initial equipment cost and efficiency versus a lower capital cost with lower efficiency. The designer must be able to choose which design would fit best with their needs and goals.

While running a power generation plant, there are three types of cost that need to be taken into consideration: capital cost, operational cost and financing cost. With point one and two to being of higher priority.

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A Look into Combined Cycle Power Plants – Problems, Advantages and Applications.

urs Combined Cycle Power Plants are among the most common type of power generation cycle. Demand of CCP application has risen across board due to the rising energy demand (and consumption) as well as growing environmental awareness. Combined cycle is a matured energy that has been proven to generate much lower CO2 (and other environmental footprints) compared to a traditional fossil fuel steam or gas turbine power generation cycle Consequently, this application is often looked as a “better” substitute compared to other a fossil fuel technologies. That being said, CCP is still a temporary alternative to substitute SPP since although CCP generally is more environmentally friendly, CCP process still requires the combustion of fossil fuel (though at a significantly lower degree compared to SPP) for initial heat/energy source.

The application takes two kinds of thermodynamic cycle in assembly to work together from the same heat source. Fluid Air and fuel enters a gas turbine cycle (Joule or Brayton) to generate electricity, waste heat/energy from working fluid will then be extracted then go through a Heat Recovery Steam Generator and towards steam turbine cycle (Rankine) to generate extra electricity. The main advantage of this cycle combination is the improvement of overall net efficiency (around 50-60% higher compared to each cycle alone), thus, lower fuel expenses. With that being said, net efficiency of a CCP is often inflated especially on systems which use a low-temperature waste heat.

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Introduction to your Supercritical CO2 Power Cycle

Supercritical carbon dioxide cycles have slowly become more popular in the engineering market for electricity generation from various sources. SCO2 is found to be an ideal working fluid for generating power cycles due to its high efficiency –more than supercritical or superheated steam, which results in lower cost of electricity.

Supercritical carbon dioxide is a fluid state where carbon dioxide is operated above its critical point which causes the compound to behave as both a gas and a liquid simultaneously with the unique ability to flow as a gas though at the same time dissolve materials like a liquid. SCO2 changes density over small difference in temperature or pressure, though stay in the same phase; allowing large amount of energy to be extracted at higher temperatures.

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Explaining Geothermal Cycles


Geothermal energy has become more and more popular globally due to its sustainability and economic stand point. Geothermal power plants run on a variety of temperatures and utilize hydrothermal resources (water/steam and heat) from below the earth surface to generate electricity for people’s daily consumption. Resources can come from dry steam or hot water wells.

There are three kinds of Geothermal cycle for power plants: binary cycle, dry steam and flash steam. Binary cycle power plants use the heat transfer from geothermal hot water to secondary fluids with a low boiling point at the lower end of standard geothermal temperature (225 to 360 F). This heat will cause the secondary fluid to bubble and turn into steam in the heat exchanger, which is then used to turn the turbine. Since water and secondary fluids are kept apart in the cycle, air emission is minimized.

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Minimizing Environmental Impacts of Geothermal Energy


Geothermal energy is categorized as a “green energy”, with low emission of approximately 5% of carbon dioxide, 1% H2S, 1% sulfur dioxide and less than 1% of the nitrous oxide of an equal sized fossil or coal power plant. Concentrations of each environmentally disruptive gases are controlled by temperature, composition of fluid, and geological setting. Although most of the geothermal emissions commonly come from existing geothermal resource gas, some percentage of the emission also comes from various processes of the energy conversion process. Non-condensable gases are also emitted as a part of high temperature process of geothermal energy conversion.

According to various studies, the type of geothermal power plant design would really impact the production rate of the mentioned gasses. The selection between open-loop and closed (binary)-loop system is essential while taking into consideration air emission. Geothermal plants to this date are commonly separated into three main cycle design: dry-steam, flash-steam or binary –the first two extensively generate more greenhouse gasses (GHGs) compared to the last. In a binary loop system, gases which are removed from the system will not be transferred to the open atmosphere, instead, after transferring the heat gasses will be run through back to the ground, and result in minimal air pollution. In contrary, open-loop system emits all of the emission gas contained such as hydrogen sulfide, carbon dioxide and many more. There are also different factors which cause the technology to emits gases that are naturally present in the fluid such as fluid chemistry/composition, fluid phase, and geological setting to temperature.

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Development of Molten Salt Energy Storage

Over the past couple of years, energy storage technology has significantly evolved to meet engineering demand and political regulations. This wasn’t initially looked as a desirable investment due to the high production cost, however over time, exploration of such technology by bigger companies has driven down the manufacturing cost and generated more demand. With occurrences such as rapid capital raise of smaller start-up companies, to the acquisition of Solar City by Tesla, the market of energy storage is predicted to continue growing. The technology allows for collection of energy produced to be used at a later time. Energy storage systems have wide technology variation to manage power supply – from thermal, compressed air to everyday batteries.

blog-post-2-image-1Molten Salt Usage

The usage of molten salt in thermal energy storage applications has become more common. In commercial solar energy storage, molten salt (from potassium nitrate, lithium nitrate and more) is used in conjunction with concentrated solar energy for power generation. Molten salts are able to absorb and keep heat energy transferred from the fluid mediator, then to transfer it again when it’s needed. In the liquid state, molten salt has a similar state to water. It also has the capacity to retain temperatures of  1000 Fahrenheit. Though efficiency is known to be lower than other storage media such as batteries, (70% vs 90%), the main advantage of the usage of molten salt is lower costs which allows the technology to be implemented in a higher volume production.

How Molten Salt Energy Storage Works

Using solar energy as the main source of energy, heliostats (mirrors used to track sun/solar heat) are used to reflect the solar radiation into an energy receiver at the power plant. Molten salt then is used to collect this heat energy from the concentrated pool. The molten salt will later be stored. When power is needed, hot molten salt is transferred to a HX (or steam generator) to produce steam at a high pressure and temperature. The steam then will be used for electricity generation as the live steam in a conventional steam power plant. After exiting the generator, molten salt will then be transferred back to the thermal storage tank to again absorb energy.

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Working with Geothermal Heat Pumps

A geothermal heat pump utilizes earth’s thermal energy as a way to manipulate temperature. This is seemingly attractive toward HVAC utilization due to the relatively high efficiency as well as economic benefit. Temperature fluctuations below ground are relatively low as earth absorbs solar energy all year round and insulates the heat underground. Taking advantage of this event, geothermal energy heat pump application for residential and commercial building uses the “underground” as a heat source/sink.

geothermal heat pumps

How does geothermal heat pump work?

A heat pump system mainly consists of a heat-pump unit, a pipeline loop functioning as a heat exchanger for a desired area (it can be horizontal, vertical or installed to an aquatic medium), and a duct – to deliver the controlled temperature flow to the consumer.

Fluid is pumped through an installed pipeline loop which transfers heat based on the season. During the hotter season (summer), heat will be absorbed from the air in the building, transferred into the ground and then cooler air will be circulated to the designated area. The contrary happens during the winter. In colder months, heat will be transferred into the fluid from the ground and collected heat will be distributed.

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