• US government calls for help to develop small-scale coal-fired plants

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      Patrick Lavery

      Combustion Industry News Editor

The CERAWeek conference was also notable for the surprise announcement by the assistant secretary for fossil energy at the US Department of Energy, Steve Winberg, that the federal government is to ask the private sector to help develop small-scale coal-fired power plants. The political impetus comes from President Donald Trump’s promises to come to the aid of the coal industry; the stated technical rationale is that smaller plants would be better able to help a future electricity grid cope with the intermittency of renewable energy. It appears that the federal government will make funding available to help development of the technology, but the level of interest on the part of the private sector seems uncertain – small-scale coal-fired plants have not been in recent development, and it would probably take a significant shift in research and development strategy on the part of power technology companies to develop such plants. There is also the question of if there would be a future market, domestic or international, especially if the plants were not somehow equipped with carbon capture and storage. However, much of the necessary technology would already have been developed, of course, and smaller-scale plants might be seen as less risky, as they would involve lower capital costs. Additionally, it might offer an opportunity for a new market segment when other segments are shrinking. Perhaps the prospect of government funding may be enough of an incentive to entice power technology companies.