Monday, December 20, 2010

Field Report from POWER-GEN International 2010

One of my colleagues filed the following field report from the conference held last week:

Notes from Keynote speeches: 
1. SMRs: There is a strong push from the Fed Government labs toward Small Modular Reactors. (SMR).  The feeling is that the US is slightly behind China and Europe in these, but they offer some significant advantages. 
  They can be built in factories, thus making them faster and easier to build,  as well as helping to drive down costs.  They should add significant amount of manufacturing jobs, with the total job growth of up to 60K jobs. These Rx would be in the 100-300 MW range, and are proposed to not need refueling, lasting about 30 yrs.  They are also proposed to be modular and scalable, to allow them to match the local need. 
2.  Wind/Smartgrid: Siemens gave a presentation on their wind efforts, including building several factories in the US as transportation costs contribute about 15% of the cost of a turbine.  They think that wind will become a significant contributor in the future, and they are working hard to be ready.  The major problems facing wind are storage and distribution.  Smart grid will help some with storage, but the US does not currently have sufficient transmission infrastructure to move the power from the Midwest (where there is a lot of wind) to the coasts (where it is needed).   They think with 5 more years of “help”, they will be able to reduce costs enough to be competitive with other power sources at about $.05 /KWhr.
3. Biomass/Solar: Siemens said that Biomass for power generation will not grow much, however, from what we have seen at other forums, it is mostly planned for transportation.  They are also supporting solar work, but seemed much more interested in wind.      
4. Infrastructure: Speaker spoke about all the problems with conflicts between regional and federal bodies to govern power lines and transmissions.  US has a terrible infrastructure, she was advocating a building project for new transmission lines much like highway system.   She wants to treat transmission as more of a separate entity and business than just a local item.  US needs to invest in HVDC and get more easements to allow new transmission lines (see above).      
5. Coal/CO2: Last speaker is working two coal projects.  One is a coal gasification plant in Taylorville In, strongly supported by state.  They will gasify coal, and sequester CO2 to send it to be used in deep oil recover.  Second plant is to burn coal but sequester CO2 to be used in deep oil recovery.  He expected there to be about 60Gigawatts of coal plants to be retired in the next 10 years.  Not sure how they will be replaced, but with price of natural gas so low and more being discovered, that may be the immediate solution. 


Q: Did the environment feel pessimistic or optimistic for the next few years?  
A: As for the mood, it was generally optimistic in that there is a world
wide market for power generation, and that a lot of it will be nuclear and
green, but that natural gas and coal will still have a role.   Lots of
graphs on expected use world wide between now and 2050, All showed a
lot of growth, but the mix changes depending on your inputs.   All
agree there will be more nuclear, wind and other, but still a growing coal
base. But coal will decrease in %, especially as gas costs stay low
(see Shale gas discoveries)  and wind keeps making advances.

Q: Are wind and solar seen as viable players in the new energy market.  
There are concerns about there efficiency and need of back up power? See efficiency discussion:
A: No one really talked a about solar, technology isn't there yet to
be cost effective, but Siemens was very confident in the
planned technology advances to get wind down to the 4.5c/kw range. He
had a lot of hard numbers and was pretty confident that they can solve
the problems.  Transmission is still the key here, as well as storage.

Q: SMRs with 30 year lifetimes (non-LWR breeders) are pretty far away in the approval process.  Any updates on timelines?  This is what I know:
A: The SMR talk was lead by a Phd from a Govt lab, and yes, all
acknowledge that there are regulatory issues.  Looking at technologies
now:  LWR,  Gas and liquid metal cooled.   All have adv and disadv,
but there seemed to be a LOT of hype and interest.