Navigant Research Blog

Zero Emissions from a Fossil Fuel Plant … Really?

— June 6, 2017

The claim of zero emissions from a fossil fuel plant sounds too good to be true. I was skeptical when I first read the headline, “Goodbye Smokestacks: Startup Invents Zero-Emission Fossil Fuel Power,” on the Science website. But on second glance, this does appear to be a big deal in the carbon capture realm.

Oxymoron or Innovation?

Author Robert Service notes: “Zero emissions fossil fuel power sounds like an oxymoron.” And indeed, it does. But the people behind startup NET Power believe its technology makes this possible. The company is backing a 25 MW demonstration plant in the Houston area that will be activated later this year. Basically, the plant will burn natural gas in a pure oxygen combustor. By using mostly pure, high pressure CO2, the plant can avoid the phase changes of traditional steam cycles. And instead of driving a steam cycle and losing heat up a smokestack, the NET Power plant retains heat within the system, resulting in less fuel used for a turbine to reach the necessary temperature.

The result, the company claims, is a stream of nearly pure CO2 that is then piped away and stored underground, or that can be shot into sapped oil reservoirs to recover what oil remains. This latter process is called enhanced oil recovery. In either case, the CO2 is kept out of the atmosphere. The system is based on work done by Rodney Allam, a retired British engineer, and is called the Allam Cycle. The key to Allam’s idea is the recycling of the CO2 in a loop.

A Fossil-Fueled Game Changer

NET Power says it can produce emissions-free power at about $0.06/kWh, which is about the same as the cost from a state of the art, natural gas-fired plant. And lower than most renewable energy. If the demonstration meets expectations, the company intends to move to a full-scale, 300 MW version that could be operational in 2021 at a cost of about $300 million. Such a power plant could supply more 200,000 homes. One expert, John Thompson from the Clean Air Task Force, says the breakthrough plant would be “a game-changer if they achieve 100% of their goals.”

We shall see. The NET Power facility could fail to reach its goal; as carbon capture expert Howard Herzog says, “There are only a million things that can go wrong.” But if successful, the zero emissions plant could be a bridge to a cleaner environment, and could drive more aggressive use of renewable sources. So, what’s not to like about this kind of audacious engineering that aims to solve a problem in a practical way? Failure is a possibility, but success is, too.


How Can Regulatory Drivers for DER Realign Utility Business Models?

— May 13, 2016

IT InfrastructureThe movement of the electrical grid toward an Energy Cloud model with expanding distributed energy resources (DER) will require new regulatory rules to ensure both reliability and utility profitability. Creating a platform to generate, distribute, and sell energy closer to where it is consumed (referred to as utility 2.0) will require regulation 2.0 changes. Shifting DER and regulatory changes in world markets shape Navigant Research’s DER perspectives, which were highlighted in its recent market forecast report, Distributed Energy Resources Global Forecast.

Those closely following the development of DER models know that movement toward an altered regulatory framework has a number of requirements. These include roadmaps that balance innovation, the economic benefits of competitive markets, the maintenance of reliability, and the reduction of carbon emissions. The 51st State Initiative, a consortium of well-informed industry stakeholders, has created two sets of roadmaps to highlight the type of regulatory changes needed to strengthen the future of the electric industry along these lines.

Advancing Carbon Initiatives

Parallel to DER is the advancement of carbon reduction initiatives in the United States and around the world, as can be seen with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Clean Power Plan and renewable energy and carbon reduction requirements in both California and New York. DER is likely to play a central role in these efforts. The following developments highlight several recent key regulatory and policy initiatives that are a part of the DER journey:

  • As part of the New York Reforming the Energy Vision proceedings, the New York Public Service Commission (NYPSC) introduced the Benefit Cost Analysis Order. This order will require the NYPSC to place a value on carbon emissions, consider portfolios of DER that capitalize on the grid benefits of DER aggregation software, and consider tariffs that compensate customers who generate their own electricity.
  • NYPSC recently approved Consolidated Edison’s Brooklyn/Queens Demand Management Program to address the overload of substation feeders with a combination of traditional utility-side solutions and non-traditional customer and utility solutions, including energy efficiency and DER.

An important benefit of DER that also includes energy efficiency is the ability mitigate the carbon impact of fossil fuel-based electricity generation. The ability to utilize battery energy storage systems and innovative DER aggregation software suppliers are expected to make demand response, distributed solar, and energy efficiency larger, more reliable parts of the DER landscape. However, the regulation 2.0 changes currently underway will need to align the financial interests of local utilities and distribution system operators. This journey is certain to bring some uncertainty, but also plenty of opportunity for innovation and new business models.


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