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Could Natural Gas Replace Coal Power?

As much as many of us wish it were possible, we can’t just uproot aging coal plants and replace them with intermittent sources like wind and solar–we do still need reliable sources of energy that are guaranteed to work 24/7. That’s where natural gas come in.

turbine

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As much as many of us wish it were possible, we can’t just uproot aging coal plants and replace them with intermittent sources like wind and solar–we do still need reliable sources of energy that are guaranteed to work 24/7. That’s where natural gas come in.

Modern natural gas-fired generators produce the same amount of energy (or more) compared to coal-fire generators while reducing CO2 emissions by 60% and eliminating sulfur dioxide emissions per kilowatt hour generated. These generators can also be easy installed on former coal plant sites that that are zoned for industrial use and already have access to both cooling water and the electrical grid. “A combination of stringent environmental regulations,
concerns about carbon dioxide emissions and the fact that natural gas prices seem to be stable–all of
that says that the market will want to have more gas turbine generation,” explains Phil Ratliff, the director of next generation gas turbines at Siemens.

All of which is why Siemens is rapidly taking orders for its high-efficiency gas-powered plants. The company announced this week that Florida Power and Light has contracted for six of Siemens’ 60-Hz H-class gas turbine-generator packages to replace old oil and gas-fired generators. Progress Energy also contracted for five gas-powered plants to replace coal-fired generators in North Carolina. Siemens is reportedly also exploring deals with other utilities as well.

There are downsides, of course. Natural gas isn’t an unlimited source of energy, and while prices may be stable for now, some analysts believe that costs will soon begin to rise as resources dwindle. But for now, Siemens expects that natural gas-fired plants will only gain in popularity. With increased intermittent generation from renewables, customers have greater needs for fast startup capabilities,” says Ratliff. “We feel like we’ve understood the market, and the time is right for a machine like this.”

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About the author

Ariel Schwartz is a Senior Editor at Co.Exist. She has contributed to SF Weekly, Popular Science, Inhabitat, Greenbiz, NBC Bay Area, GOOD Magazine and more

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