How Much Efficiency Can Coal Plant Retrofits Achieve?

coal plant retrofit

In the coal industry, from a power plant perspective, improving efficiency is the name of the game.

In the U.S., coal plants just aren’t being built anymore. The only new coal plant under construction currently is the Kemper County energy facility in Mississippi, originally slated to be completed this past March.

Since new plants aren’t on the table for the foreseeable future (even with a coal-friendly EPA under the Trump administration), the only way for coal plant owners to improve bottom-line results from a plant’s perspective is to boost efficiency.

Fortunately, countless studies and real-world, in-the-field projects have proven that coal plant retrofits can improve efficiency by a noticeable amount.

How Retrofits Result in Net Efficiency Gains

A coal plant completed in the last decade is more efficient than older plants. However, the majority of operating plants are older than 10 years. As plants age, and get into their second and third decades of operation, their performance begins deteriorating substantially.

Retrofits have potential to not only halt a slide in performance and efficiency, but actually reverse it – resulting in net gains.

A study from the International Energy Agency’s Clean Coal Centre suggests that an average net gain of 3.5 percent in total efficiency can be obtained by a complete plant improvement program, which includes equipment updating and retrofits in addition to improving non-equipment areas like maintenance and training. 

In the combustion system, for example, improving the coal pulverizer and feeder can result in a 0.3 percent net gain in efficiency. In the steam cycle, retrofitting your plant’s steam turbine blades can generate as much as 0.5 percent in net efficiency gains.

These are merely the most commonly identified areas of improvement. The study suggests that there are other areas of efficiency loss that could be improved upon with a rigorous plant optimization strategy.

Furthermore, given the age of the typical U.S. coal power plant, the potential for improving efficiency is high for an average plant. As the study states, “Environmental and economic benefits are routinely achievable from plant modernizations,” and that the “potential gains are now very considerable.”

For an industry striving to maintain its competitiveness, let alone grow, coal plant retrofits provide a path toward success for domestic producers.