Statements of Assistant Secretary for Fossil Energy Steven Winberg as prepared at CERA Week in Houston, Texas on March 11, 2019


Thank you.


I appreciate the opportunity to provide an update on what the Department of Energy is doing to increase coal power plant performance.


I want to start by noting that coal will remain an integral energy source for the foreseeable future, both here in the U.S. and globally.  Our friends from Poland understand this fact very well.


But, there are real challenges to coal – and there is work underway, both here and globally, to address those challenges.  For example, there is a concerted international effort to commercialize carbon capture, utilization, and storage technologies to reduce emissions from coal power plants. 


But another challenge – which we’re focused on today – is improving the performance of both existing and new coal-fired power plants.


At the Department of Energy, one of our critical research and development pillars is focused on increasing the efficiency and competitiveness of existing plants to extend their lives and ensure that they can operate on an evolving electricity grid that is accommodating more and more intermittent, renewable generation.  To get there, we’re working on a suite of advanced processes and technologies to improve the efficiency and competitiveness of the existing coal plants. 


At the same time, we need to begin developing the coal-fired power plants of the future — plants that are cleaner, very efficient, and have a smaller footprint.  That’s the focus of an initiative we call Coal FIRST (Flexible, Innovative, Resilient, Small, Transformative). 


So, we envision these plants to be:

  • Small - in the range of 50 to 350 MW;
  • Near zero emissions;
  • Nimble and flexible to meet the demands of an evolving grid, with the ability to ramp up and down as demand dictates;
  • Modular – Think in terms of components that can fit on a flatbed trailer; and
  • Highly efficient – Our current fleet is at in the low to mid 30 percent efficiency range.  Our goal here is 47–50 percent.  And, by the way, higher efficiencies lowers all emissions from coal power generation and makes carbon capture less expensive.

We began rolling out the Coal FIRST initiative in earnest last year.  We’re also working on pathways, such as supercritical CO2 power cycles, to improve efficiency, significantly reduce the size of future power plants, and reduce costs.  And we’re also exploring advanced combustion technologies and novel concepts that can significantly improve efficiency and the flexibility to quickly respond to grid demands for both the existing and future coal fleet.


As we move forward with these efforts, we will rely on collaboration with partners who share our goals.  We’ve worked with Poland on clean coal technologies in the past, and we would welcome the opportunity to collaborate on ways to improve plant efficiency, to reduce the footprints of plants, and to develop clean coal technologies more broadly. 


As a major producer and consumer of coal, Poland could be an important partner with us to develop and deploy these critically needed technologies.  So, we’re happy to discuss possible paths forward for potential cooperation – perhaps beginning with a digital video conference discussion between our laboratories and other research organizations to identify areas of common interest.


We look forward to exploring these possibilities.


Thank you.

Steven Winberg
Steve Winberg served as the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Assistant Secretary for Fossil Energy (FE).
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