The news making recent headlines in my local area is the announcement of the closing of the Indian Point nuclear power plant in New York State. Whether to keep the plant running or not has been a long-debated issue, with strong arguments on both sides. In January, New York Governor Cuomo announced that the plant will close by April 2021. Along with accolades from environmental groups and local residents concerned about safety and security, are concerns about what the plant closing means economically and how to replace the 2,000 MW of electricity that the plant supplies to the area, which includes New York City.
The plan to replace power from the plant includes alternative energy sources, such as hydroelectric power, as well as upgrades and efficiency measures. In line with last year’s approval of New York’s Clean Energy Standard — which sets a goal to have 50% of New York’s electricity come from renewable sources by 2030 — there is also a proposal for an offshore wind project, 30 miles from the tip of Long Island.
Solar power shines
More and more, alternative energy options are making their mark as emerging power sources. Solar power is becoming the cheapest form of new electricity, according to a recent report by Bloomberg New Energy Finance1. The report indicates that solar prices are competing with those of coal and natural gas, and that solar prices are even falling below those for wind power in some countries. A recent memo by the U.S. Dept. of Energy (DOE)2 says that in the U.S., the cost of large scale (>100 MW) solar photovoltaic has dropped by 64% since 2008, and that the number of such plants has grown from 0 to 50 in the U.S. during that time.
Technological advances made by those working in the chemical process industries (CPI) are undoubtedly contributing greatly to alternative energy’s progress. In addition to technological developments to solar panels, which are familiar to many of us through their common usage in consumer products, other areas are seeing increasing progress. See the article in this issue on “Concentrating Solar Thermal Power: The Future Looks Bright” on pp. 15–18 for more on solar power.
Energy efficiency and process intensification
In addition to developing technologies for energy resources, the CPI play an important role in reducing energy needs by providing products for energy efficiency. The CPI themselves consist of many energy-intensive operations, and they are also working on improving efficiency in their own processes.
Process intensification is an effort to improve energy efficiency, reduce resource use and increase overall manufacturing productivity. Recently, the DOE announced that the Rapid Advancement in Process Intensification Deployment (RAPID) Manufacturing Institute was selected to join the nation’s network of Manufacturing USA Institutes The institute was formed by the American Institute of Chemical Engineers (AIChE) and will leverage federal funds, as well as funds from the participating members, toward its goal of increasing energy efficiency and productivity by 20% in 5 years.
The ambitious goals for energy efficiency and alternative sources offer great opportunities for chemical engineers and others in the CPI to contribute. ■