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Future of power generation

Power generation: it’s time to upgrade and modernise

In May last year, the UK went two weeks without burning coal for the first time since the Industrial Revolution. Although a key turning point, the industry must do more if the Government’s ambitious emissions targets are to be achieved. It’s time for operators to adopt a plant-wide approach to energy efficiency.

The move towards solar, wind and energy-from-waste power is a positive step, but unless power plants themselves start to modernise their equipment and processes, it is unlikely that the net-zero by 2050 goal will be met.

Europe is ahead of the curve when it comes to investing in and upgrading existing infrastructure, and the UK needs to catch up. Currently, the UK opts to build new plants instead, which is not a cost-effective approach, when investing in current infrastructure might be more viable in the short and long term.

So, what should operators focus on when planning an upgrade?

  • Combustion process – Boilers' feed-in stock should be assessed to ensure it matches the plant’s combustion requirements. Often, legacy boilers can be retrofitted with intelligent control systems, which can lead to considerable energy savings. Operators should also monitor combustion efficiency and track the relationship between raw material input and heat output. Lessening the amount of excess fuel used is vital.
  • Energy waste – For older plants, installing monitoring systems that provide real-time data can help operators to see exactly where energy is being wasted in the generation process.
  • Drive modernisation – Motors and drives are responsible for approximately 60 per cent of UK industry energy usage. Undertaking drive modernisation projects, which particularly focus on start-up processes, can drastically improve sustainability, however, these should not be rushed. Breaking down the project into smaller parts can minimise the impact on productivity.

Modernising power plants should be a priority over the next few years, but without adequate investment this cannot happen. In the interim, whilst the capital funding trickles through, the Government will need to up its support and speed up any planning approvals for new developments. Nevertheless, by taking steps to future proof existing infrastructure and improve energy efficiency plant-wide, operators can welcome a greener future and keep costs down.