October 1, 2001

In Webster’s Dictionary, power has several definitions. Among them: the product of the effective values of the voltage and current with the cosine of the phase angle between current and voltage in an alternating-current circuit. Or, to define it in more layman’s terms: strength or force exerted or capable of being exerted.

In 2001, the topic of power has been, well, powerful. Rolling blackouts in California brought the energy and power issue to the forefront. For President Bush, it’s been a major theme in his first year in office, and the administration’s energy policy has generated considerable debate. For the insulation industry, trends in power and energy could have an impact on potential business opportunities in coming years.

The Power Generation

What is the outlook for energy in the next two decades? The Energy Information Administration says growth in electricity demand in the next 20 years is projected to be slower than in the past, but that 393 gigawatts (billions) of new generating capacity (excluding co-generators) is still expected to be needed by 2020 to meet growing demand and to replace retiring units. Between now and 2020, 26 gigawatts (27 percent) of current nuclear capacity and 43 gigawatts (8 percent) of current fossil-fueled capacity are expected to be retired. Of the 162 gigawatts of new capacity expected after 2010, 16 percent will replace retired nuclear capacity.

The projected reduction in baseload nuclear capacity is expected to have a modest impact on the electricity outlook after 2010: 51 percent of the new combined-cycle and 15 percent of the new coal-fired capacity projected in the entire forecast are expected to be brought on line between 2010 and 2020.

Before the advent of natural gas combined-cycle plants, fossil-fired baseload capacity additions were limited primarily to pulverized-coal steam units. However, efficiencies for combined-cycle units are expected to approach 54 percent by 2010, compared with 49 percent for coal-steam units, and the expected construction costs for combined-cycle units are only about 41 percent of those for coal-steam plants.

As older nuclear power plants age and their operating costs rise, 27 percent of currently operating nuclear capacity is expected to be retired by 2020. More optimistic assumptions about operating lives and costs for nuclear units would reduce the projected need for new fossil-based capacity and reduce fossil fuel prices.

1,300 New Power Plants May Be Needed by 2020

Before building new capacity, utilities are expected to use other options to meet demand growth-maintenance of existing plants, power imports from Canada and Mexico and purchases from co-generators. Even so, assuming an average plant capacity of 300 megawatts, 1,310 new plants with a total of 393 gigawatts of capacity (excluding co-generators) are projected to be needed by 2020 to meet growing demand and to offset retirements. Of this new capacity, 92 percent is projected to be combined-cycle or combustion turbine technology, including distributed generation capacity, fueled by natural gas. Both technologies are designed primarily to supply peak and intermediate capacity, but combined-cycle technology can also be used to meet baseload requirements.

According to EIA, nearly 22 gigawatts of new coal-fired capacity is projected to come on line between now and 2020, accounting for almost 6 percent of all capacity expansion expected. Competition with low-cost gas-turbine-based technologies and the development of more efficient coal gasification systems have compelled vendors to standardize designs for coal-fired plants in efforts to reduce capital and operating costs to maintain a share of the market. Renewable technologies account for 2 percent of expected capacity expansion by 2020-primarily wind, biomass gasification and municipal solid waste units. Nearly 13 gigawatts of distributed generation capacity is projected to be added by 2020, as well as a small amount (less than 1 gigawatt) of fuel cell capacity. Oil-fired steam plants, with higher fuel costs and lower efficiencies, are expected to account for minimal new capacity in the forecast.

Gas- and Coal-Fired Generation Grows as Nuclear Plants Are Retired

As they have since early in this century, coal-fired power plants are expected to remain the key source of electricity through 2020. In 1999, coal accounted for 1,880 billion kilowatt-hours (kwh), or 51 percent of total generation. Although coal-fired generation is projected to increase to 2,350 billion kwh in 2020, increasing gas-fired generation is expected to reduce coal’s share to 44 percent.

Environmental Concerns

Concerns about the environmental impacts of coal plants, their relatively long construction lead times and the availability of economical natural gas make it unlikely that many new coal plants will be built before about 2005. Nevertheless, slow growth in other generating capacity, the huge investment in existing plants, and increasing utilization of those plants are expected to keep coal in its dominant position. By 2020, it’s projected that 11 gigawatts of coal-fired capacity will be retrofitted with scrubbers to meet the requirements of the Clean Air Act Amendments of 1990.

In percentage terms, gas-fired generation is projected to show the largest increase, from 16 percent of the 1999 total to 36 percent in 2020. As a result, by 2004, natural gas is expected to overtake nuclear power as the nation’s second-largest source of electricity. Generation from oil-fired plants is projected to remain fairly small throughout the forecast.

the next generation

Technology advances boosting efficiency, environmental protection in plants

Several new power plants with advanced generating technology are currently coming online. These plants, including those powered by fossil fuel and renewable energy sources, promise to generate electricity more efficiently and with less impact on the environment, according to the Edison Electric Institute. This story provides an overview on some of the next generation power plant technologies, as well as a look at some of the new plants coming online.

Renewable Energy Technologies


Newly designed solar electric cells at the Golden (Colo.) National Renewable Energy Laboratory surpass other cells in the percentage of sunlight they change to electricity: 16.4 percent versus 15.8 percent. The efficiency of a solar cell is calculated as the percentage of available sunlight the device converts into electricity.


The next generation of wind turbines are targeted for sites with moderate wind speeds. Technology advances enable these turbines to capture more energy from the wind, minimize damaging structural loads and optimizing power produced in constantly varying wind conditions.


The hydropower industry and the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) are developing "fish friendly" turbines through the Advanced Hydropower Turbine System program. Advanced turbine technology could reduce fish mortality resulting from turbine passage to less than 2 percent, in comparison with turbine-passage mortalities of 5 percent to 10 percent for the best existing turbines. The technology could also improve water quality by maintaining downstream dissolved oxygen levels of at least 6 milligrams per liter.

Fossil Fuel Technologies


Coal now generates more than 50 percent of the country’s electricity. The technology focus has been on making this mainstay of electric power generation cleaner and more efficient. Some key goals are low-cost production of electricity, process heat, and high-value fuels and chemicals from a multiplicity of feedstocks (e.g., coal, biomass, and wastes); virtually no pollutant emissions; and efficiencies greater than 60 percent.

Natural Gas

For both environmental and economic reasons, the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) reports that almost two-thirds of new capacity brought online from 1996 through 1998 (the latest data available) was fired by natural gas or a combination of gas and oil. Likewise, of the 300 gigawatts of new capacity that the country will need by 2020, EIA expects some 90 percent to be fueled by gas. DOE’s utility-scale Advanced Turbine System’s objectives are to achieve 60 percent efficiency or more in a combined-cycle mode, with NOx emission levels less than 9 parts per million, and a 10 percent reduction in the cost of electricity.

Advanced Power Plants-Sample Projects

In June 2001, Reliant Energy broke ground for the first major coal-based power plant to be built in Pennsylvania in 20 years. The $800 million, 520-megawatt Seward Power Plant in Indiana County will use a "clean-coal" technology called circulating fluidized bed (CFB) to burn waste coal while meeting stringent environmental requirements. The new plant, starting up in 2004, will replace an 80-year-old, 200-megawatt facility scheduled to close in late 2003.

Tampa Electric Company, as part of a major expansion over the next decade, has built a 250-megawatt integrated gasification combined-cycle (IGCC) facility in Florida. Polk Power Station, Unit 1, began commercial operation in September 1996. Since then, the unit has logged more than 15,000 hours and produced more than 3.5 million megawatt hours of electricity on syngas.

In West Virginia, Dominion and Anker Energy Corporation jointly announced plans to develop a new coal and coal waste-fired electric power station and mining complex in Upshur County. Under terms of an agreement between the two companies, Dominion would construct, own, and operate the 450-megawatt station, which would utilize state-of-the-art "clean coal" technology and would burn more than 65 percent coal waste. Anker Energy would provide all of the facility’s fuel from on-site surface mining operations.

FPL Energy, LLC, the largest wind generator in the U.S., recently began operation of a 30-megawatt wind farm near Madison, Wisc. The farm features 20 turbines, each capable of producing 1.5 megawatts. FPL Energy, a subsidiary of FPL Group, Inc., has an installed wind generating capacity of 600 megawatts and expects to complete additional projects totaling more than 800 megawatts by the end of 2001, including 438 megawatts in Texas, 110 megawatts in Kansas, and nearly 300 megawatts along the Washington-Oregon border.

Wavegen of Inverness, Scotland, constructed the first commercial-scale plant powered by ocean waves, the land installed marine powered energy transformer (LIMPET), in December 2000. As seawater enters or leaves an inclined concrete tube, it alternately compresses or decompresses air inside the tube. This air movement spins pneumatic turbines, which then generate electricity. The turbines spin in the same direction, regardless of which way the air flows.

Sources for these stories were the Energy Information Administration, the Edison Electric Institute and the North American Electric Reliability Council.