IGCC Going Sideways – Energy Production Technology

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IGCC is a promising energy production technology that converts dirty fuels like coal to gas and reduces harmful emissions. When combined with carbon capture and storage (CCS) IGCC emissions drop to significantly lower levels.

Given the fact that the U.S. has huge coal supplies the power industry continues to hold out hope that IGCC with CCS will be a significant generation source in the future. Unfortunately these technologies are as unproven as they are promising. To date there have been no successful commercial implementations of IGCC in the United States.

Development of IGCC technology is extremely expensive. Combine that fact with the general stigma surrounding anything related to coal and you have an unfriendly environment at best. In the last couple of weeks there have been a few developments related to IGCC that underscore this one step forward, one step back stalemate.

  • NRG Energy has recently reiterated their commitment to developing a 600MW IGCC plant in upstate NY.
  • A recent study indicated that carbon capture needs $6.4 billion in investments in order to be viable.
  • RWE Power is continuing development on a 450MW IGCC plant which is scheduled to come online in 2014.
  • A representative from AIG Global Marine and Energy, which reportedly has billions of dollars to invest in clean energy technologies, recently noted that he feels nuclear is more promising that IGCC with CCS.

The outlook for IGCC is not a very good one in the short term. A significant amount of investment is still required in order to make the technology commercially viable. Investment is definitely occurring but not a the rate of investment seen in other technologies like wind, solar and energy efficiency.

The U.S. has large supplies of coal and soon it will get very expensive to operate coal-fired power plants. When that time comes look for more power generators to ramp up their investment in IGCC technology.

The pioneers like NRG and RWE are taking on great risk by spending on IGCC now but that could pay off for them in a big way if their projects are successful and the technology catches on with the power industry.

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