Another way for renewables to integrate with utility power grids is through the hybrid combination of fossil fuel and renewable technologies at the power plant level. Some experts expressed optimism that such hybrid technologies would become a significant part of future energy systems, although few scenario models incorporate such hybrids. Said one power technology expert, “renewables advocates don’t like to include fossil fuel technologies when talking about the future, but hybrid technologies need to be on the radar also.”
Such hybrid technologies have been the subject of research and development for decades, much of it by the fossil fuel industry. And commercial applications have been growing, particularly for biomass co-firing with coal or gas in conventional power plants. There were some 100 co-fired plants operating in Europe, another 40 in the United States, and several in Australia and Japan.
Other hybrid technologies cited by experts include:
(1) solar thermal power (CSP) plants integrated with combined-cycle natural gas turbines;
(2) biomass and coal co-gasification systems to produce synthetic natural gas, with a typical mix of 20% biomass and 80% coal;
(3) wind farms that are integrated with compressed-air energy storage and simple-cycle natural gas turbines to provide constant-output power from a remote location and thus maximize transmission capacity;
(4) CSP plants that preheat feed water for a coal power plant to increase its efficiency.
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