When a coal-fired power plant is considered for closure, arguments are commonly made about the loss of jobs and unrealized investments. Facing this pressure, governments are reluctant to enact enforceable emission standards, and these plants continue to emit pollutants into the atmosphere. As the equipment ages, the plants may retire, but in their lifetime they will cause irreversible environmental damage. This report presents a method to mediate this damage, create jobs, maintain the efficiency of the turbine, and maintain or increase the capacity factor of the plant.

Solar parabolic troughs using molten salt technology are scalable and can meet the steam conditions of a standard Rankine cycle coal-fired power plant. A marriage of these technologies allows the parabolic trough field to be installed without new power generation equipment. The turbine, generator, and transmission equipment are already in place, and when compared to a standalone concentrated solar power (CSP) plant, can be amortized over a greater number of operational hours without the use of very large amounts of thermal storage. That allows for a reduction in capital investment compared to a greenfield CSP plant, and reduces the levelized cost of energy (LCOE) from the solar contribution to well below current US Department of Energy SunShot targets.

Coal-fired plant operators note that they typically cannot operate at partial power output without reducing the efficiency of their turbine accordingly. So, while a photovoltaic hybridization can take advantage of existing transmission infrastructure, it will require that the coal-fired system reduces its output and will consequently reduce the efficiency of the coal cycle. If we have to burn coal, we should do it in the most efficient way possible. Hybridizing with a molten salt parabolic trough installation makes use of the same turbine as the coal-fired system, which maintains the overall efficiency of the turbine at its design point and optimal load. With this model, the coal plant can operate at full power, reduce overall usage of coal while maintaining or even increasing employment opportunities, and reduce CO2 emissions.

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