Global warming concerns have pushed coal-fired power plants to develop innovative solutions which reduce CO2 emissions by increasing efficiency. While new ultra-supercritical units are built with extremely high efficiency, with Pingshan II approaching 50% LHV[1], subcritical units with much lower efficiency are a major source of installed capacity.

The typical annual average net efficiency of subcritical units in China is about 37% LHV, and some are lower than 35% LHV. Since the total subcritical capacity in China is about 350GW and accounts for over one third of its total coal-fired power capacity, shutting all subcritical units down is not practical.

Finding existing coal-fired plants a cost-effective solution which successfully combines advanced flexibility with high efficiency and low emissions, all while extending service lives, has challenged energy engineers worldwide. However, the (now proven) benefits a high temperature upgrade offers, compared to new construction options, made this an achievement worth pursuing.

After many years of substantial incremental improvements to best-in-class technology, this first-of-its-kind subcritical high temperature retrofit successfully proves that a technically and economically feasible solution exists. It increases the main and reheat steam temperatures from 538°C (1000°F) to 600°C (1112°F), and the plant cycle and turbine internal efficiencies are greatly improved.

This upgrade’s greatest efficiency gains occur at low loads, which is important as fossil plants respond to renewable energy’s increased grid contributions. These are combined with best-in-class flexibility, energy-savings, and technological advances, i.e., flue gas heat recovery technology and generalized regeneration technologies [4].

This project, the world’s first high-temperature subcritical coal-fired power plant retrofit, was initiated in April 2017 and finished in August 2019. Performance reports created by Siemens and GE record unit net efficiency at rated conditions improved from 38.6% to 43.5% LHV. The boiler’s lowest stable combustion load with operational SCR, without oil-firing support, was reduced from 55% to 19%. Substitution or upgrading of high-temperature components extended the lifetime of the unit by more than 30 years. At a third of the cost of new construction, this project set a high-water-mark for retrofitting subcritical units, and meets or supports the requisite attributes for Coal FIRST, Coal Plant of the Future, proposed by the United States Department of Energy (DOE) in 2019 [2].

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