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Coal-fired power plants are the backbone of the electricity supply system in the United States, generating more than 50% of the electric power. Even if more natural gas-fueled combined cycle power plants and more renewable power-generation facilities will be built, a major portion of electric power will still be provided by coal-fired power plants. The fossil fuel reserves are limited; renewable sources; mainly hydro power plants, supply only about 10% of U.S. electric power. Hydro power plants generate 8% and all other renewable facilities generate 2% of this power.
Of the worldwide fossil fuel reserves, two thirds are coal. However, in the United States almost 95% of the fossil fuel reserves are coal, clearly indicating the importance of coal-fired power plants for the United States. The remaining 5% fossil fuel reserves in the United States are oil and natural gas. This small portion should be made available mainly for industries and users that depend on these fuels.
Currently, coal-fired power plants discharge a relatively large amount of the total carbon dioxide. By using currently available advanced power plant technology, the 32% net efficiency of today pulverized-coal—fired power plants can be drastically improved. Today's advanced pulverized-coal—fired power plant technology with a net efficiency level of 45% can generate roughly 45:32 = 1.4 or 40% more power than the 1950 to 1970 vintage units burning the same amount of coal. This also means that the specific coal consumption and the CO2 discharge are drastically reduced with the introduction of advanced bituminous coal-fired power plants. This is illustrated in Figure 9-1, which shows a coal consumption reduction of 135 g/kWh (0.3 lb/kWh) and a CO2 discharge reduction of 310 g/kWh (0.7 lb/kWh), the latter reduction accounting for more than 40% of the 770 g/kWh (1.7 lb/kWh) specific CO2 discharge of an advanced coal-fired power plant.