That’s a question not only facing many baby boomers but now the US coal fired power fleet. The U.S. coal-fired fleet consists of 1,105 units with a nameplate capacity of 342.733 GW, according to a Burns & McDonnell database. Because plant age is often cited as a reason for retirement, it’s useful to examine the fleet’s age. The figure below illustrates the age of each unit in the database, calculated as the difference between 2011 and the year it began commercial operation.
The average age of all units is 42.5 years and no matter how you look at the numbers, the fleet continues to age. The average capacity factor illustrated below indicates plants under 40 years old are the backbone of the base load fleet and as a plant hits about the 50-year milestone, operation appears to shift to more load-following or cycling operation, as suggested by decreasing capacity factors. For comparison, the overall average fleet capacity factor is approximately 62%. However, 455 plants (not including recently commissioned ones, for which capacity factor information was not available) reported an annual capacity factor of 70% or higher.
What does all this mean for the load following plants? Tight budgets, no capital monies, low operating margins and reduced staffing levels. However, the value of these older load following units can be significantly increased if they are ready to run when called by the dispatcher.
Triple 5 has responded to both issues and the value of being ready to run by offering early leak monitoring surveillance for a small monthly fee, no hardware purchases and without a long term commitment. Load following and tight budget plants can now take advantage of the same technology the larger base loaded plant use to know when a small leak has developed and schedule the repairs and market strategize on their own terms. Knowledge in these times is power and value. Baby boomers have responded by embracing new technologies; now your plant can do the same.