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Purdue School of Engineering and Technology

Purdue School of Engineering and Technology

Exploring environmental pollution implications of different types of power generation

August 18, 2017

Razi Nalim

Razi Nalim

In conjunction with the solar eclipse that is taking place on Monday, August 21, 2017, Dr. Razi Nalim of the School of Engineering and Technology at IUPUI will be teaching about the environmental pollution implications of different types of power generation, such as from solar energy and fossil-fuel combustion. This total solar eclipse will be visible in totality within a band across the entire contiguous United States; it will only be visible in other countries as a partial eclipse.

“One of the major issues of the shift towards renewable energy such as wind and solar is that these sources are often unpredictably variable”, stated Nalim. “Therefore, other more conventional sources of electricity have to be ready to quickly ramp up as needed. If traditional steam-turbines using coal power are used in standby mode, they actually will be burning a lot of fuel and creating pollution even if no power is delivered, and they are slow to pick up load.”
 
The eclipse (if there are no clouds) will be a rare predicted drop in solar power availability, which presents a good opportunity for utilities and power grid operators to run a planned experiment in coping with a large loss of solar power generation. This is significant because the US now has far more solar power than when the last major total solar eclipse was seen in the continental US back in 1979.

Nalim indicated natural gas combustion turbines are typically the best option for quick response to meet demand when solar and wind power go down. Natural gas combustion turbines are relatively cleaner and respond faster than coal-fired power plants, but they still do generate significant air pollution. Other options such as battery energy storage are very limited. Hydropower (another renewable source) is a good clean standby option, but it is not available everywhere.

For more information on how the eclipse will forecast the future of natural gas, visit https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2017-08-09/in-eclipse-natural-gas-sees-its-future-as-solar-s-backstop.

See NASA’s website for details on viewing the eclipse, location and times.