New power plant processes
The energy transition and climate protection present conventional power plants with developmental challenges. Whereas in the past they were mainly run using coal or natural gas, in future more waste, biogas and other fuels will be used to generate power. This also includes the use of hydrogen or supercritical CO2. Research is therefore being conducted into materials, components and process technologies that meet the changed loads during power plant operation. For instance, the temperatures reached by the combustion process of alternative fuels may be too low to drive generators. Integrated high temperature heat pumps can raise this heat to the required temperature level.
Retrofit measures and new operating processes
The German government is firstly promoting so-called retrofit measures. These can, for instance, allow alternative fuels to be used by converting existing power plants. Furthermore, funding is provided for research on alternative power plant components such as micro gas turbines or motors and on hybrid plant concepts. There are also questions concerning operational management, in which digitisation plays an important role.
Large energy storage systems on old power plant sites
Another research focus is on the question of how the existing locations of the large-scale power plants with their infrastructure of roads and power cables can continue to be used, even if the power plants are successively shut down in future.
One option would be to install large and efficient energy storage systems on the sites. These are required on a large scale to compensate for the fluctuation of renewable energy sources due to weather conditions. Excess power is then temporarily stored and fed back into the power grid as required. Research therefore focuses on questions of integrating energy storage systems into the power plant process. These include, for example, high-temperature heat storage tanks, power-heat and power-heat-current storage tanks or isentropic storage tanks. Isentropic storage tanks converts renewable power reversibly into heat and, if required, into mechanical energy, such as rotation.
Power plants as flexible service providers in the transition phase
During the transition phase of the energy system, conventional power plants provide support for power generation if the renewable energy plants are unable to provide enough green power due to weather conditions. Instead of running in continuous operation as was the case previously, more frequent starting and stopping and fast load changes are now required. Even though the research focus is on the flexibility aspects: With a view to environmental protection, it is important to increase the efficiency of power plant processes also in partial load operation.