Cameo Steam Plant Goes Solar

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The Cameo power plant is scheduled to go offline permanently at the end of the year. But before it does it will be the first of its kind to integrate solar power with coal to generate electricity. The project has had a few setbacks and delays but Xcel Energy officials say their solar experiment is now fully operational.

It's the start of a very unique testing project for Xcel Energy. "It's the first time anyone has done this in the whole world, putting solar thermal system in conjunction with a coal plant,"says Fred Eggleston, area manager for Xcel Energy. The cameo power plant burns coal to turn water into steam, this in turn, runs turbines to generate electricity. The addition of solar panels gives the system a little boost by heating mineral oil inside a pipe which in turn heats up the water. "Liquid going to the plant is 575 degrees, that heat is put into the feed stock water before it goes to the boiler,"says Eggleston.

The process only raises the water temperature ten or fifteen degrees, a small but very noticeable contribution. "This allows us to offset about 1 megaton of coal," says Eggleston. One megawatt of coal adds up over time. "That's about 900 tons of coal annually," says Eggleston. Saving coal isn't the only reason for the new upgrade. Burning 900 tons of coal less a year will actually decrease carbon dioxide emissions by 2,000 tons a year. "It gives a sizable enough contribution that we can measure the effect," says Eggleston.

The cameo plant was chosen for this 4.5 million dollar project because of its small scale and ease of tracking and documenting the total efficiency of the system. "This is what it's really about, designing and learning from all this so we can potentially replicate it in other plants," says Eggleston. Maybe, if it's efficient enough, it can be replicated on a much larger scale.

Testing will continue through December 31st, when the plant is scheduled to close. The plant and the new solar field will then be fully dismantled.