Sinincheon Combined Cycle Power Plant
Today everyone got up early to get on a 1.5 hour trip to the Sinincheon Power Plant in Incheon. This powerplant is operated by KOSPO, the Korean Southern Power Corporation. Before 2000, there was only one power supplier, owned by the government, KEPCO. After a reorganization to create more room for privatized companies on the market, KOSPO was founded. This company is however still owned by KEPCO, which is still 100% government owned. This reflects in the companies strategy where a governemntal interest in hydrogen pushed for the construction of a hydrogen powerplant on the Sinincheon site. The site which we were visiting, has a capacity of 1800MW from LNG turbines and 79MW from hydrogen cells. With this site and seven other LNG and Coal power plants, KOSPO accounts for 8.8% of the total domestic power generation of the ROK.
The LNG turbines of the Sinincheon site are operated in a combined cycle. This means that power is first generated by LNG turbines. The heat that these turbines produce, is then used to power a steam turbine which generates a second power stream. This way, the plant is more efficient and the power loss in heat is decreased. This is still a process that is very bad for the environment and that runs on fossil fuels. Therefore, we were very interested in the application of the hydrogen fuel cells and if this might be a future way the generate renewable energy. The basic principle of a fuel cell is the electrolises of water, where adding electrical energy creates hydrogen and oxygen. Hydrogen and oxygen together in the right environment, creates water and electricity. This means that hydrogen is needed for the production of energy this way. The only problem is that there is still no clean way to produce hydrogen, without using electricity. Therefore, KOSPO uses methane to produce hydrogen, which produces CO2, making the hydrogen power not renewable. If there was a clean way to produce hydrogen, the power generation process would be very efficient (55% for the newest generation) and renewable.
All this was told to us in a presentation after our arrival. After this, we visited the main control room of the power plant. Here, they controlled the gas and steam turbines and the power output of the plant. On our arrival, the power output was at 750MW which is less than half of the capacity. Emissions of NOx and SOx were constantly monitored and regulated by the government. At our arrival three employees were constantly monitoring the screens and reporting findings and the control room was operated 24/7 by a total of 15 people. The hydrogen fuel cells had a different control room. Here, there were no employees working, but the power output was at around 60MW. There were four hydrogen cell units, which all accounted for around 15 MW. However, the 4th unit was not working. This does not add up to 60, but we did not get quite clear what was going on.
A trip around the cells themselves learnt us that they take up a lot of space. About five times more space than a LNG instalation is required for hydrogen cells to generate the same amount of power. This can be a large restriction for the construction of more hydrogen cells. On site there were two types of fuel cells. The first uses hydrogen as ionic conductor and is of the first generation hydrogen fuel cells. On the site there were 8 units of this type. There were also 42 units of the second generation which were more efficient and used CO32- as ionic conductor. The heat that is emitted by the process was used to warm houses in Seoul, making it even more efficient.
Very interesting to see and visit a power generation plant. With the hydrogen cells a step into the future is made. However, the technique is not advanced enough for it to be a potential renewable energy source, yet. The potential for storing excess of renewable energy might be there, as no raw materials are needed in the storage process, just water.