Independently, solar energy and clean coal have both been explored extensively with the hope of some day offering a viable, global alternative energy solution. What if turns out, however, that the solution wasn't in either one, but both, collectively?
Many passionately believe that clean coal is not the answer to decreasing carbon emissions or increasing the supply of energy. In fact, since Obama's decision to set aside $2.4 billion dollars "to lead the world in CCS technologies," disagreements (and for that matter, debates) have surfaced about its legitimacy as a true carbon-fighting, energy-producing solution.
With the current reliance on coal, however, it will certainly not be disappearing any time soon. According the Financial Times, about 50% of the United States' energy and 80% of China's energy still comes from coal.
Even if the U.S. completely transitioned away from coal power plants, it would not decelerate the rate at which China produces carbon from their coal plants. In other words, at least for now, a coal accommodating solution is needed.
The most realistic solution may be to create a hybrid model that still uses clean coal, but that combines the natural benefits of an additional alternative energy source.
Xcel Energy is doing just that with it's hybrid solution that combines clean coal and solar energy at it's Cameo Generating Station in Colorado.
The project will utilize parabolic-trough mirrors developed by Abengoa Solar that will cover 6.4 acres of land. The concept is to generate steam from coal and from solar panels to spin the turbines that generate energy. By adding solar heated steam, the plant would not require nearly the amount of coal necessary to normally spin the turbines.
Not only would it be a much cleaner solution, it would increase the plant's efficiency by 5% and reduce the amount of coal used by 900 tons a year.
Kent Larson, Xcel VP and Chief Energy Supply Officer, believes "this type of solar thermal integration will help move the use of solar energy one step closer to being a potential technology for improving the environmental performance of coal-fired power plants."
If that is the case, Obama's focus on clean coal may payoff, even if it is a little different than he initially intended.