GE has developed what it calls a “first-of-its-kind” power plant. By rapidly ramping up and down in response to fluctuations in wind and solar power, the technology will enable the integration of more renewable resources into the power grid. The FlexEfficiency 50 Combined Cycle Power Plant is rated at 510 MW and offers fuel efficiency greater than 61%. The plant is the result of an investment of more than $500 million in research and development by the company.
While most power plants now offer flexibility or high efficiency, GE says this power plant will deliver an unprecedented combination of both. The company calls this combination of flexibility and efficiency ‘FlexEfficiency,’ which is essential if renewable power is going to cost-effectively integrate into power grids around the world on a large scale.
GE drew from the company’s jet engine expertise to engineer a plant that will ramp up at a rate of more than 50 MW per minute, twice the rate of today’s industry benchmarks. Operational flexibility at these levels will enable utilities to deliver power quickly when it is needed and to ramp down when it is not, balancing the grid cost-effectively and helping to deploy additional renewable power resources like wind and solar. A typical plant will deliver enough energy to power more than 600,000 E.U. homes.
Increasing Renewables with Natural Gas
“As we seek to increase use of renewable energy, the challenge of grid stability sharpens,” says Paul Browning, VP of thermal products for GE Power & Waste. “There is added pressure to achieve higher levels of efficiency and lower emissions for natural gas power plants. The FlexEfficiency 50 plant creates growth opportunity in a new segment for our gas turbines.” He says for years GE has been working to develop technology that can deliver breakthrough efficiency and deal with the challenge of grid variability caused by wind and solar. “The need for combined flexibility and efficiency is even more pressing today as countries around the world establish new emissions standards,” he says.
Steve Bolze, president and CEO of GE Power & Water, notes that much of today’s power generation technology is serving yesterday’s power grid. Institutions and individuals everywhere are looking for cost-effective ways to use solar, wind, and gas energy on a large scale. “But they often assume that renewable energy can simply plug-in to the existing power grid,” he says. “We expect the FlexEfficiency to help take advantage of abundant natural gas while we simultaneously carve a fresh path to accelerate wider adoption of renewable energy, all with less impact on natural resources.”
Sustainability by Design
GE engineers were able to avoid the typical tradeoffs between flexibility and efficiency by approaching the plant design from a total equipment and control systems perspective. The company says the FlexEfficiency 50 plant is designed for flexible operation by integrating a next-generation 9FB Gas Turbine that operates at 50 Hz, which is the power frequency that is most used in countries around the world; a 109D-14 Steam Turbine, which runs on the waste heat produced by the gas turbine; GE’s advanced W28 Generator; a Mark VIe integrated control system that links all of the technologies; and a heat recovery steam generator.
“With global energy demand expected to double by 2030 and electricity generation accounting for 40 percent of greenhouse gas emissions, utilities and government bodies are taking a hard look at how to produce power more efficiently,” says Ricardo Cordoba, president of GE Energy for Western Europe and North Africa. “This innovation can have a dramatic effect on CO₂ emissions and offers a nimble, efficient and cost-effective way for us to help E.U. countries in their pursuit of 20-20-20 energy goals.”
The International Energy Agency concluded in a report that large shares of variable renewable energy are feasible as long as power systems and markets are properly configured so they can get the best use of their flexible resources.
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