Tag Archives: GE

Help for renewables: new GE natural gas turbine meshes flexibility with combined-cycle efficiency

Natural gas-fired power generation has generally been considered necessary for the transition away from dirty electricity generated from coal toward clean electricity generated from renewables. Wind and solar are intermittent so integrating them into the grid means we have to be able to balance their intermittencies against another source of power generation that is flexible. That “other” source is natural gas, which despite its own controversies (particularly around emissions and water contamination as they relate to shale gas production) is generally much cleaner than coal.

But here’s the problem: There are two basic ways of deploying natural gas-fired power plants. One is in single-cycle mode, where you run the fuel once through a gas turbine. This kind of plant is usually used for peaking purposes because it can ramp power output up and down quite quickly, and because of this flexibility it is generally matched up with renewables — i.e. when the wind stops blowing the single-cycle peaking plant ramps up accordingly, and when the wind picks up the gas plant ramps down. This assures demand and supply on the grid remain in proper balance.

Unfortunately, single-cycle plants are not efficient. Only between 33 and 40 per cent of the natural gas fuel that goes into it produces electricity. The rest is lost as waste heat. Now, the alternative is to build combined-cycle plants. With these plants, natural gas fuel goes into a gas turbine, but the waste heat is captured and used to power a steam turbine. A combined-cycle gas plant can be between 55 and 60 per cent efficient. But the tradeoff is that it doesn’t have the flexibility that comes with single-cycle mode. So combined-cycle plants tend to run more like baseload generation, but with minor flexibility to adjust to slow-moving changes in system load. In other words, combined-cycle gas plants and intermittent renewables can play together but not very well.

Now, all of this is background for what I really want to tell you: General Electric announced yesterday in France that it has developed a new power plant design that achieves the flexibility of single-cycle with the efficiency of combined-cycled. The new plant, called FlexEfficiency 50, is basically a combined-cycle plant with 61 per cent efficiency that’s based on jet engine technology (a newly developed 9FB Gas Turbine) and waste-heat capture for driving a steam turbine (109D-14 turbine). GE has rated the plant’s output at 510 megawatts. According to GE, the plant can ramp up by 50 megawatts per minute, which is apparently double the ramp-up rate that exists today.

This might not seem like a big deal, and it’s certainly not the sexiest of stories, but if we’re going to rely more on natural gas as we transition to renewables, and if more of that gas is going to come from shale resources (meaning it will have a larger carbon footprint), then having a natural gas plant that’s both efficient and flexible is actually a very good thing to have over the coming years. This is especially true in regions such as California and Ontario that are hoping to integrate a large amount of renewables into their systems over the next decade.

Oil marches to $90 a barrel; GE purchases 25,000 electric vehicles for its global fleet… Good timing

That’s right, oil is making its trek toward $90 again, and once it busts through that all eyes will be on that psychological barrier — $100. Good timing then for General Electric, which announced today it has purchased 25,000 electric vehicles as part of a global revamping of its fleet (and the fleets of its customers). As the single-largest purchase of electric cars so far, and for the foreseeable future, GE is once again proving it can both push and pull the market. By 2015 EVs will represent half of GE’s global fleet, which sits at around 30,000 vehicles. Impressive. If you want to know why GE is so keen to embrace EVs, click here.

Earth2Tech reports that 12,000 of the EVs will be purchased from GM, and will include the Volt starting in 2011. About 10,000 of the vehicles will go to GE fleet customers.

Industry starting to jockey around Ontario market

Since Ontario’s feed-in tariff program was launched last week, and with the first applications being accepted Oct. 1, there has been a handful of announcements that suggest the new program — despite controversy around local content rules, wind setbacks and land restrictions for solar — is beginning to achieve its intended effect.

Wind developer AIM PowerGen announced yesterday that it has been purchased by International Power PLC, which said Ontario’s Green Energy Act and feed-in tariff program represented a “good basis for long-term investment” and was a “key driver of our interest in AIM.” The value of the deal was disclosed by IPP as $189 million (Canadian). Said David Timm, vice-president of strategic affairs at AIM: “They very much believe that with the Feed in Tariff  Ontario ‘is open for business’  and intend to make a big commitment in the province.”

Earlier, Canadian Hydro Developers said it had purchased the rights to develop 4,400 MW of wind offshore in Lake Erie. The Ontario government also disclosed it’s in advanced talks with Samsung C&T about bringing wind and possibly solar manufacturing to the province to support their interest in developing renewable-energy projects in the region. GE is also making moves, as are a number of local companies — Everbrite Solar, CWind and Sustainable Energy Technologies.

While the wind side shows some promise, the solar side looks more troubling. Continue reading Industry starting to jockey around Ontario market

Canadian Hydro enters Great Lakes wind rush

Ontario, so it seems, is leading the charge for offshore wind development in North America. Never mind that we’re not a coastal jurisdiction. This isn’t about the ocean, this is about the lakes. On Monday, Canada’s largest independent wind developer, Canadian Hydro Developers, announced that it was purchasing the rights to an “Offshore Wind Prospect” that has the potential to be a massive 4,400 megawatt, multi-phase wind project. That would  make it the largest offshore wind project in the world. Located along an 80-kilometre stretch in the middle of Lake Erie (on the Ontario side), the first phase of the planned developed — between 400 and 500 megawatts in size — is expected to be operational by the end of 2014.

Canadian Hydro purchased the rights from Wasatch Wind Inc. of Utah, and said it decided to get into offshore wind because of the feed-in tariff program in Ontario that pays 19 cents for every kilowatt-hour of power that comes from an offshore turbine. Kent Brown, CEO of Canadian Hydro — which is the subject of a hostile takeover bid from Calgary-based utility TransAlta Corp. — said his company’s offshore plans, on their own, should be enough to convince a foreign manufacturer to set up shop in Ontario. While it’s unlikely Canadian Hydro will be able to develop the full 4,400 megawatts, its entry into the field certainly brings momentum to the Great Lakes offshore wind energy rush.

Toronto-based developer Trillium Power is leading the pack. Its first project would be a 710 MW offshore wind farm in Lake Ontario, called the Trillium Power Wind 1, followed by three more projects that add nearly 2,900 MW to its pipeline. Trillium Power Wind 1 is likely to be the first major offshore wind project in the Great Lakes, and possibly North America. In fact, New Energy Finance says there’s nearer-term potential for development in the Great Lakes than on the coasts, and that Ontario is clearly shaping up to be a leader in offshore wind.

Just a few days ago, I reported that the Ontario government is in serious talks with Samsung C&T about bringing wind and solar manufacturing to Ontario. Samsung is also on record saying it’s interested in entering the offshore market, so perhaps there’s an opportunity there. And who knows, GE, since its purchase of offshore turbine maker ScanWind, may be tempted to chase this market as well. The Great Lakes are an interesting place to develop. It’s shallower, less turbulent, and there’s no salt water to play havoc with turbine machinery. All of this reduces wear and tear on gear, and allows for quicker construction because, unlike ocean-based projects, you don’t have to contend with often violent weather that causes costly delays. Now, one potential problem is ice flow, and that’s something developers will have to deal with. But certainly the opportunity is there for developers of offshore wind in the Great Lakes to put up projects at lower cost than the big ocean-based projects we’re seeing in Europe. They now have to prove it.

GE adds a bit of sodium to its diet

It kills me to see GE announce plans to invest $100 million in a new manufacturing facility in New York that will build sodium-nickel-chloride (or molten salt)batteries, an energy-dense storage chemistry that will be targeted at new hybrid-electric trains, tugboat electrification, and utility-scale storage for renewables and peak shaving. Some call them Zebra batteries, which is the brand name for sodium-nickel-chloride batteries made by Swiss-based MES-DEA.

Don’t get me wrong — I’m glad GE is making this investment. It’s just that it was a decision being contemplated three years ago by a group of Canadian companies that simply couldn’t round up the funding to make it work. Perhaps they were just a bit ahead of their time.

Here’s what I wrote in July 2006 about a small Ontario-based utility called Halton Hills Hydro and Mississauga-based battery company BET Services, which had set up a 100-kilowatt-hour pilot project to demonstrate the battery’s potential: Continue reading GE adds a bit of sodium to its diet