GE says its new gas-plant design can address the sudden drops that occur with renewable forms of energy. General Electric announced on Thursday that it’s designed a gas-fired combined-cycle power plant that can start up rapidly. The goal is to help electricity grids adapt to the variability of renewable energy.
With a small but growing proportion of electricity in Europe being supplied by wind and solar power, grid operators need new ways to deal with fluctuations in supply. The supply from solar drops dramatically at night, while wind installations only provide power when the wind is blowing. GE’s new plant can ramp up electricity generation at a rate of more than 50 megawatts a minute—twice the rate of current industry benchmarks. The plant can start from scratch in less than 30 minutes.
GE is testing a pilot plant at its facility in Greenville, South Carolina, but the plant won’t come into operation any earlier than 2015. The plant will have a base load fuel efficiency of 61 percent, higher than other gas combined-cycle power plants. A base load power plant is one that’s dedicated to providing a continuous supply of energy. Nuclear and coal plants commonly provide base load power. Such plants offer relatively cheap energy, but they can take hours or days to start up, which isn’t fast enough to meet fluctuations in supply from renewables.
GE’s 510-megawatt plant design is the result of a $500 million investment by the company. It features new, more efficient gas and steam turbines, as well as a new integrated electronic control system.