Gas Turbine to Help Grow Renewable Energy

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open steam turbine photo

General Electric (GE) says that it has developed a combined cycle power plant consisting of a gas and steam turbine which has a unique quality:

The ability to increase or decrease electricity production quickly and efficiently. The emphasis on speed and efficiency is because other baseload power plants cannot do that, which complicates the process of compensating for/meeting sudden spikes in electricity demand. Peaking power plants are usually powered by gasoline or natural gas burning engines which can be switched on and off quickly to meet demand, but they are not the most economical generators. They are normally used to backup coal, nuclear, thermal natural gas (steam), combined cycle, geothermal, wind, and other types of power plants when electricity demand peaks.

GE says that this FlexEfficiency* 50 power plant enables its operators to increase its power production at a rate of up to 50 MW per minute. GE says that this invention can also start in 30 minutes.

Combined cycle power plants usually operate by first using a gas burning engine such as a gas turbine to generate electricity, and then use the heat radiated by the gas turbine to boil water into steam. The steam is then passed through the steam turbine which also generates electricity. Gas burning engines generate mechanical, electrical, and heat energy. Mechanical energy is produced by turning the turbine blades. That mechanical energy is converted into electrical energy by an alternating current generator.

Less than 40% of the energy generated by a gasoline burning engine is electricity. The rest of it is heat, most of which is wasted by the engine itself. The alternating current generator does waste a little, though. Roughly 90% of the heat generated by the turbine is available to boil water. Boiling water causes it to expand and then become steam (water vapour). The steam pressure is allowed to build up and rushes through the steam turbine, turning it.

This invention is important for renewable energy sources such as wind and solar because they need a generator which can not only start quickly but be adjusted to compensate for or fill in for a shortage of wind or solar power when the wind slows down or a cloud passes over.

GE says that this power plant can operate very efficiently (60% efficiency) at even 40% of the rated power production capacity.

h/t GE

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Steam turbine photograph via Wikimedia user Siemens Pressebild

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Nicholas Brown

Has a keen interest in physics-intensive topics such as electricity generation, refrigeration and air conditioning technology, energy storage, and geography. His website is:

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