Intelligent Energy

GE's power plant combo pack: wind, solar and natural gas

GE's power plant combo pack: wind, solar and natural gas

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What do you get when you cross natural gas, solar thermal, and wind power? Electricity, of course, and a new type of hybrid power plant in Turkey.

A future scenario for electric power generation is that it will increasingly emerge from more varied sources of energy. General Electric seems to be taking this to heart with a new endeavor to combine wind, solar thermal and natural gas into one power plant.

A few weeks ago, Andrew Nusca described the company's FlexEfficiency 50 design for a hybrid power plant that could more efficiently intertwine renewable energy sources with natural gas. Able to quickly boost or cut production as needed, their combined cycle natural gas plant would better adjust to uneven influxes of power coming in from solar or wind farms. According to GE, piggybacking on a traditional natural gas plant would also potentially smooth wind and solar's integration to electricity grids and encourage their adoption worldwide.

Just such a power plant potpourri may materialize in Turkey in 2015.

On Tuesday, GE, Turkey's MetCap Energy, and California's eSolar announced plans for a plant that melds a natural gas facility with a 50-megawatt solar thermal plant and then links a 22-megawatt wind farm into a shared control system. The New York Times colorfully describes the plant as turning "a natural gas plant and a solar plant into conjoined twins; wind is more like a half-sibling."

The twins in this case are not identical. The 458-megawatt natural gas sibling is definitely the chubbier of the two. Still, the steam—produced by the waste heat after burning natural gas and by boiling water via concentrated sunshine—merge to power a turbine. With 25,000 mirrors directing sunlight toward a tall tower, the set-up for the solar thermal component is similar to BrightSource Energy's Ivanpah plant slated for southern California.

According to their website, eSolar's towers can heat steam at more than 800 degrees Fahrenheit. GE has other gas-solar hybrid plants, but they feature mirrored parabolic troughs that don't reach as high of temperatures. With the solar tower and their new gas and steam turbine designs, GE pins a shiny almost 70-percent efficiency rating on the plant. This has raised some eyebrows since most natural gas plants achieve efficiencies around half of that.

The NY Times:

GE calculates the figure by counting the sun and wind at zero, as a kind of hamburger helper for the natural gas. The calculation ignores the wind and sun that does not get converted to electricity, but on the other hand, the wind and sun are inexhaustible.

The company says the 530-megawatt project in Turkey, where natural gas prices are higher and renewable incentives are steadier than in the U.S., could generate enough power for 600,000-plus European households. Construction could begin as early as this year.

Related on SmartPlanet:

Images: eSolar and GE

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Melissa Mahony

Contributing Editor

Contributing Editor Melissa Mahony has written for Scientific American Mind, Audubon Magazine, Plenty Magazine and LiveScience. Formerly, she was an editor at Wildlife Conservation magazine. She holds degrees from Boston College and New York University's Science, Health, and Environmental Reporting Program. She is based in New York. Follow her on Twitter. Disclosure