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GE unveils power plant optimized for renewable energy

GE unveils power plant optimized for renewable energy

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General Electric's new kind of power plant can better handle the intermittent nature of renewable energy sources such as wind and solar power.

General Electric on Wednesday announced a new kind of power plant that can better handle the intermittent nature of renewable energy sources such as wind and solar power.

The company calls the plant, the 510-megawatt FlexEfficiency 50 Combined Cycle, the first of its kind. It can quickly ramp up and down in response to fluctuations from energy sources but still offer fuel efficiency at more than 61 percent, GE says.

The plant is the product of more than $500 million in research and development spending by the company.

Traditionally, a power plant was either better at more flexibility or high efficiency, but not both. GE says it used internal expertise from its jet engine division to engineer a plant that can ramp up at a rate of more than 50 megawatts per minute, twice the rate of industry standards.

GE says its engineers approached the plant's design from an equipment and control systems perspective, combining a next-generation 9FB gas turbine that operates at 50 Hz (the power frequency used most around the world) with a 109D-14 steam turbine, which runs on the waste heat produced by the gas turbine; A W28 generator, Mark VIe integrated control system and heat recovery steam generator round out the package.

This kind of operational flexibility allows utilities to deliver power quickly when needed -- such as during a mid-summer air conditioning demand spike -- and ramp down when it is not, helping utility companies avoid keeping power plants at full blast when it's not necessary, GE says.

That capability saves money and energy, and makes it easier to integrate renewable energy sources into the power grid.

“As our customers seek to increase their use of renewable energy, the challenge of grid stability sharpens," said Paul Browning, GE Power & Water's vice president for thermal products, in a statement. "They are under added pressure to achieve higher levels of efficiency and lower emissions for natural gas power plants."

The FlexEfficiency moniker will be expanded into a portfolio of products under the company's Ecomagination campaign, GE says. The move helps the company tailor its products to a coming natural gas boom while still supporting renewables adoption, particularly in European Union countries where regulations are strict.

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Andrew Nusca

Editor Emeritus

Andrew Nusca is editor of SmartPlanet and an associate editor for ZDNet. Previously, he worked at Money, Men's Vogue and Popular Mechanics magazines. He holds degrees from the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism and New York University. He is based in New York but resides in Philadelphia. Follow him on Twitter. Disclosure