Energy super-giant GE has created a new type of power plant that it believes can address the intermittent nature renewable energy sources such as solar and wind power. The plant is said to be able to respond quickly to fluctuating electricity demands in a way that can efficiently supplement renewable energy sources that fluctuate themselves, perhaps paving a cleaner path to a future when 100% of energy comes from renewable resources.
GE claims the “Flex Efficiency 50 Combined Cycle Power Plant” is the first successful hybrid of flexibility and efficiency. The plant is rated at 510 megawatts and offers fuel efficiency greater than 61 percent. On its own, the plant is said to be able to provide enough energy to power over 600,000 homes.
Designing the plant apparently required completely new equipment and control technology. The FlexEfficiency 50 plant runs on natural gas using a newly developed gas turbine that operates at 50 Hz, a new steam turbine, which runs on heat left over by the gas turbine, an integrated control system was developed specifically to link the new technology together, and a heat recovery steam generator.
The plant can reportedly ramp up at a rate of more than 50 megawatts per minute, which GE says is twice the rate of current benchmarks. Flexibility of this sort is meant to provide power quickly when it is needed and to ramp back down when isn’t. In doing so, GE expects the plant could help balance the availability of power to the grid when renewable energy sources like solar or wind power can’t provide enough.