General Electric (GE) on Wednesday unveiled a first-of-its-kind gas-fired power plant that works in tandem with renewable energy.
The plant can ramp up or down quickly in response to fluctuations in wind or solar energy, GE says, enabling the integration of mre renewable energy sources into the power grid.
The FlexEfficiency 50 Combined Cycle Power Plant is the result of $500 million in R&D spending. It's rated at 510 megawatts (MW) and offers fuel efficiency greater than 61%.
While power plants today can provide either flexibility or high efficiency, GE says the new power plant is groundbreaking, because it offers both.
Such flexibility is essential if renewable energy is going to cost-effectively integrate into power grids around the world on a large scale.
GE drew from the company's jet engine expertise to engineer the plant. It can ramp up at a rate of over 50 MW per minute, twice the rate of today's industry benchmarks.
Operational flexibility at these levels will enable utilities to deliver power quickly when it's needed and to ramp down when it is not, balancing the grid cost-effectively.
Currently, utilities have to keep dirty fossil fuel plants ready to compensate for fluctuations in renewable energy, in order to supply steady power to the grid. Utilties often avoid investing in wind or solar because they have to also invest in this back up power, which raises the costs.
"Much of today's power generation technology is serving yesterday's power grid. Institutions and individuals everywhere are looking for cost-effective ways to use solar, wind and gas energy on a large scale. But they often assume that renewable energy can simply plug-in to the existing power grid," says Steve Bolze, president and CEO of GE Power & Water.
"Throughout GE, we have invested to strengthen our global portfolio with a view to delivering efficient power generation across clean energy technologies. We expect this FlexEfficiency breakthrough to help take advantage of abundant natural gas while we simultaneously carve a fresh path to accelerate wider adoption of renewable energy, all with less impact on natural resources."
The FlexEfficiency 50 plant is the first product in GE's new FlexEfficiency portfolio.