Wednesday, July 6, 2011

New GE Power Plant Combines Utility and Renewables

Future power plants may well feature wind and solar power

I give a lot of grief to my friend Andy for sinking all the money he’s saved these past few years into buying a Prius.  Yes, I’m one of those who likes to characterize consumers like Andy who invest in hybrid technology as, for wont of a more graceful label, “suckers”.  As in “You’re a sucker for buying that thing because something more energy-efficient that doesn’t rely on gas nearly as much is only a few years away.”   Of course, the thought only occurs to me while I’m riding with Andy in said Prius, and so his usual response to my rant is to come to a screeching halt, and suggest I ride the bus.
The truth is we can look down on bridge technology as temporary, trendy or ripe for monetary manipulation all we want, but it is absolutely necessary if we have any hope of keeping energy production on pace with American population growth (which, by the way, is accelerating faster than any other first-world country’s.)  This not only means merging clean technology with our everyday surroundings like cars and roofs.  No, we need to think deeper, closer to resources; more at the heart of the matter.
Oh snap, someone already has:
Utilities are eyeing adding solar as a power source for conventional plants. Augmenting natural-gas-fired power plants with cells that capture the sun’s heat can boost a generating station’s total efficiency and increase its peak capacity.By using the plant’s existing infrastructure…steam turbines, transmission lines…they can produce renewable energy 30% cheaper than stand-alone solar installations.” 

Kiplinger Letter, June 24, 2011

Of course, utility companies make a lot of hubbub these days over integrating clean tech but not exactly stepping up to the plate in any real scenario, right?  Eyeing potential hybrid power sources is not exactly shelling out the investment to manufacture one, and we don’t see anyone doing that anytime soon, right?

Oh, double-snap, someone already did:

General Electric Co. (GE) said its new turbine designed to pair gas and renewable-power generation was chosen by Turkey’s MetCap Energy Investments
for the first combination solar-natural gas plant.

The site will use technology from closely held eSolar Inc., wind and the “FlexEfficiency” gas turbine GE announced last week. The combination will be able to operate at a fuel- efficiency rate of more than 70 percent, greater than the rate of 61 percent for the combined-cycle turbine alone, GE said. It also makes solar more cost-efficient.”
              , June 7, 2011
That’s the Gee-to-the-E putting its money where the collective advocacy’s mouth is and adding solar AND wind technology to a 530 Mw power plant in Karaman, Turkey. 
Now, this move has “publicity” written all over it, and the folks at take a well-deserved gut-punch at how this project is being advertised to the general public here.  But even though I do agree with them that the solar-wind augmentations are “window dressing” at best, I have to take issue with their assertion that “A bridge to renewable energy is a bridge to nowhere.”  Sure, there are hurdles in attaining profit in alternative energy.  And sure, if there’s no dependability on that alternative energy, GE is basically dipping half of a pinkie toe in the water.  But the fact that wind turbines and a solar tower are anywhere near a natural gas plant shows a willingness to create a template for different energy sources being constructed simultaneously.  That alone is huge.  Solar and wind may not be profitable now; but as more and more companies drive the costs of manufacturing down with each investment, they will be.  Having technology embedded in the construction process instead of added later makes it easier to augment when (not if) these sources become profitable.  It’s also important not to underestimate the value of a company like GE holding a vested interest in multiple energy resources.  It means less of a possibility that company will choose one over the other sooner rather than later.
Bridge technology is messy and its temporary status is frustrating, but a company like GE putting capital into it can never be overlooked.  They’re taking the first steps to something bigger.  Let’s hope others follow suit instead of standing still.
Like I am….waiting for the downtown line….sorry Andy.

Donal Thoms-Cappello is a freelance writer for Rotor Clip Company, Inc.

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