A View from Kevin Bullis
GE Announces Jet Engine-Inspired Power Plant
An efficient and flexible gas turbine based on jet engines could clear the way for widespread renewable power.
Today, GE announced a new power plant that is 61 percent efficient and can quickly ramp up to produce power, allowing it to make up for variations in power output from wind turbines.
Here’s why this matters:
Wind power is variable. It depends on how fast the wind is blowing. These fluctuations could destabilize the grid and cause blackouts, especially as more wind turbines are attached to the grid. To make up for this variability, grid operators turn to natural gas peaking power plants that are designed to quickly ramp up power production. The problem with these plants is that they are very inefficient—the best ones from GE convert only 46 percent of the energy in natural gas into electricity, and older ones can have efficiency as low as 28 percent. So-called baseload natural gas power plants are far more efficient, but they take too long to change power output to keep up with changes in the wind.
The new generator can change power output quickly, and it can generate about two times more power from a cubic foot of natural gas than old, inefficient peaking plants. It’s also more efficiency than even baseload plants. The new power plant could make the inefficient ones unnecessary, reducing carbon dioxide emissions. The higher efficiency could also reduce power costs.
Become an MIT Technology Review Insider for in-depth analysis and unparalleled perspective.Subscribe today