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GE Power Plant To Complement Renewables

GE developed a natural gas-fired plant designed to balance electricity generated by intermittent power sources as it flows into an electricity grid.

NEW YORK (AP) -- General Electric Co. has developed a large new natural gas-fired power plant designed to balance increasing amounts of electricity generated by intermittent power sources like wind and solar as it flows into an electricity grid.

GE says the power plant, which can produce 510 megawatts of peak power, ramps up twice as quickly as the fastest existing big plants.

Utilities must constantly match the amount of electricity generated by power plants on a grid with demand for power. This is becoming more difficult and expensive with increasing amounts of wind and solar power because utilities must make quick adjustments when the wind dies or the sun is hidden.

"Our customers have been asking for flexibility," said John Krenicki, CEO of GE's energy division, in an interview. "This is the most flexible heavy-duty power plant."

Fast-starting power plants have traditionally been small and less efficient than traditional ones, but GE says this plant is more fuel-efficient than any other available.

GE and others make small, simple natural gas-fired turbines much like jet engines that can reach full power in 10 minutes or so. These are only about 46 percent efficient though, and don't provide much power, so utilities use them only for short stretches to stabilize the grid.

Bigger gas-fired power plants that combine a turbine with a steam generator produce lots of power at about 60 percent efficiency, but they take an hour or more to ramp up to full power.

GE's new plant is big enough to power 350,000 homes, it is 61 percent efficient and it can reach full power in about 30 minutes.

GE will first offer the power plant to utilities in Europe. Countries there are aggressively adding wind and solar power to their grids and natural gas prices are high, making efficiency especially important. GE will start taking orders this year and ship the new plants to customers in 2014.

Krenicki says GE will also offer a version for the US market in coming years. The U.S. is expanding its reliance on renewables relatively slowly, but low natural gas prices and tightening clean-air rules are prompting utilities to turn away from coal and lean more on natural gas.
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