In the push to deliver more environmentally sustainable energy for an increasingly urbanized and technologically driven world, interest is growing among those in the power generation industry for a mix of existing clean energy plus flexible use of wind and solar energy.

At its unveiling yesterday in Paris, GE Energy said it spent $500 million to design its 510-megawatt FlexEfficiency 50 power plant. The company described it as a "breakthrough" for its ability make the most use of wind and solar power, although it focused on its core power generation from gas and steam which it viewed as viable for the next several decades.

According to the Financial Times, the plant's gas turbine will initially be manufactured in France and targeted at the European Union where governments have set a goal that renewable power should provide 20 percent of all energy by 2020.

To accommodate a proliferation of electric cars and increasing reliance on energy worldwide, clean and efficient sources are needed. GE says its new gas and steam plus solar and wind-compatible power plant will help make this future possible.

“With global energy demand expected to double by 2030 and electricity generation accounting for 40 percent of greenhouse gas emissions, utilities and government bodies are taking a hard look at how to produce power more efficiently,” said Ricardo Cordoba, president of GE Energy for Western Europe and North Africa. “This innovation can have a dramatic effect on CO₂ emissions and offers a nimble, efficient and cost-effective way for us to help EU countries in their pursuit of 20-20-20 energy goals.”

The FlexEfficiency 50 name given it by the Atlanta-based company denotes it is aimed first at the European market where the 50 Hz power generation cycle is most common. Its name also speaks of its innovative capabilities, GE Energy said.

“While power plants today can provide flexibility or high efficiency, this power plant will deliver an unprecedented combination of both,” GE Energy said, thus it “calls this combination of flexibility and efficiency ‘ FlexEfficiency ,’ which is essential if renewable power is going to cost-effectively integrate into power grids around the world on a large scale.”

Pictured at GE Energy's launch yesterday in Paris of the FlexEfficiency 50 Combined Cycle Power Plant (L to R): Frederic Greiner, General Manager, Sales & Commercial Operations of Thermal Products; Paul Browning, Vice President of Thermal Products; Steve Bolze, President and CEO of GE Power & Water.

Although no plans for the U.S. are known at present, it is expected GE Energy's technology will in time come here as energy demands require new plants to be constructed.

The Financial Times reported the U.S. has no prospects of enacting national controls on CO₂ emissions for the foreseeable future – which further explains why the American company GE Energy is marketing its power plant first in Europe. However, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has proposed extensive action against local pollution such as mercury and arsenic, and this threatens the economics of older coal plants.

In the U.S., where a 60 Hz cycle is the norm, the plant might be designed to be a FlexEfficiency 60, although this is only speculation by a representative who asked not to be identified we spoke with on background.

FlexEfficiency 50 Combined Cycle Power Plant.

Regarding the European initiative, GE Energy said the FlexEfficiency 50 offers a record 61-percent efficiency. Thus far no customers have been announced in Europe either, but you can be sure that will probably not take long – nor will constructing a new plant, as it is designed to be built inside of two years, and is to be a model of maintenance efficiency as well.

The system centers around an integration of GE Energy’s highly evolved, jet engine technology based 9FB gas turbine and 109D-14 Steam Turbine. These work in conjunction with GE's W28 generator and Heat Recovery Steam Generator to deliver enough energy to power 600,000 EU homes, while meeting stringent EU emissions standards.

“GE drew from the company’s jet engine expertise to engineer a plant that will ramp up at a rate of more than 50 megawatts per minute, twice the rate of today’s industry benchmarks,” GE Energy said. “Operational flexibility at these levels will enable utilities to deliver power quickly when it is needed and to ramp down when it is not, balancing the grid cost-effectively and helping to deploy additional renewable power resources like wind and solar.”

5/26/11, 2:30 E.S.T. UPDATE: GE Energy replied today this video is now on Youtube, so here you are.

GE Energy said the FlexEfficiency 50 plant is the first product in GE’s new FlexEfficiency portfolio and part of GE’s ecomagination commitment to drive clean energy technology through innovation and R&D investment.

GE noted it is on a roll in sustainable energy, and the launch follows its recent announcements of the world’s most efficient wind turbine, the highest reported efficiency for thin film solar and $11 billion in acquisitions that strengthen a portfolio supporting natural gas and power transmission.

“As our customers seek to increase their use of renewable energy, the challenge of grid stability sharpens. They are under added pressure to achieve higher levels of efficiency and lower emissions for natural gas power plants. The FlexEfficiency 50 plant creates an immense growth opportunity in a new segment for our gas turbine technology and is in lock-step with our commitment to build a cleaner energy future,” said Paul Browning, vice president – thermal products for GE Power & Water. “For years we have been working to develop technology that can, in the same breath, deliver breakthrough efficiency and deal head-on with the challenge of grid variability caused by wind and solar. The need for combined flexibility and efficiency is even more pressing today as countries around the world establish new emissions standards.”

The thinking behind Ecomagination.

On Tuesday this week, an International Energy Agency report concluded that large shares of variable renewable energy are feasible as long as power systems and markets are properly configured so that they can get the best use of their flexible resources.

GE Energy said the FlexEfficiency 50 Combined Cycle Power Plant meets these criteria.

As far as competition goes, GE Energy is in a race with Siemens of Germany, Mitsubishi Heavy Industries of Japan, and Alstom of France, which the Financial Times said are increasingly designing and creating heavy-duty equipment intended to turn gas into electricity.

9FBGT gas turbine. Click here for the video . Click back button to come back.

New methods and sources of extracting natural gas – and more recently – societal reaction to the results of Japan's nuclear disaster in March, have helped spur more interest in natural gas.

GE Energy is reportedly the leading producer of gas turbines, and these are responsible for about a quarter of the company’s revenues.

In an interview with the Financial Times, Jeff Immelt, GE’s chief executive, said that a year ago “we basically thought the heavy-duty turbine shipments would be flat in 2011 and 2012, now we see growth this year, we see growth next year.”

109D-14 Steam Turbine. Click here for the video . Click back button to come back.

Immelt contended that the world is at the start of a “natural gas power generation cycle,” which is being led by countries such as China and India, but could soon see demand return in the previously stagnant U.S. market.

ExxonMobil, the world's largest private sector oil company has been investing heavily in natural gas. The company believes that from 2005 to 2030 the use of gas for power plants will rise by 85 percent, taking its share of the global generation mix from 22 to 27 percent.

W28 Generator.

The Financial Times noted that a new gas-fired plant can be built to generate electricity for about 6 cents per kilowatt hour due to decreased gas costs, whereas a new coal-fired plant’s costs would be about 7.5 cents per kilowatt hour, according to Navigant, a consulting company.

Mitsubishi Heavy Industries of Japan, the world’s third-largest gas turbine manufacturer, has been investing in plants to make components and assemble turbines in the US. Alstom, the fourth largest, hopes to re-enter the U.S. market with a new product after being locked out since 2001, when problems emerged with its GT24 turbine.

The Financial Times also interviewed John Krenicki, the vice-chairman of GE in charge of its energy business. He said the group was “looking at a 25-year, very bullish market” for gas, and making acquisitions and investing in new products to profit from it.

“It’s not that we don’t like renewables or nuclear: they are there for the long haul," Krenicki said, "But there has been a step change in the gas opportunity for power generation that makes it extremely competitive against other forms of power.”

About GE Energy: The company is a part of GE, a 300,000-employee, 100-plus-country corporation (NYSE: GE). Its self description says: "The businesses that comprise GE Energy – GE Power & Water, GE Energy Services and GE Oil & Gas – work together with more than 90,000 global employees and 2010 revenues of $38 billion, to provide integrated product and service solutions in all areas of the energy industry including coal, oil, natural gas and nuclear energy; renewable resources such as water, wind, solar and biogas; as well as other alternative fuels and new grid modernization technologies to meet 21st century energy needs."

Sources: GE News Center , Financial Times , Financial Times again