GE to build “Hybrid” Power Plant (It’s really a gas burner)

June 12th, 2011

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I predict we’re going to see a lot more of this: Fossil fuel power plants providing the actual energy but with some wind and solar window dressing to make it seem like it’s something it is not.

Via Bloomberg:

GE Wins First Solar-Gas Hybrid Plant From Turkey’s MetCap

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.

“This will be a power plant that combines wind, natural gas and integrated combined technology under one roof,†Paul Browning, who runs thermal products at GE Energy, the world’s biggest maker of power-generation equipment, said at a Milan press conference.

The plant, to be located in Karaman, Turkey, will have a capacity of about 530 megawatts, enough to power more than 600,000 homes, MetCap Chairman Celal Metin said at the conference.

“We have worked with every single party in industry who has something to offer in state-of-art, in gas turbines, steam turbines, solar sites and wind,†Metin said. “We did not give it to them. They earned it.â€
Gas, Steam, Wind

The plant will integrate GE’s 9FB gas turbine, which has a capacity of 510 megawatts and a frequency of 50 hertz; a steam turbine; a generator; GE wind-turbine power; and power from eSolar-concentrated thermal tower technology, according to a statement from the companies.

“Solar-thermal with combined-cycle power plant are the most economic there is,†Browning said in an interview. He said Fairfield, Connecticut-based GE expects more order announcements in the “weeks and months ahead.â€

So lets call this what it is: This is an entirely off the shelf combined cycle gas-fired power plant – nothing special about it. It does achieve pretty good efficiency, although that’s just because GE has been refining their turbine designs a lot in the past few years to squeeze out some additional thermal efficiency from these types of power plants. The combined cycle gas plant is not there to augment the wind and solar power systems or to be used when it’s cloudy and the wind is not blowing – the gas burner *is* the power plant and the wind and solar systems are suck on there to make it look like something it is not.

A few wind turbines have been added. They’re not even really part of the power plant. They’re just some wind turbines. If the wind is blowing continuously at a high rate of speed, it’s possible that a small amount less gas will be burned. The wind farm only has a net nameplate capacity of about 22 megawatts. During normal operations, the best one might hope to get for any period of time is going to be less than ten megawatts, and even that will only be during reasonably good conditions. Compared to the capacity of the gas-fired unit that’s not much at all. Considering that some of the capacity will need to be maintained as fast-dispatch reserve when the wind is blowing, the resulting savings in gas will be very very modest.

The solar thermal “power tower” is yet another example of window dressing. These kind of installations are supposed to eliminate the intermittent nature of solar power by providing thermal mass for energy storage. Yet it seems that here again, it has proven incapable of pulling its own weight as a power generator. Instead it will add a modest amount of extra thermal energy to the plant’s conventional power recovery boiler system. Like the wind system, it will rarely, if ever, actually reach nameplate output levels.

The idea of combining solar thermal power with conventional thermal power plants is not a new one. On the surface it seems to make sense: use the “free” energy of the sun to pre-heat the feed-water and thus grab a bit more energy to produce the steam. Unfortunately, in practice the amount of additional energy which can be obtained is so modest it can’t really justify the expensive upkeep of the solar collectors.

The economic argument is fairly transparent. Stating that solar thermal and natural gas are economical when paired is essentially admitting that solar thermal is not economical but that when a small solar thermal collection station is added to a gas power plant, the cost is nominal – low enough to justify it on the basis of subsidies and publicity. If the solar thermal plant were actually economical in its own right, that would be all that would be needed. If the cost per megawatt of solar thermal were actually favorable, it would make more sense to build ten 50 megawatt solar plants than one 50 megawatt plant and a 500 megawatt gas burner.

Ultimately, however, this plant has already succeeded in its main objective: It’s gotten attention, good press and has people talking about what a great step forward it is and how it’s a “bridge to renewable energy.” It’s no such thing. A bridge to renewable energy is a bridge to nowhere. This is just a gas burner. Don’t be fooled.

The power plant should be completed around 2015, unless it explodes during construction, as such power plants sometimes do.


This entry was posted on Sunday, June 12th, 2011 at 5:44 pm and is filed under Bad Science, Enviornment, Misc, Obfuscation, Politics. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.
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17 Responses to “GE to build “Hybrid” Power Plant (It’s really a gas burner)”

  1. 1
    Chris Says:

    A few years ago a toured a Solar Thermal installation near Vegas and was very impressed with the technology and the simple installation (simple mirrors and glass + turbine generating 68 MW with no fuel cost). The downside was every night they spun down the turbine (bad idea) because their heat source went away. They really wanted to run a gas fired boiler at night to spare the turbine – but the tax credit for alternative fuels does not allow the use of any fossil fuel at a solar plant. The GE approach blends the technologies in a way that might work at incrementally lowering the cost of natural gas and makes the plant more competitive in the right location. The wind is just a joke.


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  2. 2
    Atomikrabbit Says:

    That methane pig looks real purty with a little lipstick on her.


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  3. 3
    jon Says:

    Apart from a few birds who’ll get munched by the wind turbines, this is probably a reasonable feel-good solution. The town gets a power plant that actually produces energy (the gas part), everyone else from government officials to local customers can delude themselves into thinking they’re doing something for clean energy. Environmentalists don’t care about the facts & figures anyway so they’ll never notice it’s the gas part doing all the work. It’s all bull****, but evidence shows bull**** makes more people happy than reality.

    I only hope they use the cheapest materials to build the wind turbines, or even save costs by forgoing real solar panels & just covering some blue cellophane with glass. Like those fake ‘hybrid’ car badges, making them could be a good future business.


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  4. 4
    George Carty Says:

    Reminds me of this speech by Robert F. Kennedy Jr posted on Atomic Insights.

    As I pointed out on the YouTube comments, comparing the area of solar panels (for the plant he was talking about) with the rated power output suggests it’s about 1% solar and 99% gas…


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  5. 5
    Rod Adams Says:

    @Jon – I hope you are joking. I am all for spending a little extra money when designing and building power plants to make them esthetically pleasing neighbors, but I am adamantly opposed to falsehood in advertising.

    IF the United States is able to extract every single cubic foot of proven, probable, possible and speculative resources under our large country and IF we are able to get that gas to a market (which might require some seriously uneconomic investment in pipelines depending on the location of the resource compared to the location of the market), and IF we do not allow our use of natural gas to grow any larger than it already is, the very optimistic projection for our total resource base provided by the Potential Gas Committee report of 2010 indicates that we have 94 years before we run out.

    I have a 17 month old granddaughter. My grandmother lived to be 97. Based on those numbers, I fully expect her to still be alive when the gas flame goes out if we continue on our present course and speed. That would be a tragedy that I will do everything in my power to avoid. Methane is a valuable raw material for so many useful products. It is incredibly selfish for the generations that are making decisions today to pick technology that will consume that resource as fast as possible in order to produce short term profits for greedy folks like those that run GE.

    That company own the designs for two very useful, emission free, fossil fuel free power production units. Why don’t they market the ABWR and the ESBWR with a bit more gusto if they are really interested in providing exceptional power sources instead of just selling crap?

    Rod Adams
    Publisher, Atomic Insights


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  6. 6
    Soylent Says:

    Of course it’s a gas burner. Here’s a smoking gun curtesy of Rod: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qcm1gmPL50s


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  7. 7
    George Carty Says:

    Hey, I linked to that YouTube video first!


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  8. 8
    Soylent Says:

            George Carty said:

    Hey, I linked to that YouTube video first!

    Quiet you, or I shall link to it again!


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  9. 9
    Anon Says:

            George Carty said:

    Hey, I linked to that YouTube video first!

            Soylent said:

    Quiet you, or I shall link to it again!

    Now now, no need to fight, just look at those shiny solar panels, no no no, don’t look at that gas turbine, you’re meant to be looking at the solar panels, see how shiny they are.

            jon said:

    I only hope they use the cheapest materials to build the wind turbines, or even save costs by forgoing real solar panels & just covering some blue cellophane with glass. Like those fake ‘hybrid’ car badges, making them could be a good future business.

    Fake solar panels have already been found in cheap ‘solar’ calculators, so it wouldn’t be at all new.


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  10. 10
    BMS Says:

            Rod Adams said:

    … I am adamantly opposed to falsehood in advertising.

    And that’s why you don’t work on Madison Avenue, and that’s why you don’t work for the natural gas (and oil) industry.


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  11. 11
    Jon Says:

            Rod Adams said:

    @Jon – I hope you are joking. I am all for spending a little extra money when designing and building power plants to make them esthetically pleasing neighbors, but I am adamantly opposed to falsehood in advertising.

    I was kind of joking, but then I’m from the PR industry so there’s a good chance I wasn’t.


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  12. 12
    Mehran Says:

    Maybe there is an lessen here? why not slap some solar panels on the top of a nuclear power plant? sprinkle a few wind turbines around it as well.

    hell you could even tie them in to the battery’s as part of the back up systems. I grow up in an town that was dominantly by a bp oil refinery. When there was worries about the oil refinery affecting the health of the local people they paid for a athletic stadium to be built. I also remember them always matching any money raised for charity locally.

    believe it or not it has gave me a positive view of the BP .

    sometimes you have to sweeten the bitter pill. does it matter if you have to paint a rainbow on the side of a nuclear power plant…as long as it gets build?


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  13. 13
    George Carty Says:

    Good points Mehran, but I also think that a lot of people are hostile to modernity in general (not just industrial installations of various kinds) because of its perceived ugliness.


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  14. 14
    Alan Says:

    This post does is too wrapped up in the fact that solar thermal itself isn’t economic in any circumstance to actually address the fact that the marginal return on investment by augmenting a natural gas plant with solar thermal is far greater than that for a a stand-alone solar thermal plant.

    Any renewable advocate who knows what they’re talking about outright admits that intermittent sources mean that the marginal offset of fuel burned in fossil plants is not 100%, so the reality of this solar thermal plant is that it offsets fossil fuels but it does so more efficiently than the competitors.

    That entire argument there is completely agnostic to whether or not solar thermal in itself is economic. To the extent that we are going to invest in GW scale solar thermal for better or worse, we need to maximize the economic return, because that is a big investment, and regardless of if you think solar thermal is 2x, 3x, or 4x from grid parity, increasing a fraction of 1/4 to 1.1/4 still matters.

    This entire post is the story of how A>C as a response to stories publicizing the fact that C>B.


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  15. 15
    Anon Says:

            Alan said:

    That entire argument there is completely agnostic to whether or not solar thermal in itself is economic. To the extent that we are going to invest in GW scale solar thermal for better or worse, we need to maximize the economic return, because that is a big investment, and regardless of if you think solar thermal is 2x, 3x, or 4x from grid parity, increasing a fraction of 1/4 to 1.1/4 still matters.

    Even better would be to recognise that it isn’t worth doing and not even try, instead spend the money on technologies which actually have a record of displacing fossil fuels (right now that’s hydro and nuclear). If you don’t want to build a dam or a reactor then either turn out all the lights (and everything else for that matter) or admit that you don’t care if the planet heats up (I do sometimes wonder how long it’ll take for the anti-nuclear movement to start denying global warming).

    Making what is nowhere near good enough just a little bit less worse than it was isn’t going to help anywhere near enough and may even be counter-productive because it takes resources away from what actually can help.


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  16. 16
    SteveK9 Says:

    Maybe there is an lessen here? why not slap some solar panels on the top of a nuclear power plant? sprinkle a few wind turbines around it as well.

    Areva was planning to do this near Fresno. I think the Fresno city council has been scared off by Fukushima for the time being.


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  17. 17
    I'mnotreallyhere Says:

    So am I right in saying that we again have a company releasing a “hybrid” product where “hybrid” should forever be encased in inverted commas as the non-polluting* part is a trivial fraction of the overall output – much like referring to my post-hip replacement father as a “cyborg”.

    I think I should get a plant for my office and start referring to my desk as a “hybrid”.

    * = at point of delivery, ignoring the horrible chemical pollution / embodied energy & CO2 from production of this stuff.

            Soylent said:

    Quiet you, or I shall link to it again!

    @George : We must stop him, before he links again!

            Rod Adams said:

    I have a 17 month old granddaughter. My grandmother lived to be 97. Based on those numbers, I fully expect her to still be alive when the gas flame goes out if we continue on our present course and speed. That would be a tragedy that I will do everything in my power to avoid.

    @Rod : Whilst your point is, in general, very sane, I think it’s more reasonable to consider your granddaughter’s lifespan in terms of improving life expectancy and evolving medical science than against the potentially rather unrepresentative anecdote of your grandmother who is (if you’ve not mistakenly cited your own grandmother rather than the little girl’s grandmother) four generations of genetic dilution away.

    I must admit, I’d never really considered the pro-nuclear argument in terms of the useful chemical feedstocks for future generations which are presently being burnt up to keep the lights on, it’s one I’ll have to try to read up on.


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