New “Flexible” Power Plants Sway to Keep Up with Renewables

New “Flexible” Power Plants Sway to Keep Up with Renewables

Thursday, November 21, 2013 - 9:30am

CAMPAIGN: Energy at GE

CONTENT: Article

Shifting rapidly with the weather, the supply of renewable power can be quite changeable. Most power plants, however, are anything but. Unable to ramp up or down quickly and efficiently, conventional facilities lack the ability to capitalize on a growing influx of wind and solar power to the grid.

Now the technology behind power plants is shifting in response. In California, two new "flex" plants have been built to swoop in and fill the gap with natural gas when renewable resources fall short of demand. One of the plants, the modernized El Segundo Energy Center, opened in September near Los Angeles. The project, which is operated by NRG Energy and uses technology from Siemens, is only the second of its kind in commercial operation nationwide; the first opened last year in Lodi, near Stockton. (See related quiz: "What You Don't Know About Electricity.")


Siemens is not alone in promoting new gas turbines: Alstom, Mitsubishi and General Electric (GE) have all rolled out new generation systems in recent years with an emphasis on flexibility. All of them feature upgrades that go beyond the efficiencies of combined-cycle technology: By adjusting internal controls, improving specific components, and reworking architecture, manufacturers are aiming to provide fast-start turbines that can adjust output quickly without sacrificing performance.

"In the past, there was always a compromise between having highly efficient gas turbine combined-cycle plants, or very flexible gas turbine power plants," said James Donohue, senior marketing manager with GE Power & Water. "We really think that with this technology, you don't have to make that choice anymore."

Read the full article on National Geographic.