Coal, Gas

Investing in an Installed Base

Issue 3 and Volume 118.

Martino   By Justin Martino, Associate Editor

New gas-fired power plants have many advantages for power producers: New technology is allowing new plants to reduce emissions, have faster starts and be more efficient than ever before. Unfortunately, with price tags reaching hundreds of millions of dollars, new power plants are also expensive, and companies may be uncomfortable making that type of capital investment when it isn’t strictly necessary.

Original equipment manufacturers have recognized this market niche, however, and are working to help power generators improve their current equipment without making the investment in a new plant by upgrading the equipment at an existing plant.

Upgrades for natural gas-fired power plants can involve a few different aspects. While upgrading the hardware at a plant will result in efficiency improvements, many upgrades focus on controls and software, especially for plants looking to upgrade how quickly it can start.

“Controls influence a lot on how quickly you can start the equipment, and what we’ve done with our controls is try to build a startup model that allows you to optimize your start time without putting any undue stress on the equipment,” said Justin Eggart, general manager of monitoring, software and analytics, power generations services for GE Power & Water.

Faster starts have become important for plants as more power producers use gas-fired plants in ways not originally intended, whether that involves cycling a plant to compensate for renewable energy production or using a plant designed as a peaker plant to produce baseload power.

Although controls may help increase efficiency and startup times, upgrading plant hardware is another option available to power producers. Upgrading hardware can have multiple positive benefits for a plant, including an increase in fuel efficiency and output, Eggart said.

“You can take your existing power plant and your existing turbine, and by making some modifications just to that hardware, you can get more power output and better fuel efficiency,” he said.

GE’s total upgrade package for gas turbine covers three areas: hardware, controls and a remote monitoring system. Although these three areas can be upgraded together, any of the three areas can be upgraded independently.

Eggart said GE will continue to look at ways to improve its current turbines on the market.

“GE is investing heavily in the installed base that we have today to make that perform better, and we’re doing a lot of that with investments in software and analytics and control,” he said. “It’s not just hardware. It’s not just the next generation gas turbine. It’s the investment we’re making in software and controls and analytics that are giving real performance benefits to our customers without having to build a new power plant.”

GE isn’t the only manufacturer to offer upgrade packages, however. Among others, Siemens and Alstom also offer upgrade packages for existing turbine, with Alstom recently announcing it would be installing its first MXL2 upgrade packagein the Middle East for Dubai Aluminum (DUBAL).

According to Alstom, the upgrade will allow a 1 percent increase in combined cycle mode efficiency, produce an additional 12 MW of gross power output, reduce CO2 emissions and increase service intervals by one-third at the plant.

Alstom calls the MXL2, which works on both the GT26 and GT24 turbines, an “established and proven upgrade” and said the product will allow for people who upgrade their components to have increased performance, improved operational flexibility and reduced maintenance costs.

With so many companies offering upgrades for existing turbines, power generators have more options than before. While a new plant may give a company the best possible results, upgrading an existing plant can provide benefits and extend the plant’s life without a major capital investment.

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