General Electric’s 9E Max gas turbine is entering a revival after intense feedback from clients was incorporated into a recent upgrade.
Robert Colwell, Senior Product Manager, 9EMax gas turbine technology for GE Power Services tells Power Engineering International how the new offering is set to offer compelling advantages over rival technologies, even within the company’s own stable.
Colwell puts a lot of emphasis on the constructive feedback long-term 9E clients provided to the company when all parties sat down to examine how the gas-fired power technology could be re-imagined.
“We were in the market making improvements, but we decided, based on customer feedback, to do a step change. We basically opted to re-design the entire gas turbine section. The original was a three-stage design, but we are now at fourth stage.”
“The 9E Max isn’t just an additional stage. We have re-designed all the stages and the benefits are as expected. Huge increase in output, around 13-15 MW more, a roughly 15 per cent improvement.”
“In efficiency, the fuel saving is significant, 10 per cent based on model and vintage. This is new and clean so if there is any degradation involved, it’s even more than that. It’s something that customers have been asking for.”
GE Power Services tested, installed and commissioned the new look 9E Max in Japan for customer Tepco. The Futtu power station was the subject of the services upgrade.
“These are very old machines so this was obviously an end of life solution for them. We installed the first unit and commissioned it just two months ago, are working on the second right now and just shipped the third unit. The remaining units will be shipped by the end of the year.”
Japan’s biggest power producer is, in the post-Fukushima era, trying to produce more of its electricity through gas, and GE met with their officials with a view to keeping the price of this strategy down.
“We’re meeting their need to decrease their fuel consumption as Asian fuel costs are among the highest in the world. This is an issue for them, which arose during customer feedback. For that feedback, we use a process called FastWorks. What it basically does is drive us to seek feedback during the development phase of the programme and incorporate the needs of the customers.”
“When we sat down with them we extracted from them what they really wanted –that value play that will help them improve their operations, and their assets and optimize what they already have. The engineers sat at the table incorporated that and the result is the fourth stage upgrade.”
Colwell says the technology they’ve fine-tuned is of particular relevance to the Middle East and Sub-Saharan Africa, although the division was surprised at the level of interest coming from Eastern Europe.
“The majority of business will come from those geographies and the reason for that is back in the 1970s this was the latest technology. Now although a fairly mature machine, the 9E was the first gas technology in the world to exceed 100 MW as far as capability is concerned. But four decades on we have F Class and H Class. The reason for its strong presence in the Middle East and Africa is that it is so robust. There is a strong fleet presence but they are coming to their end of design life and facing reliability issues again.
“That need is still there for a lot of baseload units running 9Es all year round. The opportunities are piling up and we expect several commissions by the end of the year.”
One of the most attractive aspects to the technology offering is its financial rationale. Going from a 3 to 4 stage upgrade is, says Colwell, not your average upgrade cost.
“That return on investment needs to have bang for that buck and that’s where that additional output comes in for those developing economies. The need for additional megawattage is driving customer requests.”
It could be argued that the 9E now looks more attractive financially than its siblings in the GE power portfolio, as well as external rivals.
“Pure capital expenditure (CapEx) is low compared to the higher performing machines.”
“We have been able to compete with more efficient products. If you want to compete against an F Class machine, the pricing is much higher than E Class. Our cost structure makes us very competitive even against better-performing machines.”
“That cost structure is so much lower when you look at CapEx but also your Operating Expenditure is much lower because we can extend your intervals to four years operational or 32,000 hours for every maintenance cycle. A lot of your products in the market now can only offer 24,000 hours or 16,000, so every four years a maintenance cycle and a product life itself or part life is 12 years or 96,000 hours.”
“That brings your maintenance cycle costs way down. That life cycle cost is very low not just because of extended outages. For part life when you do have to replace or repair a component you are only purchasing E-Class material.”
A recurring theme, when speaking to clientele, has driven GE’s approach in the 9E space.
“The number 1 priority for any 9E operator is reliability, no matter what the cost or performance is. For the last decade, for every 9E operator that’s been the key attribute.”
“There was a lot of ways we could have approached it but what we didn’t want to do is to impact on that reliability. We could have gotten more efficiency and eked out more megawatts but we didn’t want to impact on productivity and so we stayed conservative about implementing this design.”
The approach is not new to GE’s gas turbine community, with lots of experience in bringing
“It has been tried and proven within GE in our gas turbine community and we have lots of experience of going from three to four stage for H-Class for instance.
“It’s new to the E class but not new to GE. We have taken that proven design with lots of experience and applied it in a conservative choice to the 9E. So we don’t have the top performing, leading edge technology but what we do have is a reliab
le machine that we have proven and validated.”
The evolution of power technology since the original heyday of the 9E is now being used to work to the advantage of the old turbine.
Potential customers are, according to Colwell, knocking on Tepco’s door to see how their upgraded system is faring.
“We want to grow the market and are basically getting our regional teams ready to connect with customers, providing that information on how they can improve their operations, whether efficiency, output or part load solutions or a combination.”
“That goes with digital content as well. That wasn’t available back in the 70s. We an now use that digital control to further increase that reliability – we are infusing this machine with the latest technology”
“We upgraded that Tepco plant’s entire control system to our latest mark 16 technology, which allows us to complement all these digital tools and programmes and content for reliability, flexibility and performance-driven assets- the digital content was part of that template.”
So what can GE do for a standard plant, in terms of efficiencies and bottom lines?
“For efficiency we can look at 3.5 points in simple cycle – so typically if current efficiency is 34.5 we can go to 37. We get baseload output from 131 to 145 – this is a key trigger point; it makes a difference.”
“As for the 9E at Tepco we have been able to improve their machine about 4.2 per cent in efficiency. That’s a combined cycle and that goes from 47.2 to 51 4.”