GE’s new facility aims at cleaner coal plants

GE officially launched its Powering Efficiency Centre of Excellence (COE) on Monday, as it looks to help the global coal power fleet to reduce its overall emissions.

Power Engineering International spoke to Michael Rechsteiner, vice president of GE Power Services about the new facility and its implications for the coal sector.

GE recognises that despite the global transition towards renewable energy, coal is not going to disappear for decades to come, so in facing that reality, are looking to make new and existing plants more efficient and cleaner.

“It’s a fact that today 41 per cent of the world’s electricity is produced from coal-fired steam plants and different countries are in different states of energy transformation.”

“Each country faces individual challenges in balancing the role of coal power in their own political and eco systems,” says Rechsteiner. “Regardless of each country’s unique balance, coal will not only remain part of the long-term energy mix but in accordance withà‚  assumptions from the International Energy Agency, it will even increase in some capacity over the next two decades. It remains an important player.”

India is a top priority for the COE and this week saw the opening of center’s team at HQ in Baden, Switzerland but also its regional centre on the subcontinent.

60 per cent of India’s electricity is produced by coal-fired power plants and while Prime Minister Modi’s governmeGE Infographicnt is making a strong push to increase renewable capacity, it is not ignoring its coal resource.

It is the fifth biggest coal producer in the world and there is a huge need for additional capacity in the country. The same applies to China, other Asian economies and even some countries in Europe. Given that context it wouldn’t be wise to simply wish coal power away, and instead of doing that, GE is looking at reducing the emissions involved.

“By bringing together the combined experience of a cross-business group of experts from GE’s Power Services, Steam Power Systems, Global Research Center and Global Growth organisations, we are showing operators how they can achieve emissions compliance and increased efficiency with their coal-fired power plants.”

“A study done here at GE shows potential with our current technology to increase average efficiency of coal-fired power plants by 4 per cent. If we do that we take out 11 per cent of all CO2 emissions produced by coal-fired power plants. That’s equal to 250,000 cars off the road, basically all the cars in the US.”

The average global efficiency worldwide is around 34 per cent so GE believes its technology can bring that average to 38 per cent, reducing customer operating costs over lifetime and CO2 emissions by 2-3 percentage points.

The average efficiency in India is 27 per cent ” so potential to increase is much higher than the US for example, which is 37 per cent. All in all across the world a 4 per cent average increase is possible, according to GE analysis. That currently low Indian average indicates its priority position for the company.

A typical plant with that average could see steam turbine upgrade increase its efficiency by 20 per cent, a boiler by 6-8 per cent before digital optimisation takes place.

The solutions already exist to tacking the emissions problem now, says Rechsteiner. The team targets improvement in boiler and upgrades and uses digital solutions to make the difference.

“Today our steam plants are equipped with up to 10,0000 sensors and these digital solutions further expand the efficiency by 1- 5 percentage points- so it’s done through a combination of old fashioned hardware upgrades plus additional software digital solutions.”

India’s top thermal utility NTPC is an early adopter to the service, awarding GE a contract to retrofit its 3 200 MW, Ansaldo Energia Steam turbines at the Ramagundam Super Thermal Power Plant in Telangana.

“The plant is 30 years old. We have increased steam turbine efficiency by 14 per cent ” increased steam turbine output by 30 MW and reduced O2 emissions by 5 per cent.”

“Another power plant In Turkey involves the upgrade of three Alstom steam turbines. We have reduced coal consumption by 14 per cent and increased output there by 150 MW. We don t have to wait until tomorrow- the technology already exists to reduce emissions and fight against global warming.”

Despite advances in utility scale storage, demand side response, digitisation, energy efficiency, and decentralised energy all coming together to make for a more renewable oriented future, GE’s clear vision is the need for that conventional power to be in place, but in a more efficient way.

“We are not taking a position for one or the other technology. GE is also one of the biggest players in the renewable market- we try to respond to the market and individual customer need and coal continues to play a dominant role ” we focus on providing the solutions than can increase efficiencies and reduce emissions.”

There is an argument that, given the inevitability of a coal-fired future, GE are more environmentally friendly than agencies who want to dispense with coal altogether.

“I couldn’t agree more-these countries are going to continue (to use coal) if you leave them to themselves so why not help them to reduce emissions?”

“GE helps to calculate the returns on the investment. That could mean lower operating costs and lower fuel costs and potential subsidies because of environment bonuses customers can get ” it’s attractive for export credit agencies and lenders and we help customers package their financial solutions together with the project.”

At a higher level GE are working with governments keen to reduce emissions and increase efficiencies in their electric power sectors.

“We are in discussion with them and even developing policies with the Indian government involving how to control emissions in the country and we are working with other countries on that as well in order to help them achieve their targets.

Rechsteiner told Power Engineering International that by-products associated with clean coal technology may well make more of an impact in India in time to come.

“In Europe by-products from removing NOx and SOx in the process are used in the cement industry. That has great potential in India where they are not extensively used as much so far. There is an opportunity to use it in construction.”

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