Waiting to exhale

    Junior Isles, Managing Editor

    Florida…the home of US election confusion as well as last month’s Power-Gen International. But while the country held its breath over the outcome of the voting fiasco, it seems as if the gas turbine manufacturers at the event were at last breathing a sigh of relief.

    In recent years most manufacturers, driven by competitive pressures, have been forced to introduce new technology at a pace they have largely been uncomfortable with. But the boom in the US gas turbine market, which has pushed prices back up and put them back in the driving seat, may now finally give them time to assess their future strategies.

    During the keynote session, Randy Zwirn, CEO of Siemens Westinghouse and member of the managing board of Siemens KWU, noted: “With the next fleet of 60 per cent efficiency gas turbines, the industry really is on the loony fringe of technology. We won’t be putting completely new machines into the field. Siemens Westinghouse will download elements of new technology into its existing fleet since no one can afford bad experiences with new technology.”

    Indeed the cost of technology failure in the field can be high. Alstom Power has now been able to put a figure on the cost of the problems found in the uprated B version of its GT24/26 machines. Inspections on some machines in July revealed accelerated wear of certain parts (see PEi, September 2000, pages 3 and 15).

    The estimated costs are based on potential costs relating to the design and manufacture of replacement parts; the opening and repair of affected turbines; amounts which may become due to customers for delivery delays or under-availability and performance guarantees; and the specific terms of each individual contract. The final estimate amounts to A903m.

    One billion dollars is no small pill to swallow for any company, and it is a mistake Alstom will not be looking to repeat in the future. Like Siemens Westinghouse, Alstom will also be taking more of a step-wise, lower risk approach with any new fleets.

    Nick Salmon, Alstom Power’s executive vice president explained: “Never again will we put products into the market so quickly. We will be more cautious and will deliver technology more progressively.”

    Alstom is now working on a more permanent fix for its GT24/26 B machines. This will look at improving the cooling air flow around the parts in question without reducing the machine’s performance. This permanent solution is being tested and is expected to be ready by next summer.

    Although all eyes will be on these and the Siemens Westinghouse ‘G’ machines for now, the real scrutiny will soon turn to GE and its H technology turbines when they begin operation. Two units have already been sold (to Baglan Bay in the UK and Sithe Energies in the US) and the first is due to enter commercial operation in 2002.

    The centrepiece of these turbines is the closed loop steam cooling system which allows firing temperatures of 1426à‚°C while keeping NOx levels low. The effect of such high firing temperatures on thermal barrier coatings and the long term effect of steam cooling will certainly be the main areas of concern.

    Although it is putting a completely new machine in the field, GE does have the benefit of bitter experience gained from its F-technology units. The H-machines have been built and tested over a four year period. With such exhaustive testing, GE is confident the unit will perform as expected.

    The Baglan Bay turbine will also be tested for eight months under full load conditions next year, before being put into commercial operation. Having just the one unit in the field will also enable GE to limit costs associated with any possible under-performance and subsequent delays or lack of availability. I think the whole industry will breathe a sigh of relief if the unit is still problem-free after those eight months.

    One member of our industry who will not have to hold his breath until the end of next year is Mr. Bo Svensson who can now finally take a well-earned breather. Bo, marketing manager at Alstom Power and long-time colleague is retiring from an industry in which he has seen many changes over his 40-odd years at Alstom Power (formerly with ABB). Through the changes, Bo has always maintained a level of energy and enthusiasm (and style) which has been an inspiration to many of us.

    Good luck Bo, you will be missed.

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