Think of the LM6000 as a jet engine that’s afraid of heights. GE engineers have built upon its aviation roots and modified the technology to function in industrial power generation and marine propulsion.
In simple terms, a gas turbine compresses air, mixes it with fuel, and then burns the mixture to spin a series of massive turbine blades. The spinning turbine then drives a generator to create electricity. In the case of the LM6000 family, the energy generated is capable of achieving over 50 megawatts of output in as little as 10 minutes after startup.
That timing is crucial for utilities that use the LM6000s as a stopgap measure in so-called “peaker plants.” During the summer months when pressures on the national grid are high due to cooling needs, peaker plants are placed online for short durations to help baseload power sources (coal, nuclear, geothermal) meet excessive demand quickly.
The LM6000 tech allows utilities to take advantage of cleaner-burning natural gas and, thanks to GE’s commitment to flexible design and fuel efficiency, much lower emissions and resource demands. The use of water as a diluent has also been eliminated, saving the equivalent of 20 Olympic-sized swimming pools over the course of a typical 4,000 hour operation.
GE introduced the newest member of the LM6000 family last month—the 50-megawatt FlexAero.
The company recently celebrated the sale of its 1,000th LM6000 unit, as well as $1 billion in new orders placed by industry and electrical utilities in North America for 2011.
“From the time the first unit began commercial operation in 1992 at the Ottawa Health Services facility, to the shipment of the 1,000th unit, our LM6000 aeroderivative gas turbine has become the only gas turbine in the world with simple-cycle efficiency greater than 40 percent and dry, low emissions combustion technology that guarantees less than 15ppm NOx,” said Darryl Wilson, vice president of aeroderivative gas turbines for GE Power & Water.
“This latest milestone exemplifies GE’s commitment to providing innovative technology that aims to meet environmental challenges throughout the world and helps our customers be successful and productive,” he added.
Promoting a greener grid
In terms of increasing the mix of renewable energy available to the grid, the LM6000 family is the ultimate enabler. One of the biggest issues with clean energy like solar or wind is that the supply is intermittent. As more turbines and photovoltaic panels replace older fossil-fuel plants, their contribution becomes a larger percentage of the total energy produced.
Unfortunately, until new storage methods are adopted, renewables cannot be counted on to handle critical moments of peak power load. Hence, GE’s gas turbines act as a “firming” resource to fill in the gaps and valleys when the need arises, making them an essential partner to renewables.
Much of today’s power generation technology is serving yesterday’s power grid.
Steve Bolze, President and CEO of GE Power & Water, says natural gas “is a strong fit for the flexible, efficient power generation that our customers need to enable the integration of more renewable resources into the power grid.”
Looking ahead: the turbines of tomorrow
As for the future, GE introduced the newest member of the LM6000 family last month—the 50-megawatt FlexAero. Specifically aimed at the wind and solar industry, the unit can ramp up to full power (and back down) in just under five minutes. Like other models in the GE range, it also has low NOx and CO2 emissions so as to not need water for dilution. It’s also the only gas turbine of its kind that “combines flexibility and efficiency at these levels with zero water requirements.”
Nearly 20 years of working with the LM6000 line has also led GE to introduce an entirely new 510 megawatt power plant. Unveiled in Paris last May, the FlexEfficiency 50 offers fuel efficiency greater than 61 percent; complimenting clean energy with a benchmark-shattering 50 megawatts per minute ramp up. It’s estimated that the plant will deliver enough energy to power more than 600,000 homes.
“Much of today’s power generation technology is serving yesterday’s power grid. Institutions and individuals everywhere are looking for cost-effective ways to use solar, wind, and gas energy on a large scale. But they often assume that renewable energy can simply plug in to the existing power grid,” said Bolze.
“Throughout GE, we have invested to strengthen our global portfolio with a view to delivering efficient power generation across clean energy technologies,” Bolze added. “We expect this FlexEfficiency breakthrough to help take advantage of abundant natural gas while we simultaneously carve a fresh path to accelerate wider adoption of renewable energy, all with less impact on natural resources.”