In Monte Atwell’s world, opportunities are created when things break down.
Over the last four months, Atwell and a team of engineers in Greenville, South Carolina, have been testing one of GE’s (NYSE: GE) latest innovations – the 9HA.01 air-cooled gas turbine. The 866,000-pound machine promises to provide power producers the flexibility, efficiency and speed they need to accommodate the increasing use of intermittent wind and solar power.
“When the wind doesn’t blow and the sun doesn’t shine, you have to make that demand up because most of us like to go home at night and turn the lights on,” said Atwell, general manager of Power Generation Product Management at GE Power & Water. “Being able to dispatch quickly and bridge those gaps is a big deal.”
GE invested $200 million to build a full-speed, full-load test stand at the company’s manufacturing and testing facility in Greenville, where engineers have been testing the H-class gas turbine off the grid under extreme conditions. Using nearly 5,000 sensors and instruments, more than 8,000 streams of data have been captured and analyzed.
Among other things, test engineers have run the 50Hz turbine at more than 100 percent of its rated speed. Identifying limits and engineering solutions to go beyond those limits is part of the objective, Atwell said.
“I’m almost jazzed up when we break something because we’ve found a boundary,” Atwell said. “A lot of what we do here you would never do at a power plant. Where are our real limits?”
During a recent visit to GE’s Greenville facility, the editors of Power Engineering were allowed inside the test stand, where more than 50 engineers are validating the 9HA’s performance. During the tour, engineers were preparing for the final round of tests in April.
“These guys can mimic any grid code on the planet,” Atwell said. “One of the big features of our test stand is the ability to exercise those boundary conditions.”
So how fast and efficient is the 9HA.01?
In a 1x1 combined-cycle configuration, the 9HA.01 offers up to 592 MW of output, has a ramp rate of 60 MW per minute, can reach full capacity in less than 30 minutes, and delivers 61.4 percent net fuel efficiency.
What’s more, the machine can be turned down to less than 40 percent output and still operate in low-emissions mode. But the fuel conversion rate of 61.4 percent is perhaps the most impressive feature.
“At the end of the day, it’s all about economics,” Atwell said. “You don’t sell power plants on style.”
More than 50 potential customers, including French utility EDF, have visited the test site and observed the testing. “We’ve been extremely transparent,” Atwell said.
The turbine was manufactured in Belfort, France before being shipped to Greenville for validation testing.
While GE’s 9HA.01 and 9HA.02 gas turbines cover the 50 Hz market, the company’s 7HA.01 and 7HA.02 turbines serve the 60 Hz market.
The 9HA.01 is rated at 397 MW and the 9HA.02 is rated at 510 MW in a simple-cycle configuration, with each offering more than 41 percent efficiency. In a 1x1 combined-cycle configuration, the 9HA.01 is rated at 592 MW and the 9HA.02 is rated at 755 MW, with each offering more than 61 percent efficiency. The 7HA.01 is rated 275 MW and the 7HA.02 is rated 337 MW in a simple-cycle configuration, with each offering more than 41 percent efficiency. In a 1x1 combined-cycle configuration, the 7HA.01 is rated 405 MW and the 7HA.02 is rated 486 MW, with each offering more than 61 percent efficiency.
Together, the 9HA and 7HA turbines can cover a wide power range of 275 MW to 510 MW in simple-cycle configuration. The question is will the 9HA and 7HA displace the F-class and E-class turbines? Not quite, said Atwell.
“We can cover this entire space,” he said. “However, we think customers need a heavy duty gas turbine portfolio that covers a broad space of applications. There are parts of the world where there are unique market niches and requirements that drive demand across those spaces.”
GE expects to sell 500 H-class gas turbines in the next 15 years, according to Reuters. That’s what Vic Abate, GE’s vice president of power generation products, said during a meeting with investors and analysts on March 11, Reuters reported. “Between now and 2030, our view is we’re going to plant 500 (H-class turbines) in the ground,” Abate said.
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