Mixing it Up: Renewable and Conventional Power – Two Sides of the Same Coin
By Ghassan Barghout, President & CEO Gas Power Systems – Sales, GE Power, Middle East & North Africa
There once was a time when it might have seemed out of place for someone in “conventional” fossil-fuel based power generation to talk about renewable energy or to be present at a sustainability conference like the World Future Energy Summit that took place in Abu Dhabi last week. But today, we know that power generation must operate more like a symphony and less like a solo performance.
That is, we need a diverse mix of energy sources – not a single source – to meet our complex, growing electricity requirements.
The Middle East is embracing this idea in a big way, even as the region’s electricity demand is set to more than double to 2,419 TWh by 2040, according to the Gas Exporting Countries Forum. While the largest share of that demand through 2040 will be met by natural gas (approximately 9 gigawatts/year in new supply), according to IHS Markit, the second biggest supply will come from solar power (approximately 4-5 gigawatts/year).
Take the UAE as a more specific example: the country’s Energy Plan 2050 projects 44% of supply will come from clean energy, 38% will come from natural gas, 12% from clean coal, and 6% from nuclear.
These ambitious targets were arguably unimaginable even so much as ten years ago for countries in the region. Today, however, governments, utilities and power plant owners and operators in the Middle East are balancing often competing priorities such as concerns about climate change, access to fuel supplies, costs associated with building and operating power generating facilities and the need for reliable power supplies. A diverse energy mix offers the best way to balance these priorities.
A notable hurdle in the expansion of renewables even as costs of alternative power generation fall, is the lack of energy storage solutions at a time of rising electricity demand. The intermittency inherent in renewable energy supplies gives rise to the need for flexible, efficient fossil fuel based power.
Given the reality that fossil fuels will be around for a while, huge investments are being made to increase the efficiency of these conventional energy sources. At GE, for example, this is reflected in our H-class gas turbine, which helped France’s EDF set a world record for combined cycle efficiency at 62.22%. In fact, we recently announced that the HA is now available at more than 64% efficiency in combined cycle power plants, higher than any other competing technology today. Capable of ramping up or down at 65 MW/minute while still meeting emissions requirements, the technology can help balance grid instability.
GE also is supporting innovations through mixed technology integration. For example, last year, GE and Southern California Edison (SCE) unveiled the world’s first battery-gas turbine hybrid system. The system helps balance variable energy supply and demand, including during evening hours when the sun sets and solar power production falls, even as electricity usage surges as people turn on lights and appliances. The energy storage capacity of the battery has been specifically designed to provide enough time coverage to allow the gas turbine to start and reach its designated power output.
At its heart is a groundbreaking control system that seamlessly blends output between the battery and the gas turbine. The energy storage capacity of the battery has been specifically designed to provide enough time coverage to allow the gas turbine to start and reach its designated power output. As a result, the system does not need to burn fuel and consume water in standby mode to be able to dispatch power immediately when demand surges.
Helping utilities and other power sector actors meet their diverse and sometimes competing priorities is at the heart of GE’s approach to the energy challenge. For the foreseeable future, our energy needs will be best served through a thoughtful and increasingly efficient mix of fuel sources and technologies.