GE Designs The Prius of Power Plants In Turkey


One of the persistent problems plaguing renewable energy is just how intermittent its sources are: The wind dies down, and clouds can obscure the sun.

On Tuesday, General Electric unveiled a project that will rely on a hybrid approach to solve the problem. The company and its partners are cobbling together wind, solar and natural gas to power up to 600,000 households from a power station to be built in southwestern Turkey. The target launch date is 2015.The power station will use natural gas, steam and wind turbines designed by GE to generate electricity. It will also use a California start-up’s solar-thermal tower technology, which uses an array of 25,000 mirrors to heat up water to generate additional steam to power up the station’s turbines.

“The technology turns a natural gas plant and a solar plant into conjoined twins,” notes Matthew L. Wald at The New York Times. “Wind is more like a half sibling.”

Combining solar thermal power and natural gas turbines is not in of itself new, note both Wald and Kevin Bullis at MIT Technology Review, but GE says that this particular configuration is far more efficient and cost-effective than others before it.

One of the key aspects to the design of this hybrid approach is GE’s FlexEfficiency gas turbines, which can start relatively rapidly. That’s important when they have to be used in conjunction with renewable sources.

This particular solution made sense in Turkey because natural gas there is expensive, GE’s Thermal Products President Paul Browning told the Times. It’s double what it costs in the United States.

But for now, natural gas is cheap enough, and the future of federal financial incentives is cloudy enough in the United States to render the domestic use of this kind of hybrid approach unlikely in the near future, he said.

In the meantime, U.S. venture-financed eSolar in Burbank, California, is using the additional $11 million it has received from the U.S. Department of Energy to explore how to store all that energy generated from those thousands of mirrors.