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GE takes advantage of technologies to generate stable power

COVID-19 provided an opportunity to showcase the power of tech-enhanced solutions

Power plant commissionings, repairs and maintenance need to continue – with advanced technologies and the development of new ways of operating which will help to keep current supply online and new capacity on track to meet future demand. In addition, manufacturers, especially GE Gas Power, are looking for alternative power sources to replace nuclear and coal-fired power.

The COVID-19 pandemic has taught many lessons, including the essential role of reliable electricity, particularly in times of crisis. Whether it is keeping hospital lights and equipment running or allowing people to stay connected via the internet and social media, electricity has been critical during the pandemic.

Precisely at this moment, power plant operators and developers have faced unprecedented constraints on their operations, from closed borders and grounded international air travel to disrupted supply chains and restricted operations at job sites due to COVID-19 health precautions.

However, at GE Gas Power, entire outages, repairs and commissioning on power have ensured by experts from the groups as well as the support of technology. During the time that pandemic broke out, power plant operators were looking to understand which outages could be postponed until later in the year, given the months-long lockdowns. Next, how to prioritise the outages scheduled for the second half of 2020 that could be moved into 2021. They also needed to know that ongoing outages and power plant commissioning projects would continue, and that any unplanned repair work would be completed effectively and efficiently.

At the heart of GE’s response was a focus on staying closely engaged with customers. This included consulting on timelines and approaches, and offering advisory informed by the millions of hours of global gas turbine operating experience, and data and onsite inspections made possible by GE’s advanced remote engineering technologies.

Taking advantage of remote engineering technologies to maintain power non-stop

The social isolation in collaboration with limited freedom of movement forced GE Gas Power to take advantage of tools such as HelpLightning, an interactive merged reality platform, to give customers real-time technical support when and where they need it. GE also has been using remote borescopes for inspecting the inside of gas turbines, while GE’s gas turbine remote monitoring and diagnostics teams are giving customers insights on the performance of their existing fleets.

These technologies not only help assess the timing of outages but are also being used to perform outages and repairs. In the spring, amidst the pandemic lockdowns and travel restrictions, GE used HelpLightning in more than 1,000 cases across Asia to support outage tasks, including a 9FB bucket installation in China and a similar installation in Taiwan.

In another instance, the GE team conducted a routine onsite inspection in Malaysia using, HelpLightning connecting onsite engineers and remote technical experts for performance testing. Inlet guide vane (IGV) checks revealed vanes in one unit were misaligned, an error that if left unchecked could have caused a forced outage.

Remote engineering technologies also have helped keep plant commissioning moving forward. In South Korea, GE was unable to bring in the experts originally planned for the installation process, but by using HelpLightning the local team was able to tap top global expertise to get the job done.

Thank to taking advantage thoroughly of technologies, GE Gas Power supported a large number of outages, repairs, and plant commissionings over the past six months. Globally, between March and August, GE oversaw the launch of commercial operations of 14 projects, equivalent to about 3,900MW, and so far this year, started 259 major outages, about 80 per cent of the original January-June 2020 plan.

In the Asia region, service teams conducted 177 customer events, including 48 major outages, and deployed more than 1,300 people to sites during the first half of 2020. Since April, GE has conducted six remote customer support sessions in Asia and 15 remote borescope inspections using GE’s digital tool (Mentor Visual IQ).

While remote engineering technologies have played a major role in bringing expertise to job sites, GE has used a different methodology to ensure the supply chain is delivering parts and equipment to customer sites. This has been enabled by “lean action workouts,” which are helping to drive continuous improvements across operations, resulting in shorter turnaround times, enhanced quality, and greater efficiencies.

Initiated long before the pandemic, the ongoing series of lean workouts at GE sites and facilities in Asia have continued to deliver enhancements in areas such as spare parts management during outages and installations, and the movement of parts and equipment at repair centres.

Preparing alternative power source: urgent mission

While most attention today is focused on responding to the COVID-19 crisis, power plant operators and developers also recognise that climate change and the shift toward renewables will impact their operations in the long run. “With GE technologies powering approximately one-third of the region’s 900GW of generating capacity,” said Ramesh Singaram, CEO and president for Asia at GE Gas Power, “we well understand the dynamics of this shift.”

Today, one out of every six people in the world is without access to electricity. Power demand, for gas power and others, is growing globally and access to reliable, affordable electricity is a critical enabler for economic growth and quality of life.

In line with these economic and demographic forecasts, the IEA projects that total energy demand will rise by one-third through 2040. This corresponds to a 1 per cent compound annual growth rate in Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) countries and a 3 per cent growth rate across the rest of the world.

At present, gas is the fastest-growing of the fossil fuels and, within the next 18 years, is forecasted to become the single largest source of installed capacity. By 2040, the OECD/IEA expects gas power to emerge as one of the main players in the global energy mix, rivalling the popularity of the industry’s traditional choices: coal and oil.

Renewable power capacity additions will be twice that of gas additions in the next decade; however larger load factors will allow gas and other fossil fuels to maintain their dominance in power generation. Gas turbine power plants serve as a complement to intermittent renewables generation, offering such valuable features as rapid start, output flexibility, and turndown capability.

This transition to a decarbonised future suggests a significant role for gas power. As wind and solar capacity continue to climb, most immediately in markets such as Australia, the need for reliable dispatchable electricity will only grow. It is well established that gas power, with its relatively low CO2 emissions and low fuel cost, is an effective technology for grid firming.

Ramesh said that that ASEAN has a total population of 630 million and the electrification ratio is about 92 per cent, which means 50 million people still do not have electricity. Thus, about 270GW of power will need to be added, promising significant opportunities in the next decade, he added.

“In general, about 400GW of added capacity will be coming into the system over the next decade. Two-third of this added capacity will be derived from renewable energy and the other remainder is gas. However, some countries will only be able to afford coal and I don’t think it can diminish. But there is always going to be a role for gas,” he said.

GE Gas Power is capable of converting the full spectrum of liquid and gas fuels to energy, with natural gas-fuelled combined cycle power plants, offering one of the cleanest and most efficient methods of producing electricity from fossil fuels.

Its portfolio of gas power systems and services include industry-leading gas and steam turbines, generators, heat recovery steam generators, condensers, and other plant equipment.

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