March 12, 2019
The tunes of AC/DC may electrify a roomful of ’80s metal fans but, in the future, the power to keep many a party shaking all night long will come courtesy of a different set of initials: HVDC. While alternating current (AC) has always been the preferred mode for transporting electricity far distances, the case for using high-voltage direct current (HVDC) has been quietly gathering force. HVDC can transfer three times as much energy over longer distances far more efficiently and consistently, thus potentially creating “electricity superhighways.” Its lines can transmit electricity underground and also underwater via giant converter stations at sea. That’s the perfect mode of transportation for renewable sources such as offshore wind farms, which generate massive amounts of power from remote locations.
Power forward: GE, a leader in the space, has recently deployed an HVDC converter station platform in the middle of the North Sea. It can harness the power of 180 wind turbines, including 66 GE Haliade 150-6MW wind turbines at the Merkur wind farm. The system can transmit 900 megawatts of power back to shore — enough to power about 1 million German homes and to help the country reach its goal of generating 80 percent of its electricity from renewable sources by 2050. Combining transmission tech and renewables makes a lot of sense. So much that in January, GE announced a decision to include its Grid Solutions unit in its Renewable Energy business. “With this move, GE Renewable Energy will have the most diverse renewable energy portfolio in the industry, offering customers the wide range of products and services they need to seamlessly bring green electrons to the grid from one fully integrated business,” said Jerome Pecresse, CEO of GE Renewable Energy.
When it was shuttered in 2013, the power generation station in Chivasso, Italy, embodied some of the challenges that aging plants face in the new energy world: Built in the 1950s, the plant couldn’t compete with newer, renewable sources of energy on price and struggled to meet European Union emissions standards. But GE’s engineers came to the Italian utility A2A with a plan for rebirth. They analyzed data on regional demand and supply and used GE’s energy-trading models and Asset Performance Management software to make the plant more competitive. When Chivasso fired back up in 2016 — leaner, smarter and emitting fewer greenhouse gases — it wasn’t just a singular success story. It also offered a model for the makeover of similar aging plants. Now, the lessons of Chivasso have been extended to two other decades-old power generators in Northern Italy.
Make it work: Neither the Cassano nor the Sermide plant was in imminent danger of being closed, but A2A realized it would need to make changes to keep them economical. Now, GE’s hardware and software help the plants power up and down far more quickly and operate at much lighter load production than they were built for, which enables A2A to sell energy to the market quickly and at competitive prices. The combination of quicker ramp-up time and lighter production levels means the plants burn less fuel, too, making for additional cost and environmental savings. “This was all installed with a holistic view of the plants, so they could go from the baseload economy to this new economy for which they were not designed,” said Mario Cincotta of GE Power Services.
Learn more here about the Italian power plant renaissance.
Hydrogen, the most abundant element in the universe, is easily flammable, impossibly light and — when burned and combined with oxygen inside a turbine — able to produce electricity without emitting carbon dioxide. All of those virtues make it alluring to engineers such as Jeff Goldmeer, who works on gas turbine products for GE Power. “Our turbine customers constantly ask how they can take advantage of hydrogen to generate low-carbon power,” Goldmeer said. “I tell those customers: ‘It’s possible right now.’ ”
Gas giant: In fact, GE has installed more than 70 gas turbines in the U.S., Europe and Asia that currently burn or have past experience burning fuels that contain hydrogen. Blending hydrogen into natural gas, for instance, helps plants save money and cut CO2 emissions. “The beauty of these turbines is their fuel flexibility,” Goldmeer said. “They’re part of the solution.” Hydrogen also has a role to play in renewables such as wind and solar power: It can help solve the problem of intermittency, filling the gaps when the wind doesn’t blow and the sun doesn’t shine.
No less a thinker than Jules Verne, the French father of science fiction, predicted a bright future for hydrogen — way back in 1874. Find out more here about how Verne’s prophecy is being realized.
1. One Giant Leap For HIV Treatment
Last week, scientists announced that a second patient, 12 years after the first, may have been cured of HIV — a major milestone in the fight against the disease.
2. Bot’s Best Friend
At MIT, engineers created a robotic “mini cheetah” — fast, four-legged, 20 pounds, terrifyingly resilient and able to right itself when knocked over with “a swift, kung-fu-like swing of its elbows.” It can also do a backflip.
3. A Very Smart Haus
In Zurich, Switzerland, the newly unveiled DFAB House is the first “inhabited ‘house’ that was not only digitally planned, but also — with the help of robots and 3D printers — built largely digitally,” according to designers. You’ve gotta check out the pictures.
Read more about this week’s Coolest Things on Earth here.
— QUOTE OF THE DAY —
“We have adapted the plants in a way that can support renewables growth because without flexibility, you’d have problems on the grid.”
— Mario Cincotta, general manager of multiyear agreements for GE’s Power Services business in Europe
Quote: GE Reports. Image: GE Renewable Energy.
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