How will the trend of energy optimization impact the demand for industrial gas turbines?

The age of coal-dominated energy generation solutions is seemingly on the way out, with the burgeoning need for energy optimization facilitating the rise of industrial gas turbines.

The industrial gas turbine market emerged first nearly eighty years ago, following the establishment of the world’s first gas turbine in Neuchâtel, Switzerland. This turbine was developed for the purpose of generating energy in a municipal power station.

Gas turbines refer to engines used for converting mechanical energy to electric energy. These turbines carry out energy conversion via the combustion of liquid fuels and natural gas powering the generator. The energy generated from these turbines is transported residences and business through power lines.

Industrial gas turbines demonstrate high power generation efficiency, which is perhaps why they are so highly sought after over their conventional counterparts.

Installed by Brown Boveri, the system did not make use of the heat while venting the exhaust, which in turn caused the turbine’s compressor almost three-fourth of the power generated. This significantly affected the machine’s efficiency, resulting in just 17% or approximately 4MW of energy.

The Neuchâtel turbine was considered to be a pioneering exception following the chaos caused by World War II and the subsequent economic struggles. This lasted till the year 1949, when General Electric and Westinghouse inaugurated their first low-capacity turbines.

Since electricity generation was dominated by coal-powered plants, the installation of these systems faced no rush. Industrial gas turbines reached nearly 20 MW by 1960, which showed a marginal improvement over their previous counterparts, but still demonstrated considerably lower output than steam turbo generators.

Public perception regarding industrial gas turbines began to shift gradually, following the massive power blackout in the U.S Northeast in November 1965. During this period, gas turbines operated at full load within just minutes, showing great potential in electricity generation.

Paradigm shift in the industrial gas turbine market

The true shift for industrial gas turbines was marked by the advent of combined cycle gas turbines during the late 60s. These systems boasted best efficiencies of over 60% and marked their presence as the least wasteful energy generation solution. Indeed by 1990, nearly half of the newly installed U.S power plant capacity was represented by gas turbines which were highly powerful, reliable and efficient.

Industrial gas turbines have undergone several transformations since their inception and are now much more powerful. For instance, Siemen’s closed cycle gas turbine for utility generation was rated at approximately 593 MW, which is almost 40 times more powerful than the Neuchâtel turbine, and boasts and operating efficiency of nearly 63%.

In addition to their strong efficiency, industrial gas turbines are considered the ideal peak power suppliers and backups for emerging solar and wind generation technologies owing to their near-instant availability.

Robust application potential of CHP

Industrial gas turbines have the capacity to carry out the combined production of heat and electricity. They witness massive demand across myriad industries and are used to power central heating systems in prominent European nations.

Eminent gas turbine systems like the GE — Jenbacher are used extensively in Dutch greenhouses, providing a combined benefit of CO2 emission mitigation and accelerated growth of vegetables and plants.

Furthermore, these machines are also used to operate compressors in various industrial enterprises, where they are applied in long-distance pipeline pumping stations. Modern gas turbines have a distinct advantage over other machines given their vast array of advantageous properties including easy transportation & installation, cost-effectiveness, efficiency, compactness, in addition to ability to operate without water cooling, and more.

Combined cycle industrial gas turbines emerge as the pinnacle of energy generation

Electricity generation through natural gas of all types has already surpassed coal-based generation over 15 years ago, but the emergence of combined cycle technology has proved itself as the preferred electricity generation technology owing to its high efficiency.

Traditional coal or oil-powered turbines involve the burning of fuel to generate steam, which is then used to turn steam turbines for electricity generation. A combined cycle gas turbine, however, heats a mixture of fuel and air in order to turn a gas turbine which generates electricity. In CCGT systems, steam is generated for the steam turbine through the waste heat produced.

Combined cycle gas turbines have proved their mettle in electricity generation over the years. While these turbines accounted for nearly half of the cumulative natural gas-based generation capacity in 2018, they supplied almost 90% of the total natural gas-based electricity generation.

Combined cycle industrial gas turbines are the largest single source of power generation, overtaking coal-powered turbines, since early 2019, as per reports from the Energy Information Administration (EIA). For instance, in Jan 2019, combined cycle gas turbines showed capacity of over 264 GW, whereas coal-fired turbines showed capacity of 243 GW.

Recently, the UK government has given the go-ahead to a new combined-cycle gas turbine to be set up in Middlesborough. This will be the third project of its kind to be approved in the UK in 2019. The proposed Tees CCPP (combined cycle power plant), worth £700 million is projected to have a generation capacity of up to 1,700 MW, with the ability to produce enough electricity to power nearly 15 million households in the UK.

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