Leading the control system design for the world's first hybrid electric gas turbine was a wonderful and humbling experience that I'll draw upon for the rest of my career and life.

This project was at the nexus of many rare opportunities. We found a customer willing to push the envelope in power plant operation on a grid desperately in need of an energy storage solution. We had a management team giving us resources and full reign over the idea from concept through customer acceptance runs. Most importantly, we assembled a team of passionate and talented people who wanted to make a dent in the universe.

Professionally, I believe the hybrid EGT is a harbinger of future grids. Tomorrow's grids will be a mixture of centralized and decentralized infrastructures—power plants generating large amounts of electricity, along with smaller points of power generation throughout communities—think rooftop solar panels. The intelligent integration of energy storage will help grids be more stable for when the sun isn’t shining or there is a disruption in conventional fuel sources such as natural gas.

This was the case for our customer in Southern California. By creating the hybrid EGT we helped SCE reap the economic and environmental benefits from integrating grid-scale batteries and renewables while re-purposing traditional fossil fuel generation. We drove down their operating costs with less fuel and water consumption, lower maintenance costs while emitting fewer emissions. We also drove up revenue with new capabilities and higher availability of the customers’ equipment.

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Inventing controls for world's first hybrid electric turbine

Adnan Zafar, Senior Controls Engineer for GE Power, discusses the rollercoaster ride of leading a team to create the controls for the world's first Hybrid Electric Gas Turbine

This effort also hints at how work is evolving at GE. Tomorrow's engineer needs customer empathy to understand how customers get paid and what’s important to them culturally. We’ll need intellectual honesty to design the best solution with systems level thinking pervading each aspect of product design. This project took me out of my comfort zone of jet engine-based gas turbine controls, and by widening my perspective it made me a better engineer. It took GE out of its comfort zone too, and the company is better for it.

Personally, working on the hybrid EGT was a rollercoaster with a fantastic ending. The beginning of the project was tumultuous; I recently had a son and said my final goodbyes to my father all while the initial hybrid control concepts were failing during simulation. As deadlines loomed I leaned heavily on what my parents and brother taught me: to persevere, and to plan your work and work your plan. I pivoted and massively simplified the design, focused on sprints with functional demonstrations every week or so, and we pulled through as a team.

We arrived in California to commission and demonstrate the EGT and ran into even more hurdles. Constant allergies and bouts of strep throat left me holed up in a hotel while simulations were not replicating operations. It was looking bleak.

The team decided to go home for a few days to re-group. We re-wrote sections of code in late night sessions until we knocked out all of the major bugs. When we returned to California, we were a well-oiled machine and got the batteries and gas turbine online together for the first time!

Alongside our customer, we demonstrated the hybrid EGTs to the California Independent System Operator (CAISO), who runs the grid. They were so impressed they asked, "What is this machine?" Proudly we told them it was the world's first hybrid electric gas turbine.

I was proud of my father's accomplishment of being one of the first to do computer-to-computer communication overseas, and how it indirectly helped shape the world. I'm honored to have been part of an amazing team that created the world's first award winning Hybrid EGT that is helping shape the future of energy.

I'm glad to have scratched the surface on helping the environment, the grid, and local people and I'm excited to see the future of energy storage transforming our grids in the years to come.

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Adnan Zafar

GE Power Senior Controls Engineer


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