Executive Perspective: How to Apply Tomorrow's Technology to Today's Power Plants

Heidi Vella

GE's gas turbine engineering leader, Jim Masso, discusses the cross-fleet capabilities that can transform aging power plants with new, innovative technological advancements.

In today's evolving energy landscape, power plant technology needs to keep pace with changing demand. Rightly, plant owners and managers want to invest in services and processes that make their assets more flexible, reliable, efficient, and resilient than ever.

While this transition presents challenges, GE Power delivers a simple, yet expert solution in its recently expanded cross-fleet service. Jim Masso, GE Power's executive engineering and product leader for cross-fleet, explains how both technology transfers and applying GE's expertise to other manufacturers' equipment can reduce downtime and improve overall operations. His comments, edited for style and space, follow.

Why did GE decide to expand its cross-fleet power generation equipment offering?

Jim Masso: The thought process behind it is simple: We have a wealth of services, capabilities, and experience that we can apply across a wide portfolio of engines, and [we] saw an opportunity to give power plants better options to improve their performance and efficiency.

Two years ago, when we started our cross-fleet offering, it was about developing services capabilities—doing outages, performing repairs, modifying control systems, etc. But now we're upgrading hardware to improve gas turbine efficiency and better integrate these turbines with the rest of the plant.

To develop our knowledge we partnered with several different equipment owners to access their machines, and brought them full engines and turbine components. We wanted to understand the technology as well as anyone.

How are you retrofitting today's power plants with tomorrow's technology?

Masso: GE has the benefit of the largest installed base of gas turbines in the world. We have considerably advanced turbine technology that is highly validated and proven.

We use the lessons learned from applying upgrades across our fleet—whether it be our HA or F-class fleets—and apply them to another engine.

In particular, we are doing this around hot gas path technology, which is one of the highest capital expenditures a power plant operator will face for a planned outage.

We take in a 10-year-old hot gas path design, evaluate it, and develop our own hot gas path with improved alloys; better coating; a dense, vertically cracked thermal barrier coating; and advanced cooling. Fitted with these new technologies, it will last twice as long as originally intended. Once this is done, it encourages an operator to upgrade the rest of the plant to accommodate a more capable turbine section.

Similarly, on some of our more modern F-technology engines, we have increased the temperature to the point where the typical single-crystal casting, which is a very expensive cast component, isn't required. Instead, we apply far less costly equiax castings at the same temperatures to reduce expenditure.

Specifically, how are you transferring power plant technology from one fleet to another?

Masso: For the 501F turbine, for example, there are a variety of different versions. Turbine sections or hot gas path components in these engines come from several different iterations, and there are multiple OEMs that produce them. We have developed an upgrade that can span all of these variations.

For one of our first technology transfer upgrades, we examined where the 501F parts are getting distressed or damaged and where their interval was shortened through different mechanisms. Some were overheating, and others were overly cooled, and many had challenges with coating staying on.

We referred to our advanced gas path technology on the 7 FA and applied three of the main technology advancements from its hot gas path section, which have also been applied to the HA and the 501F.

The first was an advanced cooling technique that better distributes cooling air in the platform. We also changed the air foil tip geometry to better handle cooling air and to be more tolerant of stress at the tip. We then added our own thermal barrier coating, called DVC, applying it more than four times thicker than the original. The extra coating protects the air foil.

This resulted in a 501F gas turbine that can operate at higher firing temperatures and at a higher output than it was designed for, with parts that are reliable and proven.

How can technology transfer and upgrades such as these help power plant managers better manage the wider challenges occurring right now in the power industry?

Masso: If you are in an area that has many renewables or more cyclical operations, it is important to improve the cyclic capability of the machine. This means better efficiency, lower emissions, and lower output to help the machine go up and down in power to offset the grid.

One way to do this is to reduce OPEX. If you need your engine to be more efficient to compete with new engines, you need to operate at a higher temperature and burn less fuel, which requires more efficient cooling and better alloys that can handle more heat.

But you also need to reduce outages, which involves increasing intervals by using better materials and coating, as mentioned, and using geometry that is proven.

You want to be confident your plant will run from one outage to another without shutting down and having to take unplanned downtime.

Also, it will sound a little trivial, but using technology that is highly proven, that we have scale on, and that has the same supply chain as other gas turbines allows for economies of scale to happen very quickly. This enables us to apply new technologies to other engines faster.

What's next for GE's cross-fleet capabilities?

Overall, what we are building with our cross-fleet offering are whole-scale upgrades that utilize the most advanced technologies that GE has applied to aircraft technology and the HA gas turbine.

We are now in the process of upgrading a series of engines with more than $200 million in gas turbine cross-fleet orders in the backlog; so for us, it is a really exciting time.

As Masso explains, technological advancements are available—across different fleets—that can help older plants compete better with newer power stations. This technology also helps plant managers be more prepared for the future challenges presented by the growth of renewables. Investing in retrofitting a range of assets with the latest technology today will provide security, agility, and longevity for the future. These upgrades help plants run longer in more challenging conditions before needing downtime or replacement parts. The more reliable the equipment is, the more reliable the business will be.


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