SteamH: raising the bar

7 June 2018

GE’s next generation of coal power technology, which it calls SteamH, combines ultrasupercritical steam conditions with the benefits of digitalisation. As well as increased efficiency (driving towards the holy grail of 50% (net, LHV basis) and reduced emissions, it also aims at greatly increased operational flexibility. By Michael Keroullé, chief commercial officer & MENAT regional executive, GE Steam Power

As I talk to power producers and government officials around the world, they have four main considerations when making energy decisions for their respective countries. As you might expect, these include cost of electricity, reliability and carbon footprint. But, perhaps surprisingly, the number one thing they are looking for is flexibility.

The introduction of renewables is changing the realities of the power market. There’s no doubt this is moving us in the right direction and that it would be better to someday generate all of our electricity from renewables. I’m a huge supporter of that idea and I follow with interest every development to make it happen. But renewable power is intermittent and, as of today, needs to be supported by around-the-clock-available energy. This is where cleaner, more flexible coal power comes in.

For the past 100 years GE, with its recently acquired Alstom power businesses, has had a major role in the development of cleaner coal technology. We have played a key role in driving the industry from subcritical to ultrasupercritical (USC) technologies. And now, GE is first-to-market with what we describe as advanced ultrasupercritical (A-USC) technology, which combines ultrasupercritical steam conditions with the benefits that can be derived from digitalisation. This is the new generation of steam technology, which we call SteamH.

SteamH brings together the world’s leading steam plant technology, operating at A-USC conditions, with GE’s digital power plant software powered by Predix to help plant owner/operators achieve the highest possible efficiency, lowest emissions and most value over the life of the plant.

With flexibility being top of the agenda for our customers, SteamH is designed for maximum operational flexibility to improve start time, start fuel consumption, ramp-up and turn-down rate, and minimum load. It is ready to operate safely through transient mode and can quickly ramp up generation when operating in grid demand mode.

Even without digital enhancements, the basic ultrasupercritical power plant offering is capable of reaching full load in as little as 60 minutes (from boiler ignition). This can be reduced by up to 50% when you add the digital systems incorporated in SteamH.

The SteamH design is based on the proven USC technology being deployed in the world’s most efficient coal fired power plants in operation today including Manjung 4 in Malaysia and RDK8 in Germany. This technology already exceeds all benchmarks set by OECD in its guidelines for acceptable pressures, temperatures and emissions of coal fired power plants, delivering higher efficiency with less impact on the environment.

Today, we can deliver up to 47.5% efficiency with USC technology – significantly higher than the global coal fleet average of 34% – and now with the introduction of GE’s SteamH, we are driving towards 50% efficiency (all efficiencies net, LHV basis).

If we applied GE’s full suite of upgrade solutions to the world’s existing coal generation fleet, which is mostly operating in subcritical conditions, it would improve the average efficiency of coal plants worldwide from 34% to 38%, which would reduce CO2 emissions across the whole installed fleet by about 11% – equivalent to more than the entire CO2 emissions for Germany.

Through focused R&D efforts and rigorous materials testing, we have pushed the physical limits of our proven technology even further to achieve improved steam conditions, with temperatures reaching as high as 650°C. This is done by incorporating the most advanced materials into the SteamH design. We leverage the benefits of advanced materials such as T23 and T24, which, despite initial challenges, GE/ Alstom successfully used in the latest USC generation of large size boilers – demonstrating a level of expertise that can be regarded as unique, fully proven by tens of thousands of hours of operation. And these materials are proving capable of operating at even more onerous conditions than being employed today.

In addition, HR6W, a nickel-based material, is being employed for some boiler parts, while we have used Inconel materials for inlet components of turbines exposed to the most extreme conditions. These advanced materials have been extensively tested, with more than 30 000 hours of experience in operational USC power plants around the world. 

More than hardware

But SteamH is about more than just the hardware. When you introduce our recent digital advancements, we can ensure that plants are operating at their highest efficiency for years and maintain both their environmental performance and a competitive cost of electricity production.

GE’s Predix cloud-based platform is designed for collecting, analysing and processing data. However, today’s power plant operators are only reading approximately 2% of the available data we have from typically more than 10 000 sensors on control systems across the plant. By analysing the other 98% of the data and really optimising whole-plant operations – excess air, temperatures in the boiler, etc – efficiency and flexibility can be significantly improved.

For example, GE’s Operation Evaluation system leverages a digital twin of the physical steam plant that is continuously monitored in real time to identify pinch points or areas of the facility in need of attention. We’ve also developed a number of optimizers for critical components in the plant. For example, the Fuel Management Optimizer is an online analysis program to enable real-time tuning of the combustion and exhaust management process based on the actual coal properties.

SteamH also includes air quality control systems that can address all the sources of non-greenhouse gas emissions, such as NOx, SOx and particulate matter, from any coal-fired power plant and meet and exceed the world’s strictest regulations. Two power plant owner/operators have already chosen SteamH technology and are partnering with GE to drive the coal-fired power industry into the next phase.

Our launch customer for the full SteamH suite of offerings is Yildirim Energy in Turkey. As a pioneer in investing in the future of energy with the best available technology, Yildirim has been the first to select SteamH for the 2 x 800 MW Karaburun Imported Coal Project. The scope includes the advanced ultrasupercritical boiler and steam turbine generator combined with digital power plant software.

At the end of last year we also booked a deal for the Pingshan II power plant being developed by Huaibei Shenergy Power Generation in China, which will be the first to implement SteamH boiler technology. This plant will also have double reheat, further contributing to increased efficiency.

In partnership with Shanghai Electric, GE will manufacture the key components for the Pingshan II boiler including burner, water wall, superheaters and reheaters, at its Wuhan boiler factory in China, one of the world’s most advanced boiler making facilities.

Ultimately, for power plant owners, SteamH is about achieving enhanced value and increased flexibility at lower cost over the lifecycle of the plant. How much? 50% efficiency. 99% reliability. 96% availability. 50% start time reduction. 20-100% load flexibility. Overall, by combining the best hardware and software, SteamH can add up to $130 million in increased net present value for plant owner/operators compared to the best plants in operation today.

SteamH is the future of the coal-fired power industry, and the future is here today. 

SteamH SteamH combines hardware and software in the pursuit of 50% coal plant efficiency
SteamH Efficiency evolution
SteamH Improved start time offered by digital features of SteamH, relative to the state-of-the-art ultrasupercritical plant without digital systems

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