GE's steam, gas and wind turbines make up one-third of electricity capacity around the world. Now the industrial giant has the capability to layer batteries on top of all those generators, if desired.
This week, the industrial and power giant unveiled a battery and controls package that can be integrated into any of its steam or gas turbines. Soon, it will be ready for solar, wind and hydroelectric generators. It's a solution that could change the way many power plants are used for real-time energy services.
"The case for hybridizing power plants with batteries is becoming a lot more compelling," said Brian Gutknecht, the chief marketing officer for GE Power, in an interview.
Decreasing battery costs, improved control systems, air pollution requirements and changing grid needs are all converging to make storage an attractive partner for thermal and renewable power plants.
In April, GE developed two custom units for Southern California Edison that integrate battery storage with gas-fired turbines. The plants, called hybrid electric gas turbines, pair 10-megawatt/4-megawatt-hour lithium-ion batteries with 50-megawatt peaking gas plants.
SCE is using the hybrid plants to speed up response times, turning the gas peakers into spinning reserve units that can act instantaneously, any time of the day. The batteries and controls integrated by GE allow the utility to call on the power plant while it waits for the gas turbine to ramp up. GE says the system will cut greenhouse gas emissions by 60 percent.
The units were developed specifically for SCE after the Aliso Canyon gas shortage, which forced the utility to procure tens of megawatts of fast-responding batteries in record time.
"Aliso Canyon gave us a tailwind to push this faster. It allowed us to fast-track it," said Eric Gebhardt, vice president of product management at GE Energy Connections. "We’ve been really satisfied with the technology."
With both GE and SCE happy with the performance, the technology is being rolled out for wider use.
GE says the integrated package is ready for any steam or gas turbine, and will soon be ready for renewable generators.
Co-locating batteries with renewable power plants is becoming more attractive for developers. But technical constraints with controls and dual-use inverters have limited deployment so far. GE says its controls package is the secret to cost-effective integration.
The hybrid battery units could be a critical tool on grids where distributed energy or resource constraints are changing real-time balancing needs.
"The possibilities for these hybrid systems are endless. Like hybrid cars, the addition of hybrid power plants creates new opportunities we never thought possible before. Turbines may not need to spin up as much and solar plants might be able to deliver a much more consistent supply onto the grid, even after sunset," wrote GE executives in a briefing about the technology.
The company is offering up battery storage as an add-on to any power plant, anywhere in the world.
GE won't just be targeting markets like California, where high amounts of solar are already forcing the need for new integration methods. It is also looking to countries in Africa, where storage can provide support on flimsy electric grids or become the backbone for microgrids.
GE unveiled the platform during a busy news week for the company.
On Monday, CEO Jeff Immelt announced his retirement. And this morning, GE Power CEO Steve Bolze said he is retiring.
Also this week, GE expanded its Predix grid software platform to give utilities deeper intelligence on energy market data. "The shift to renewable energy that is sweeping Europe and gaining traction in the U.S., while great in the long run, is creating a glut of power, causing utilities to lose profits from unused, overproduced energy," said the company.
The combination of better software and hybrid power plants will give GE customers the tools to manage those changing grid conditions.
Predix creates more than 100,000 "digital twins" of power plants across the grid that send data to utilities and energy traders, making it easier to execute real-time decisions about how to buy and sell power.