BOSTON (Reuters) - General Electric Co introduced a new design of power plant that can adjust production quickly to allow electric grid operators to better manage output changes from wind turbines and solar panels.
The largest U.S. conglomerate said on Wednesday it spent more than $500 million developing the product, which utility operators could use to offset fluctuations in the grid.
In a break with GE’s past practices, it has designed the first version of this technology to work on European and Asian power grids which use 50 hertz electricity, but not the United States, which uses 60 hertz.
“Traditionally we have launched in 60 hertz markets because the U.S. was the largest market in the world. That’s no longer true,” said John Krenicki, a GE vice chairman who runs the company’s energy arm.
GE is the world’s largest maker of electric turbines, competing with the likes of Europe’s Siemens AG
The plant is capable of producing 510 megawatts of electricity — enough to meet the needs of about 600,000 typical European Union homes. Based on a design developed for GE’s jet engines — a closely related technology — the plant can boost its power output by 50 megawatts per minute.
Most gas turbines in use today are designed to run at a steady rate and not able to quickly change their power output, said GE, the world’s largest maker of electric turbines.
One of the complaints some raise about renewable energy sources such as wind turbines and solar panels is that the amount of power they provide varies with the amount of wind or sun available. The new GE design aims to solve that problem.
The Fairfield, Connecticut-based company, which also makes solar panels, expects to have its first European orders for the new plant signed later this year, Krenicki said, with shipments to begin by 2014.
The company plans to introduce a U.S.-appropriate design in the future.
GE has been aggressively stepping up its presence outside the United States over the past year, moving top executives including Vice Chairman John Rice to Asia in a bid to build its market share in that region’s fast-growing economies at a time when the outlook at home is tepid.
Reporting by Scott Malone, editing by Dave Zimmerman and Derek Caney