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The role of gas turbines in supporting the energy transition – interview with Gergő Lencsés, General Manager at GE Gas Power

Gergő Lencsés will be one of the speakers of the Budapest Climate Summit, to be held on 7-8 October 2021.

At the end of July, power company GE celebrated an important milestone: its H-Class heavy-duty gas turbine fleet has secured more than 50 customers across 20 countries, generated more than 26 gigawatts (GW) of power and accumulated more than one million commercial operating hours.

Since the launch of its flagship HA gas turbine in 2014, GE has helped power plant operators reduce emissions, increase efficiency, retire coal-fired facilities and integrate greater levels of renewable energy. Thus, in light of worldwide commitments to reach carbon neutrality, gas turbines could play an important role.

CEENERGYNEWS spoke with Gergő Lencsés, General Manager, Gas Turbines Value Chain at GE Gas Power about the role of gas power technology in reaching a net-zero future, especially for countries which rely heavily on coal like those in Central and Eastern Europe.

“The world will need a lot of renewable energy sources while balancing the demand and the supply,” Mr Lencsés begins. “The real issue is the seasonability of wind and solar: the problem in the case of solar photovoltaic, for example, is there are fewer sunshine hours in the winter, or the angle of sunshine is not optimal, therefore a long-term energy storage solution is needed.”

Mr Lencsés speaks about energy storage as the holy grail of the energy industry, since Edison and Tesla and all the great inventors.

“While we talk a lot about power balance, we cannot forget about power quality, which is also important,” he continues.

“For power quality, we need rotating machines and in this regard, gas turbine power plants are key components for improving quality (power factor).” 

For him, gas turbines are supporting the energy transition today by helping carbon-neutral solutions to spread even currently as they are mostly peakers, not primary sources. But gas turbine power plants will be a key element of any future energy ecosystem focused on reducing carbon emissions.

GE gas turbine
GE 7HA Gas Turbine, Greenville. Courtesy of GE.

“At GE, we are advancing our turbines capability to burn hydrogen, ensuring that ever-higher levels of hydrogen can be burned safely and reliably in our gas turbines,” Mr Lencsés says. “GE’s gas turbine portfolio has the capability to burn hydrogen levels from 5 per cent (by volume) up to 100 per cent. In Australia, our 9F gas turbines will operate with a blend of natural gas and hydrogen.”

“Gas turbines and fossil gas is seen as a bridging technology to a carbon-neutral future, however, we see it as a destination technology once the cheaper carbon-neutral hydrogen will be available or the CCUS solutions can be applied.”

GE gas turbine
GE 9HA Gas Turbine, Belfort. Courtesy of GE.

Many countries from Central and Eastern Europe still rely on coal and lignite and, taking into account several countries’ coal phase-out plans, gas turbines have a major role to play.

“If you want to retire a coal- or lignite-fired power plant, we are talking about 1-2 GW capacity or more to be replaced relatively quickly,” Mr Lencsés notes. “And the beauty of gas turbines is that you can have a large power plant with significant CO2 emission reduction.”

“It takes more than a decade to build a nuclear power plant while gas technology can be quickly deployed and offers an immediate solution for decreasing emissions and then can be upgraded to burn more hydrogen when new technologies will be there. So, it is also the speed of the transition that is important.”

The recently announced Fit for 55 package could make things easier. However, Mr Lencsés reminds us that electrons do not care about laws.

“We need to talk more about physics and fewer regulations,” he concludes. “One thing I can say about laws and directives is that we should act now, implementing available, future-proof solutions for emission reduction, while working on the technology needed for the carbon-free future.”

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