– Countries like Poland need an energy diversity. If you depend on one country for your fuel supply, you’re at risk. So, for such a coal-dependent country like Poland, gas becomes an alternative transition fuel to getting renewables gradually including nuclear as base load – said Robert McKeel, Chief Marketing Officer at GE Power in an interview with BiznesAlert.com.
BiznesAlert.com: How should the energy grid be adapted to the increasing share of renewable energy sources?
Robert McKeel, Chief Marketing Officer at GE Power: We believe that the electricity industry is in the midst of a grand transformation, one which will require countries to adopt a mix of power generation technologies and solutions, including grid transmission and distribution technologies that will enable the large-scale integration of renewable energy. At GE, we provide all the renewable energy sources, from solar to off- and onshore wind and hydro, and as we have seen, many countries that adopt the renewable energy sources have to think through not only the cost of energy, like the purchase of assets itself, but also the cost of delivery of electricity – the grid infrastructure and all that goes with it. Steam and gas turbines or even nuclear power plants provide services to the grids sort of automatically, and you have to think it through, when you put renewables onto the grid. The power system needs to balance every microsecond, so when you have those micro fluctuations from the renewables, you need to provide the support to the grid. Along with the grid services, you also see systems using their existing turbines as flexible support as well, so it is something like a peaking unit to help balance out the big influxes of renewable energy onto the grid, or handle shortfalls. Typically, your resources for renewables are not located near cities where most of the demand is, so in many cases new transmission lines need to be adapted to move all the energy from the source of generation to the source of consumption. The grid infrastructure, both the transmission lines, frequency support, voltage support and technologies that have to be deployed, as well as the technology to get it to the distribution system to the consumers is all part of a cohesion when you bring the renewables on line. Stronger and more interconnected grids are needed to maintain system reliability with the influx of renewables and other capacity increase in energy systems while improving grid resilience and energy efficiency. High voltage direct current (HVDC) and flexible alternating current transmission system (FACTS) from GE allow utilities to move electricity further, enhance the performance of transmission systems, and even more easily integrate the two-way flow of renewable energy.
What is the potential and perspectives of the development of energy storage?
Firstly, energy storage promotes grid flexibility, by storing the energy generated from wind and solar, making it available at peak periods. It can bring a lot of services provided by multiple technologies today. You see storage on multiple levels – on houses, where people put rooftop solar power panels, or have an electric vehicle, so they need some form of storage to help manage this energy. You see storage on the substantial level, to help aggregate energy and then provide it back to the community, you see storage at the point of generation to help balance it. We have our own technology called GE Reservoir, which is a 4 MW/h storage unit. The Reservoir Solution can be used to inject a steady amount of power into the grid for an extended period of time. In a power configuration, the batteries are used to inject a large amount of power into the grid over a short period of time. It allows to increase efficiently. We also understand that our customers want a 20-year life to the assets, so we have looked through the technology to make it cost efficient along the life cycle, because batteries of course have to be managed as they go through different degradation cycles. They can also be useful to balance the daily peak demands for energy with the times when less energy is consumed.
What will be the role of the nuclear power in the energy mix?
There are two views on the nuclear: one is that nuclear is a very carbon-efficient base load power source. For a large base load power, it tends to be economical, but it has a high capital cost to deploy – it’s a big investment upfront, it has an operating cost because of the fuel and the management of the waste, but it provides a zero-carbon base load power. The second is that it’s not good for the intermittency, because it takes a long time to ramp up and a long time to ramp down. There is research in progress about the development of small nuclear reactors. They would be very contained, take away some of the safety risk that you have on a large nuclear reactor, they can be a lot more flexible on the grid, and those may be a better match for renewables, used as a supporting resource. We have been researching technologies in that area as part of GE.
The US and Poland have been cooperating in the area of gas. Can American LNG be competitive to gas supply from pipelines?
The production capacity in the US is increasing and the investment in the LNG technology in the US is increasing too. We’ve just recently passed a point where we’re exporting more than we’re importing, when it comes to fuels. To become an alternative, the gas network needs to be improved too, so the cost of transporting the gas does not outlay the cost of producing the gas in the US, allowing countries like Poland to get a cost-effective access to gas. There is no doubt that LNG provides an alternative – and countries like Poland need an energy diversity. If you depend on one country for your fuel supply, you’re at risk, so having the ability to have multiple sources of fuel is important. Especially for a coal-dependent country like Poland, gas becomes an alternative as a transition fuel to getting to nuclear or renewable capabilities as you go forward. We’ve seen great progress in the US, or in the UK and others who use gas as a transition capability as they try to move from coal as primary source of energy, and at the same time reduce carbon and meet the pathway towards the carbon goals including bringing renewables into the energy mix.