Pro­file: Ex­plor­ing a new era of power gen­er­a­tion

By Ghas­san Bargh­out, president and CEO of GE’s Gas Power Sys­tems busi­ness in the Mid­dle East and North Africa

Gulf Business - - CONTENTS -

Ghas­san Bargh­out, president and CEO of GE’s Gas Power Sys­tems busi­ness in the Mid­dle East and North Africa, ex­plains how af­ford­able power gen­er­a­tion will be key to meet­ing the Gulf’s fu­ture needs

Cost-ef­fec­tively meet­ing the Gulf coun­tries’ need for an ad­di­tional 100 gi­gawatts (GW) of power ca­pac­ity over the next decade re­quires three cor­ner­stones to es­tab­lish a nexus of ex­cel­lence; ro­bust en­gi­neer­ing, dig­i­tal in­no­va­tion and com­mer­cial bril­liance.

Each is in­te­gral to in­no­va­tive re­search and devel­op­ment (R&D), which cre­ates a steady flow of game-chang­ing tech­nolo­gies that en­able the re­gion to keep pace with the an­nual growth in power de­mand of up to 8 per cent.

Mas­ter­ing the nexus of af­ford­abil­ity-ef­fi­cien­cyre­li­a­bil­ity will only be­come more cru­cial. By 2050, Saudi Ara­bia’s pop­u­la­tion could grow by 37 per cent to 45 mil­lion and the UAE’s by 39 per cent to 13.1 mil­lion, ac­cord­ing to the United Na­tions. Com­par­a­tively, the pop­u­la­tion was 3.1 mil­lion and 70,000, re­spec­tively, in 1950. This growth pat­tern is echoed across the Gulf. Prob­ing and ex­plor­ing new power tech­nolo­gies that can be com­mer­cialised takes time, money and ef­fort. It is a marathon, not a sprint; those start­ing sooner will likely be at the front of a highly com­pet­i­tive curve.

Nearly 300 years ago, in 1729, Bri­tish chemist Stephen Gray dis­cov­ered the prin­ci­ple of the con­duc­tion of elec­tric­ity, fol­lowed by French chemist Charles Fran­cois DuFay’s dis­cov­ery in 1733 that elec­tric­ity comes in two forms – pos­i­tive and neg­a­tive. Fast for­ward through nearly 150 years of R&D ef­forts to 1879 when US inventor Thomas Edi­son cre­ated the world’s first light bulb.

And today, GE’s 9HA gas tur­bine marks the pin­na­cle of another 150 years of R&D into power gen­er­a­tion. The re­sult of $2bn in R&D and three years of in­ten­sive devel­op­ment by a 1,800-strong team, the 9HA has more than a 99 per cent re­li­a­bil­ity rat­ing.

The tech­nol­ogy of­fers in­dus­try lead­ing flex­i­bil­ity, al­low­ing cus­tomers to main­tain sta­ble power pro­duc­tion and re­li­ably ac­com­mo­date grid vari­a­tions through quick start up, rapid load changes and other fea­tures. This al­lows the 9HA to de­liver re­li­able and flex­i­ble op­er­a­tions not just for large power plants and util­i­ties but also for cap­tive power plants or small grids.

Most no­tably, the gas tur­bine helped set a record for the world’s most ef­fi­cient com­bined cy­cle power plant in Bouchain, France,

help­ing EDF achieve 62.22 per cent com­bined cy­cle ef­fi­ciency in June 2016. GE is in­vest­ing fur­ther in its gas tur­bine tech­nol­ogy with the aim to achieve 65 per cent com­bined cy­cle ef­fi­ciency within the next five years. Ef­fi­ciency mat­ters, as each 0.1 point of ef­fi­ciency has a po­ten­tial re­duc­tion in fuel cost of more than $13m over the life of a plant.

Pi­o­neers span­ning from Gray to Edi­son likely could not have guessed at the scale and com­mer­cial ap­pli­ca­bil­ity of an en­gi­neer­ing feat such as GE’s 9HA gas tur­bine, which raises key ques­tions. What other ideas con­jured up by the hu­man imag­i­na­tion can be re­alised by the in­dus­try’s en­gi­neer­ing and com­mer­cial ex­perts? How can ground­break­ing ideas scrib­bled on pa­per be crafted into widelyap­pli­ca­ble tools that can re­shape the power se­cu­rity of a coun­try or the world? The an­swers lay in the re­sults of many more R&D ex­ploits.

The mix of com­mer­cial tech­nolo­gies today en­com­passes gas, so­lar, wind, hy­dro, coal and nu­clear. But only the tip of the ice­berg has been ex­plored in some of th­ese seg­ments, such as re­duc­ing emis­sions. A proac­tive ap­proach to cut­ting waste will pay off as new chap­ters are in­evitably added to the in­creas­ingly strict en­vi­ron­men­tal rule book in the Gulf and be­yond.

A lo­cal and ro­bust ed­u­ca­tion process is key to high­light­ing the di­verse and so­phis­ti­cated ‘menu’ of power gen­er­a­tion op­tions al­ready in the mar­ket; the in­dus­try’s R&D ef­forts have got­ten off to a good start. Clearly com­mu­ni­cat­ing the mar­ket’s com­mer­cial suc­cesses makes it eas­ier to pin­point where ad­di­tional R&D can be most use­ful and it helps whet Gulf-based stake­hold­ers’ ap­petites to sup­port new pro­jects.

The lat­ter is es­pe­cially vi­tal as deep­en­ing in­vestors’ hunger for in­no­va­tion will lead to the lo­cal reg­is­tra­tion of more patents, im­proved dig­i­tal flu­ency and the growth of grass­roots in­tel­lec­tual prop­erty (IP). Each is cor­re­lated to the growth of knowl­edge-based economies, as per many Gulf coun­tries’ Na­tional Vi­sions.

Ac­cord­ingly, GE is build­ing lo­cal R&D ca­pa­bil­i­ties with spe­cialised cen­tres like in the GE Man­u­fac­tur­ing and Tech­nol­ogy Cen­tre (GEMTEC) in Saudi Ara­bia and the GE Kuwait Tech­nol­ogy Cen­tre (GEKTC) in Kuwait. The cen­tres are deeply con­nected to the re­gion, tai­lor­ing and re­fin­ing tech­nol­ogy to ad­dress the unique needs of the Mid­dle East.

They also help to strengthen our busi­nesses by scal­ing pro­cesses, knowl­edge, and tech­nol­ogy to in­no­vate faster across re­gional in­dus­tries. For ex­am­ple, among the first so­lu­tions be­ing de­vel­oped in-re­gion are fuel ad­di­tives that can help 7E/9E gas tur­bines run more ef­fi­ciently on harsh fu­els such as crude and heavy fuel oils, which are widely used in the Mid­dle East. One of th­ese fuel ad­di­tives has the po­ten­tial to pro­duce net cost sav­ings of up to $3m per year, per tur­bine.

In an ever-chang­ing mar­ket, R&D gives the power mar­ket the in­tel­lec­tual and tech­ni­cal tools it needs to safe­guard bal­ance sheets and pro­vide en­ergy se­cu­rity. With­out th­ese tools, our in­dus­try and our gen­er­a­tion can­not reach its full po­ten­tial. Strate­gies must be based on one of the mar­ket’s few guar­an­tees; all we truly know is that there is much more to know.

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