While renewable energy sources like wind and solar may be the wave of the future, reliable energy today is more reliant upon traditional energy sources like natural gas. Hybrid power plants combine the best of both worlds by utilizing renewable sources with a traditional source as the backbone.
A hybrid power plant works pretty much the same as a hybrid car, utilizing the efficiency of electric propulsion with the reliability of a traditional source like natural gas. Today, hybrid power plants have a global share of only about 5 percent. The EIA estimates this number will rise to 15 percent by 2035, and natural gas is helping drive growth.
How hybrid power works
Basically, the heat generated by a renewable source like solar power combines with the exhaust from gas combustion to power the steam turbines. Wind on the other hand can be transformed into electricity directly. Adding these renewable sources to a traditional natural plant-fired plant is considerably more cost effective than a stand-alone renewable power plant.
When combining the old with the new, natural gas has been proven to be the most effective partner for wind and power supplements. On top of that, natural gas burns much cleaner than petroleum or coal.
Why is natural gas more efficient? Because gas heats up almost instantly and can be turned off in the same amount of time. Other traditional energy sources like nuclear power are far less flexible.
Hybrid power plants on the rise
Right now 80 percent of electricity generated in hybrid plants come from traditional fuel sources. Estimates show that renewable sources can improve ion this ration but it will be slow progress. Right now new hybrid power plants are under construction in the USA, Europe, and Africa.
For example: the Florida Power & Light natural gas facility in Martin County, FL currently operates at 3722 megawatts (MWt). In an attempt to change the plant to a hybrid, the company added 75 megawatts of solar power in 2011. While just a start, the company has plans to increase renewable energy’s contribution.
First hybrid power plant proves twice as efficient
The very first hybrid electrical power plant was unveiled in turkey in 2011, combining renewable like solar and wind with natural gas. The power plant, built by GE, produces 522 MWt of total power. Of that, 450 MWt comes from natural gas with 22 MWt from wind and 50 MWt from solar.
The alternating gas turbine was the first of its kind, designed by GE. The company also says the power plant will run at a 69 percent efficiency rating, twice that of stand-alone natural gas-fired plants.
In fact, a 2013 study by the Reiner Lemoine Institute and Solarpraxis AG shows that GE was right, that hybrid electrical power plants are twice as efficient as traditional one-source plants. Renewable sources have demonstrated a trade off with traditional sources like natural gas with solar adding additional power in the summer months and natural gas picking up the slack in winter.
Hybrid electric power plants are the wave of the future, combining the best of both worlds, the old and the new. More efficient, more cost effective, they are also proving to be more environmentally friendly as well.
…original content by PPE