6 Takeaways from POWERGEN International 2019

The POWERGEN International exhibition and summit—one of the world’s largest power-industry events with more than 750 exhibitors—was held at the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center in New Orleans, Louisiana, Nov. 19–21, 2019. POWER was there (Figure 1) to connect with leaders from the industry and report on the latest news from the show. Hot topics at this year’s event included energy storage, developments in gas turbine and digital technology, new oil formulations, and innovation throughout the industry.



1. POWERGEN 2019 was held at the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center in New Orleans, Louisiana, Nov. 19–21, 2019. Source: POWER

Medium-Power Gas Turbines Are in Demand

Paul Browning, CEO of Mitsubishi Hitachi Power Systems Americas (MHPSA), told POWER that customers are seeking smaller gas turbines. He noted that MHPS’s J-series gas turbine was originally introduced as a 330-MW unit with a steam-cooled combustor. However, it was converted to air-cooled combustion technology about five years ago, and it has evolved over time into a much larger unit—about 425 MW for today’s 60-Hz JAC.

“The feedback that we’re getting from some customers around the world, including in the U.S., is that for some applications, 425 MW is too big,” Browning said. During POWERGEN, MHPS announced that it is going to offer a smaller unit. “We’re taking that steam-cooled 330-MW original J, and we are converting it to air-cooling and giving it all of our newest combustion and fuel-efficiency technology, and so, we’re going to have a 64-plus-percent efficient, 340-MW version of the JAC.”

Chris Mieckowski, director of global solutions marketing and strategy with Siemens, also mentioned a surge in medium-power applications. “A few years ago, it was: How big can you build a power plant and what’s the smallest footprint you can take up with it? To now, it’s, OK, now I have that same 300- to 400-MW need, but I want to break it up into smaller pieces for the medium gas turbine size, so that I can completely de-energize one, or two, or three trains and maintain that baseload efficiency at 80% load, 50% load, 20% load, which I think is really just the flexibility that you need based on the renewables and those types of things,” he said.

Digital Twins Continue to Expand

At last year’s POWERGEN event, Robert Yeager, president of Emerson’s Power and Water Solutions business, gave a keynote presentation focused on digital twin technology. He spoke about 10 million lines of code that had been programed over a seven-year period. In New Orleans, Yeager told POWER that much progress had been made in the past year.

“I think last year we had about 40 of the digital twins on the ground,” Yeager said. “The reason that customers see value in it is because they understand it, they know it, and they can maintain it.” He said digital twins can be used for operator training, debugging, and avoiding unit trips.

Today, Yeager said, “We have about 110 or 120 digital twins, either coming through the factory or on the ground up and running. So, it’s really gaining traction. I think the economics really work well for our customers.”

Natural Gas and Wind Capacity Will Continue Growth in 2020

Industrial Info Resources (IIR) is a provider of global market intelligence for the power and other industries. In an exclusive interview with POWER, Britt Burt, vice president of power industry research with IIR, offered his insight on the market, gleaned from some of the company’s latest research.

“This year we’ll see natural gas capacity increase by about 6%, probably increase by another 2% in 2020,” Burt said. “Wind, we’re seeing it increase by about 6% this year, and probably 14% next year, as far as installed capacity. And I think we’re going to continue on that path for a while, as far as wind, solar, and natural gas,” he said.

However, production tax credits for wind facilities have been ratcheting down for a few years now, and the credits are slated to expire completely at the end of 2019. “Of course, the big thing is production tax credits for wind. Developers have to be in construction on those by the end of this year to take advantage of the production tax credit and they have to be in operation within four years once they start construction,” Burt said.

Battery Storage and PV Businesses Are Booming

In addition to gas turbines, MHPS also has a lithium-ion battery business. Browning said that business has really taken off, especially in California and New York. “Every number that I’m looking at this year has another zero in it,” he said, suggesting growth has been tenfold. “There’s about $1.6 billion in projects right now that have [request for proposals] out, so it’s a lot of activity,” he added.

Another thing MHPS has done in the past year is launch a PV solar development company called Oriden. The company is focused on developing PV solar projects in the PJM, NYISO, and ISO-NE markets for commercial and industrial customers, as well as for municipal and cooperative utilities. “That one is also really off to a strong start,” Browning said.

Burt said a big piece of solar power’s growth hinges on battery storage. “We’re just scratching the surface right now in terms of building what needs to be built for battery storage. We’re tracking probably $10 billion worth of battery storage activity right now that’s underway or is being proposed,” he said. “But that’s just a fraction of what needs to be invested for battery storage.”

Companies Are Providing Innovative Solutions

Innovation is a key to success for all types of industries, and BrandSafway has a segment of its business focused specifically on that objective. Eduardo Almeida, director of innovation with Industrial Specialists By BrandSafway, explained that his group was created to solve an internal need, but then it evolved into a customer-focused business. He said there are real benefits to having a separate group designed to improve processes. Being able to step back and take a look at the big picture can make all the difference when problem-solving.

“We are an innovation group, so we have time,” Almeida said. “We have a chance to fail. We have time to test. We have time to figure out things. So, that gives us kind of a privileged position and kind of a helicopter view of what they’re going to need to make the work easier and better. And that’s our main goal at the end of the day. What can we do to make the work faster and safer and with higher quality? That’s what we do.”

Among his groups significant timesaving developments is a unique stud-welding technology. BrandTech’s Precision Welding system was on display at POWERGEN. According to BrandSafway, the computer-driven stud-welding technology allows a two-person crew to complete 2,600 welds per 12-hour shift with only a 0.5% error rate. The company claims that’s more than a 16-person crew could complete using conventional techniques.

Gas Turbine Oil Has Evolved

On Nov. 20, ExxonMobil and GE announced the launch of Mobil SHC 918 EE gas turbine oil. The new offering is designed for use in multi-shaft 7HA, 9HA, 6FA.01, and 7FA GE gas turbines.

Mike Galloway, equipment builder engineer with ExxonMobil Fuels, Lubricants & Specialties Marketing Co., told POWER that the new technology may improve turbine bearing efficiency by up to 15% compared to conventional turbine oils. But even more than that, it could improve reliability. “Reliability, reliability, reliability,” Galloway said to emphasize the importance of the new oil.

Shell Lubricants also shared with POWER details about its innovative gas-to-liquid (GTL) base oil, which it claims provides longer life and is less susceptible to varnish formation in gas turbine equipment. Robert Profilet, product application specialist with Shell Lubricants, said the oil is made from natural gas through a unique process. On its website, Shell explains how the GTL production process works. It consists of three stages:

  • In the first stage, synthesis gas, a mixture of hydrogen and carbon monoxide, is manufactured from natural gas by partial oxidation. Impurities are removed from the syngas.
  • A second stage converts the synthesis gas into liquid hydrocarbons using a catalyst. In this stage, a liquid is formed, which looks and feels like wax at room temperature.
  • The final stage is cracking and isomerisation, which “tailors” the molecule chains into products with desired properties. This yields high-quality liquids such as diesel, kerosene, and lubricant oil.

“The base oil that turbine oils are formulated with is critical in the performance of the turbine oil,” Profilet said. Shell believes its formulation is superior to many other products on the market.

Aaron Larson is POWER’s executive editor (@AaronL_Power, @POWERmagazine).