GE Will Support Major South Korean Coal-to-Gas Conversion

A coal-fired power plant in South Korea will use equipment from GE Vernova’s Gas Power business as the facility switches to burn natural gas as soon as 2027.

GE Vernova on April 8 said it would supply a 7HA.02 gas turbine and a H65 generator for Korea Western Power Co.’s (KOWEPO’s) power station in Gongju-si, Chungcheongnam-do. KOWEPO is a subsidiary of Korea Electric Power Corp. (KEPCO). The 500-MW project also will enable the power plant to burn a fuel mixture of as much as 30% hydrogen.

GE Vernova is part of a consortium developing the project, along with Korea-based Daewoo E&C, an engineering, procurement, and construction company. The hydrogen component of the project will be determined by the scale of South Korea’s future hydrogen production.

Coal- and natural gas-fired generation provide about two-thirds of South Korea’s electricity generation, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. Nuclear power provides about 26% of the generation mix. The country relies on imports of coal and  liquefied natural gas because its does not have domestic production of fossil fuels.

Natural Gas and Hydrogen

A KOWEPO representative in a news release Monday said, “This power plant will add new capacity, expected to increase power supply security in South Korea while continuing to phase out coal power generation. In addition, it will help expand a more reliable deployment of renewable energy resources in our country as we’ll be more capable to dispatch power quickly in response to grid fluctuations. The new power plant will be capable to operate on up to 30% hydrogen by volume, in line with the national goal to deploy renewables and green hydrogen at large scale and achieve carbon neutrality by 2050.”

The 7HA.02 is considered one of GE Gas Power’s most-advanced gas turbine units. Source: GE Vernova

Construction of the new gas-fired facility is expected to begin next year. Officials on Monday said that burning natural gas instead of coal at the power plant could reduce carbon emissions by as much as 60%, and also would lower emissions of mercury, nitrogen oxides (NOx), sulfur oxides (SOx), and particulate matter.

The Center for Global Sustainability, part of the School of Public Policy at the University of Maryland, said that in South Korea, “as of September 2023, a total of 85 units [40.2 GW, including collective energy and intense gasification combined coal cycle (IGCC)] were operating in 30 coal plants across the country. Taking into account retirement plans and design life, 51 coal plants will remain in Korea in 2035, and the country will not be coal-free until 2050. The report calls for faster phaseout of coal and transition to clean energy if Korea is to achieve carbon neutrality and comply with international climate goals.”

Officials last year said South Korea, as part of its phase-out plan, could be expected to retire at least 30 coal-fired units by 2034.

Coal Plant Retirements

“In a country with an increasing power demand due to planned coal-fired power plant retirements, we are proud to support a lower-carbon future in Korea,” said Ramesh Singaram, president and CEO GE Vernova’s Gas Power business in Asia, in a statement. “We are committed to providing KOWEPO with our advanced gas turbine technology to accelerate coal phase-out and support an increase in the share of renewables as we work towards lower-carbon gas-based power generation with hydrogen. Once in operation, Gongju-si power plant is expected to be among the most efficient and flexible power plants in the country.”

The 7HA.02 gas turbine is considered one of GE Vernova’s most-advanced units. The company has a strong presence in South Korea, with as many as 78 gas turbines—both simple cycle and combined cycle—capable of generating more than 14 GW of electricity across that country.

GE Vernova has operated in South Korea since 1976. The company in 2015 acquired Doosan’s heat recovery steam generator business, taking over a major manufacturing plant in Changwon.

Darrell Proctor is a senior associate editor for POWER (@POWERmagazine).

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