This Development of Combined Cycle Using Solar Reformed Gas project aimed to demonstrate the technical and economic feasibility of a combined cycle power plant fuelled with natural gas that has been ‘upgraded’ using solar thermal energy.
The commercial assessment performed by GE Australia has highlighted a number of barriers to taking the project to the next stage. The market for power generation has not developed as predicted when the project was first proposed. The hybrid nature of the fuel and solar has operation limits in the turbine combustor (Wobbe index and NOx Emissions) resulting in minimal savings in CO2 emissions. There are also factors associated with introduction of new technology and the risk burden they present to a mining customer.
The assessment by GE Australia highlighted the following barriers:
- Proven technology with long demonstration of operation has typically been used to meet requirements, as it offers security and reliability above all else.
- There is no reason to alter the current power generation mix including augmentation or improvement and especially not using ‘speculative’ technology.
- For the most part, except for utilities, customers core business is not power generation.
- Increasing the complexity of power generation assets is highly unappealing to potential partners.
- The addition of more moving parts, including changing gas supplies twice per day, increases risk of failure in the system.
The project economics presented a case where the Levelized Cost of Energy (LCOE) remains effectively unchanged, despite the addition of a solar field and reactor system, capital cost increases were offset by improvements in thermal efficiency. The assessment highlights that the risks involved in developing such a system out-way the benefits at this point in time.
The project has demonstrated that hybridisation of power generation with a solar thermochemical process is achievable, with the technical challenges addressed.
The north-western region of Australia is home to a large and rapidly expanding mining industry, which has a growing demand for power generation.
Existing solutions such as diesel engines, simple gas turbines and small combined cycle units are cost effective but not environmentally sustainable.
However the region’s abundant solar resource and existing high fossil-based energy prices presents a unique opportunity to demonstrate a local solar energy solution.
The Development of Combined Cycle Using Solar Reformed Gas project aimed to demonstrate the technical and economic feasibility of a combined cycle power plant fuelled with natural gas that has been ‘upgraded’ using solar thermal energy.
In order to do so the project developed a renewable energy option that takes full advantage of the available solar resources in the area and uses solar thermal energy to upgrade abundant natural gas into a synthesised gas (or syngas) with a higher chemical energy content.
The syngas can then be burned in the combined cycle power system’s gas turbine to generate electricity.
This innovative approach sought to enable electricity to be generated in state-of-the-art, industry-proven combined cycle power generation systems, operating at the highest known energy conversion efficiencies of over 50%.