In an era of increasing renewable sources on the electricity grid and the loss of large amounts of baseload coal-fired generation, flexibility has become a mantra for natural gas-fired power stations, as evidenced by a deal unveiled last week between a unit of General Electric and Edison International's Southern California Edison Co. (SCE) utility.

GE's Power Generation Services business has taken on a multi-year assignment to upgrade and update SCE's gas-fired 1,054 MW Mountainview generation plant in Redlands, CA, about 70 miles east of downtown Los Angeles. GE officials said they see the assignment as helping the power sector "balance renewables with natural gas."

GE indicated it will begin installing updated technology solutions at the Mountainview plant next year, and complete the project in May 2017. Most of the new equipment will come from GE's gas turbine manufacturing facility in Greenville, SC.

GE Power outlined four principal areas it will focus on at the Mountainview plant:

  • Installing a new combustion system to lower the site's emissions without using additional water;
  • Adding an "advanced gas path solution" to boost turbine performance while reducing startup times and fuel/water consumption;
  • Boosting efficiencies; and
  • Combining hardware and software developed by GE that is having positive results in North America achieving greater plant output and longer periods between maintenance.

"Our Mountainview station will be much more flexible, enabling it to more quickly respond to the needs of the California ISO system that is highly penetrated with solar and other renewable sources," said Stuart Hemphill, SCE senior vice president for power supply and operational services.

GE's technology is expected to boost Mountainview's output by about 48 MW. "By increasing Mountainview's flexibility, the project will help SCE protect the grid from the intermittency of the state's rapidly expanding renewable energy supplies, while strengthening the facility's competitive position in California," a GE Power spokesperson said.

Paul McElhinney, CEO of GE Power Generation Services, said natural gas is playing a growing role in power generation around the world and GE is well positioned to help operators "squeeze every megawatt they can" out of existing gas-fired facilities, along with lowering emissions and water consumption.

As part of GE's expanded service agreement, the equipment to be supplied at Mountainview includes six advanced gas path sets, six sets of dry low nitrogen oxide 2.6+ combustion systems, an "OpFlex" software package and four new unit rotors.