Comment: LNG plays a vital part in power generation infrastructure
Advances in gas turbine technology are helping to secure the premier position of the gas power plant by keeping step with the increasing demands for electricity with much bigger 'jumbo' turbines
Natural gas is one of, if not the, most important fuel sources for the world today, and will continue to be so for the foreseeable future. It offers flexibility and easy power generation solutions while being relatively low-cost and clean compared with other carbon-based fuels.
The production of liquefied natural gas (LNG) helps facilitate the use of this staple resource to produce essential electricity supplies in remote and developing areas of the world.
Although renewables such as wind and solar power offer some of the most environmentally friendly electricity generation methods, they are relatively impractical as a secure and robust power base, due to their unpredictability and the lack of technology to effectively store the electricity produced. Gas, however, offers a way of producing convenient, relatively low-cost electricity that is much cleaner and kinder to the environment than coal or oil.
Advances in gas turbine technology are also helping to secure the premier position of the gas power plant by keeping step with increasing demands for electricity with much bigger, ‘jumbo’ turbines. These next-generation H and J class turbines have outputs of up to 500MW and improved combined cycle efficiencies exceeding 60%, giving them great appeal as solutions to meeting power generation shortfalls. Their efficiency makes them both economical and reduces their environmental impact further.
The convenience of gas power stations is another factor in their popularity. Compared with other types of power plants, they are eminently more flexible, as a gas-fired power plant can easily be switched on or off in response to changing demand levels.
This is far less true of coal or nuclear power plants – which are not easily or quickly switched on or off. Nor is it true for renewables that depend upon the sun shining or the wind blowing. Gas, therefore, becomes the convenient fuel source to keep the grid at an optimum level despite the fluctuating demand.
While gas has great appeal, however, there are still issues surrounding its transport for countries that do not have a well-developed infrastructure. There are many countries with no local gas supplies or inter-country gas pipelines to deliver gas for power generation. And building new major pipeline infrastructures is usually too expensive and impractical.
LNG, however, provides the solution. Countries with plentiful gas resources can load it onto shipping vessels, transport it to areas where it is needed, and use small, local pipelines to deliver the gas to the power plant. This means that gas can now bring electricity to areas where it was previously hard to generate in clean and efficient ways.
Although the capability of gas turbine technology means that power plants can meet increasing demands for electricity, challenges still remain in delivering that electricity to distributed areas. In developing countries, the enormous infrastructure overheads of a country-wide electric grid are simply too expensive to put into place.
In such cases, smaller and more mobile gas turbine technology can be used to create a distributed power grid – generating smaller amounts of electricity close to where it is needed and deploying it very quickly. Again, the use of LNG offers a solution for getting necessary gas resources to where they are needed to fuel these more modestly sized electricity generation operations.
It is the superior flexibility of using gas to generate electricity that means it will remain a big part of the power generation landscape for many years to come. Gas is quick and easy to produce, and comes at a relatively low cost.
As the world increasingly shuns coal- and oil-fired stations because of their environmental impact, gas offers a practical, cleaner solution that can provide countries with a secure, robust electricity supply. For countries with insufficient local gas resources, developing infrastructures, and/or distributed power needs, LNG is a vital part of getting stable electricity supplies to where they are needed.