GE launches new gas turbine to complement wind power

Power generating windmills in California
Image caption Wind power is finding it hard to compete with shale gas in the US

US conglomerate General Electric has launched a new gas turbine it says will complement renewable energy.

The firm claims to have made $11bn worth of purchases to strengthen its natural gas division.

The new turbine will be able to respond quickly to changing weather patterns affecting wind and solar power.

But with its sales of wind turbines falling, the product is also part of a push by the US firm to exploit rising interest in cheap gas.

The firm claims the new turbine will be able to turn on and off far faster than other high-efficiency gas turbines - about twice the current average.

It invested $500m developing the technology.

But while experts say the claims are impressive, they warn products like this are likely to be expensive - so companies will want to use them, and so burn gas, more of the time.

"This is more a base load machine. People investing in this will want to squeeze the last kilowatt out of it," says Nick Cumpsty, emeritus professor of mechanical engineering at Imperial College, London.

Gas not gusts

Large shale gas discoveries in the United States have driven down the price of gas, making gas power more popular.

GE says it has seen increased demand for its gas products, while demand for its wind turbines has dropped off.

The firm blames this on changes to incentives - and cheap gas.

"Some of those key policy parameters in the United States are expiring in 2012 and with gas prices the way they are today, it's making wind as an alternative source of power less attractive," said Steve Bolze, president and CEO of GE Power and Water.

Renewable energy experts welcomed the technology, but warned against relying on gas power instead of wind.

"Development of renewable energy is still essential, since efficiency gains in fossil fuel stations will not be enough on their own to deliver deep cuts in carbon," said Robert Gross, director of policy at Imperial College Energy Futures Lab.

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