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GE Tech Mela: Striking convergence of research and innovation

Venugopal Pillai ,  Sunday, September 06, 2015, 17:36 Hrs  [IST]

GE-Tech-Mela-01.jpgBangalore’s KPTO Exhibition Centre was recently home to a two-day technology extravaganza where on display were cutting-edge technology across key businesses of GE – healthcare, aviation, transportation, power & water, oil & gas and energy management. Called “Tech Mela”, the annual event this year had “Mission: Better Tomorrow” as its theme. The event was a collective showcase of innovative pursuits of the 5,300-plus scientists at GE India Technology Centre (GE ITC), officially known as the John F. Welch Technology Centre (JFWTC). Established in 2000, this centre—GE’s largest integrated multidisciplinary R&D centre in the world, outside US—has already filed over 2,000 patents.

On display was an array of innovative products, which included among scores of others, low-wind regime turbines, solar-wind hybrid solutions, modular gas turbines and intelligent transformer monitoring systems.

Interacting with Electrical Monitor at the event, GE engineers explained the key aspects of the Frame 7HA gas turbine that has been built for 60Hz markets like Americas (mainly US), Saudi Arabia and Japan. The turbine has a modular design that cuts down assembly time resulting in lower gestation periods. “It is a plug-and-play model with much shorter time for assembly,” noted a senior GE official.

For low-wind areas like India, GE has developed a wind turbine with 1.7-mw rating and a rotor diameter of 103m. This wind turbine is available for two hub heights—80m and 91m. GE has successfully been able to increase the rated capacity of its previous 1.6-mw turbine without changing the hub height. “We worked on the sweep area,” explained an official. The rotor diameter was increased from 82.5m to 103m resulting in an increase in capacity from 1.6 mw to 1.7 mw now. The hub height was also increased so as to harness winds better, noted the official. Meanwhile, GE engineers also said that GE developed has wind turbines of 3.2mw rating for high-wind regimes like those seen in Canada. The turbine with 85m height has been type-test certified, while the 98.3m variant is in the certification stage, GE engineers explained.

GE-Tech-Mela-02.jpgA striking innovation in the renewable energy space is the solar-wind hybrid solution on which work is currently underway. GE scientists explained that the hybrid variety involved optimum use of land available at wind farms without altering the electrical circuit. Spelling out details, GE engineers said that solar panels would be installed on the land available on the wind farms. The electricity generated by these panels would be fed into the same electric circuit of the wind turbine. “There will be no solar installation on the wind turbine,” clarified the officials. It will be some time before commercial installations of this hybrid model could begin, they said.

The GE switchgear business had an innovative product called “arc vault system” that does more than a conventional circuit breaker. Discussing the finer points, a GE engineer explained that arcs created in an electric circuit do not carry much current but they can potentially cause more damage to equipment and to the operator. The arc vault system “carries” the arc to a different location in the circuit (away from the operator) and effectively nullifies it, within just 8 milliseconds. Conventional breakers react to overloads and short circuits, but not to arcs, said the engineer.

The digital energy pavilion had interesting products like a complete suite of smart meters, conforming to ANSI standards. A very peculiar aspect of smart metering was explained by a GE official. Smart meters can be continuously upgraded to incorporate new features. However, it is not easy for the utility to keep replacing meters for every upgrade. Typically, a meter has a life of 20 years and, generally speaking, several product upgrades can be expected during this period. The utility therefore is deprived of the benefit of new features. GE has introduced a “smart note” attached to the meter. The smart note can incorporate upgrades without disturbing the meter. In other words, the “intelligence” component of the meter lies outside the meter rather than inside it. This technology can drastically improve a power utility’s inclination to upgrade meters without having to contend with the daunting prospect of replacing the meters.

Smart meters by GE have also incorporated features where the utility can selectively disconnect heavy loads during times of peak power demand. The smart meter will allow the consumer to use basic loads like lights and fans but the utility will be able to remotely disable electricity supply to heavy loads like washing machines or microwave ovens. “Of course, the smart meter has to be programmed and customized at the time of installation,” explained a GE official.

In the context of smart grids, a useful introduction displayed was GE’s “Multilin 8 Series”— a protective relay platform for distribution feeder applications. It is a new system for intelligently and remotely monitoring distribution transformers. The system provides scope to take remedial action to forestall transformer failure and prevent its cascading effects on the grid.
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