General Electric Co. has hired 200 blue-collar hourly workers and skilled tradesmen this year at its steam turbine and generator plant in Schenectady -- the busiest hiring period it has had in the past five years at the plant.
Although some of the hiring is due to retirement and turnover, company officials say the growth in its power generation business, which supplies heavy duty equipment to power plants, is behind the new additions.
Including white-collar workers, the plant now employs 1,200 people, although a total of 4,000 people work at GE's Schenectady campus when jobs at the company's renewable energy headquarters and battery plant are counted.
Helping fuel the growth at the turbine and generator plant is a new type of high-efficiency natural gas combined-cycle power plant that GE is selling to its industrial customers.
Using a technology it calls FlexEfficiency, GE re-engineered its gas and steam turbines as well as its generators to produce what it says is the world's most efficient gas power plant that more easily complements renewable energy sources such as wind farms and solar.
GE first introduced FlexEfficiency last year for countries whose electrical transmission systems carry power at 50 hertz. But less than two months ago, the company launched a new FlexEfficiency portfolio for the 60-hertz market, which includes large consumers of power such as the United States, the Middle East, Japan and Brazil. Hertz is a measure of how many cycles per second are used to produce electricity. A 60-hertz turbine spins 60 times a second.
On Monday, Schenectady was the latest stop for its FlexEfficiency 60 Truck Tour, which included an 18-wheel tractor-trailer with interactive exhibits that demonstrate the new technology. The tour, which hits 25 cities in North America, is designed to show off FlexEfficiency to customers, trade shows and industry experts, as well as college students. The tractor-trailer will make a stop Tuesday at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy.
Already, GE says it has sold $1.2 billion in orders for the new 60-hertz systems for 60 different projects in the United States, Japan and Saudi Arabia. GE spent $500 million developing the new power plant equipment, which is built in Schenectady and Greenville, S.C., where it makes gas turbines.
"It's a big investment in Schenectady and a big investment in the future," said Paul Browning, CEO of GE's thermal products division, which is part of the company's Power & Water business. Browning should know. He received his masters in mechanical engineering from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy and began his GE career at GE Global Research in Niskayuna.
Browning says that the new FlexEfficiency turbines borrow technology from GE's aircraft systems that give them stronger seals that allow for greater output and up to 61 percent efficiency when used in a combined cycle plant that uses both gas and steam turbines.
GE believes the market for the new power plant technology will be especially strong in countries with large or growing renewable energy sources. That is because at night when the wind blows less or solar power isn't available, the operators of an electrical grid need to quickly make up for the lost generation by bringing fossil fuel power plants online. GE says the new FlexEfficiency plants can ramp up to full load in 30 minutes -- half the time a typical natural gas plant needs.
Saudi Arabia and Japan -- both of which have a 60-hertz electrical grid -- are good examples of countries that GE believes are strong markets for the Flex Efficiency plants. Saudi Arabia mostly uses oil in its power plants, but wants to move to natural gas to preserve its oil supplies for export while adding renewable sources. Japan is looking at alternatives to nuclear power while also adding more renewable sources as well, Browning said.
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