GE launches new power services business unit

GE has launched a new business unit aimed at servicing and upgrading other OEMs’ gas turbine fleets.

The Cross-Fleet business offering, focusing initially on Siemens and Mitsubishi equipment, aims to increase performance and reliability for F-class gas turbines by adding GE technologies such as advanced thermal barrier coatings, proprietary alloys and enhanced cooling in turbine and combustion components.

Steve Hartman, GE Power Services’ chief technology officer, noted that the Cross-Fleet offering includes hardware, controls and digital platforms. In terms of hardware, he pointed to GE’s vertically cracked thermal barrier coating "which is thicker and more durable, and allows us to play with the turbine firing temperature as well as enhance performance and reduce outage intervals”. Along with materials that offer improvements in heat rate and flexibility, he said the hardware aspect of the upgrades represents “a flow-down of technology from the new HA product lines”.

According to GE, the addition of its technologies to competitors’ gas turbines has resulted in a 6 per cent performance improvement, a 1.5 per cent heat rate improvement and an increase in uptime to an average of 40,000 operating hours.

The business is also able to tailor maintenance contracts to specific customer needs, GE said, with flexible financing and service offerings as well as risk transfer.

GE has announced a $200m order backlog for CrossFleet in Latin America, Europe and Russia. This includes six Mitsubishi 501F gas turbines and eight Siemens SGT800 turbines. The business is “weeks away” from announcing the results from its first project, which GE said is about to be commissioned in Mexico.

Scott Strazik, president and CEO of GE Power Services, said: “GE is proven as one of the technology leaders and trusted service providers with 50 million hours of F-class operating experience on our own fleet, which we are applying to cross-fleet assets. We’re also benefiting from the extensive steam turbine, generator and HRSG other-OEM capabilities and expertise we acquired from Alstom’s power business in November 2015. We’ve combined all of these attributes and broadened our capabilities to now include select cross-fleet gas turbines." 

The new business, he added, is “all about expanding the installed base we insert our technology into. It’s not about servicing somebody else’s machines – that’s boring. It’s about taking those machines and making them our own: our coatings, our alloys, our engineering depth.”

The Cross-Fleet offering “allows us to do things with machines that our customers need that we don’t necessarily think our competitors can do." 

Martin O’Neill, general manager of cross-fleet solutions, added that “bringing real value and real competition to the table is the spirit of Cross-Fleet”. He said that “many customers with a sole maintenance provider have been actively seeking competition in these markets”.

GE decided to focus initially on the 501F and SGT-800 machines because they have a large installed base and what GE perceives as a “value gap", said O’Neill. "I’m not sure there’s a heavy investment in performance in 501 machines specifically,” he said. For these turbines, “Cross-Fleet will stimulate some invention in addressing long-term pain points.”  

At its base, Cross-Fleet is “a generic concept to take proven technology and scale it to competitors’ equipment,” he added. “This is a long-play game.”

And he said the competition will inevitably raise their game in response, which will be good for the market.  

O’Neill said he would like to see the business grow to twice its current size in the next 12 months.  



Sonnen at the heart of the decentralized energy revolution

Eight years ago, Christoph Ostermann and Torsten Stiefenhofer noticed the need for a market for energy storage systems, and sonnen was born. Communications spokesperson Mathias Bloch speaks about the evolution of the company over the past decade and its ambition to be a hub of decentralized energy technologies into the future.

The straplines on the sonnen website reveal much about the benefits of the company’s products and services – ‘It’s time to declare your independence – sonnenBatterie’ and ‘A clean, fair and affordable energy supply for all is finally here’ indicating its main calling cards – cheaper energy and more consumer control of that energy.
How sonnen community works
The company has its roots in the realisation that while many people in Germany possessed residential rooftop solar photovltaic (PV) systems at the turn of the decade, it was universally being fed into the grid with no capability for self-consumption.

“This new approach with the offer of self-consumption was the first step,” says Bloch. “In 2011 the first sonnen battery was introduced- it was a fully integrated storage battery system that stored the energy from day time that couldn’t be used at the time for later use at evening and night. People were then able to cover their energy needs 70 to 80 per cent per year by clean self-produced energy.”

The sonnen battery is now firmly established as a leading storage system, with smart home functionality controlling self-consumption in the household. It’s grid-friendly and, crucially, has smart charging attributes that allow it charge at a time when grids are under high stress, relieving the grid by being an active component of the energy infrastructure.


The emergence of digital technologies has increased that functionality since 2015.

“All sonnen batteries are online so we can see production, consumption, storage and other factors in real time. We found out, among our customers, there are people who always produce excess energy and similarly people who are always in need of energy, so we though it would be good to connect those two so they could equalise their different energy levels or their own and not have to rely on a conventional energy supplier any more – it’s the basic idea behind the sonnen community.”

The sonnen community is an online virtual power platform, which facilitates connection of households that produce and share energy to do so with other members. True to the purest sense of decentralized energy, it dispenses with the need for a conventional energy provider altogether.

Because of regulatory reasons individuals cannot trade energy directly between each other, but the platform makes the transactional process entirely legal.

“Members get a certain amount of money for the electricity they put into the community. It’s around the same amount of money they would get for their normal feed-in tariff (FIT) and even a bit more, but the energy they get from the sonnen community- that’s free energy.”

Participants sign up to membership by paying the ‘sonnen flat’, a flat fee for electricity, with a current price of EUR19.99 a month, after which all member energy is free from the community.


The Bavarian firm has a diverse business, which now includes playing a part in managing the massive influx of renewables on the national grid.

“The complex technology involved allows us to connect digitally the storage systems of our customers to form a large battery pool that can equalise fluctuations in the power grid, balancing power,” says Bloch.

“For example, the German grid has a frequency of 50 Hz, but is always a bit under or over that. If it’s too far either way the grid operators must do something to bring the frequency back towards the 50 Hz mark and can use our battery pool for the purpose. If there is too much energy they can store it in the battery pool and if there is too little they can take it out of the storage system. It is only for a few minutes normally and doesn’t impact the customer much because the energy amounts from each storage system are not high.”

For this grid service, sonnen receives money from the grid operators, amounting to another revenue stream or channel for re financing the company’s batteries and services. Community customers also profit because they offer their storage to the grid operators and receive energy for free in exchange.

The biggest revenue for the company continues to be its home battery storage system, which along with sonnen community services and service to grid operators makes for a strong, diverse business.

The sonnen battery

“It’s a sustainable concept because we are not dependent on only one from a market that is developing very fast, where you see a lot of competition and price decline. In the future we have to continue to distinguish ourselves and provide new services and possibilities to profit from the energy market. With our battery pool, we opened a revenue stream for the energy market, that hadnt’t been a possibility for residential customers before.”

In addition the sonnen community is tailored, offering tariffs for all kinds of users, whether PV owners, or people without either PV or storage systems.

The company is also operating communities in Australia, Austria, Italy as well as Germany. A new sonnen community in Arizona is to see 3,000 newbuild houses complete with PV and storage installations. That community will can offer services to local utilities, such as battery storage for load shifting purposes.

As it stands, sonnen’s customers are producing enough power to supply 100,000 people worldwide. With digitalization a relatively new addition it looks like a model replicable around the world particularly in the most energy deprived regions.

“The sonnen community is a blue print for the decentralised energy system because many small producing and consuming elements are involved with all you need in terms of components – in terms of production storage, smart metering and digital platform to manage all the energy and keep it in balance.”

“It is of course interesting for countries that haven’t built up a big central energy system such as in Africa.”


sonnen is self-sufficient and doesn’t require subsidies to make it a viable tool in continuing to enable Germany’s Energiewende. Grid balancing and managing the enormous extent of distributed and renewable energy on the German grid is a top priority at the moment and Bloch says structural clarity is the company management’s main concern, in fulfilling that role and others into the future.

“The Energiewende has been ongoing since 2000, but it has been a hardware and analogue Energiewende up until today. What we are doing is adding software and intelligence and creating a digital Energiewende.”

“There is no doubt that the energy future will be decentralized and connected and that should be of interest to any government that wants a clean and sustainable energy infrastructure. What we need a is a stable political frame, especially regulation, that makes it easy to establish that decentralised energy system.”

The company has drawn the attention of some strong operators keen to engage with sonnen’s offerings. Among current investors are GE Ventures and China’s Envision Energy, the world’s third largest wind turbine maker. Last month European trailblazer Engie combined with sonnen to offer customers in France residential battery storage installations under the residential ‘My Power’ solar solution it launched last year.

For now sonnen is happy to remain independent, and retain its own voice, within the growing milieu in the decentralized energy space.

NOTE: First featured on Decentralized Energy



Electrify Europe exhibitor showcase: Voith

Digital transformation, renewable energies and efficiency in steam and gas power generation will be the hot topics discussed at Electrify Europe by engineering company Voith.

In particular, the German company will be tackling the subject of ‘Smartening up your productivity to the next level’ by focusing on various technologies for more efficient drivelines.Digital transformation, renewable energies and efficiency in steam and gas power generation will be the hot topics discussed at Electrify Europe by engineering company Voith.

Voith says its BHS AeroMaXX technology for parallel-shaft gear units enables operators “to reduce power loss and oil consumption by up to 30 per cent”.

It minimizes losses by separating lubrication and cooling while no additional accessories are needed due to its passive mechanical construction. Such losses usually appear at high-pitch line velocities of up to 200 meters per second when the oil swirls and squeezes into the gear mesh. The BHS AeroMaXX technology consisting of a special inner gearbox casing and optimized bearings is designed for easy retrofitting for existing gear units.

SmartSet torque limiting couplings help to protect drivelines from torque overloads. The coupling slips when the rated torque is exceeded and limits the torque between the generator and the turbine if a fault occurs. The special controlled slip feature of SmartSet enables the coupling only to disconnect the drive in rare event of a driveline major failure.  Optionally the SmartSet can be fitted with Voith’s Coupling Monitoring System (CMS) that provides real-time status information and analyses for operators.

The original Voith Hirth couplings can be used between gas turbine disks or as a connection between impeller and pinion shaft. They connect and position shafts, wheels, disks and cranks in many areas of mechanical engineering where highest precision is demanded. The Hirth couplings can be tailored to each drive system individually.

The VECO-Drive is a variable speed drive that combines the superior reliability of mechanical gears with the high efficiency of frequency-controlled servo motors. Thanks to the electro-mechanic superimposing principle the VECO-Drive increases compressor or pump drive efficiency up to 97 per cent. Due to its modularity the VECO-Drive can be also configured individually for different application types, speed levels and explosion protection classes.Digital transformation, renewable energies and efficiency in steam and gas power generation will be the hot topics discussed at Electrify Europe by engineering company Voith.

VoreconNX is a reliable planetary gear for compressors and pumps in steam applications increasing efficiency by up to eight per cent. It helps the power industry to save both total costs of ownership and life cycle costs.

With the Voith remote service data helmet, operators can easily receive equipment information from a centralized Voith specialist and exchange details via pictures, drawings and sketches. Since there is no need for the expert to be present at site, operators can save time and money by identifying issues via a digital application. The worker at site is therefore able to act like the extended arm of the expert and will be guided by him accordingly. Furthermore, the equipment can be used to assist repairs, measurements and individual trainings. The overall functionality of the helmet can be experienced live at the Voith booth for the first time.

Gas turbines, steam turbines and compressors achieve exceptional efficiency and operational reliability when using actuators, protection equipment and control systems from Voith. The SelCon self-contained actuator is a linear, electrohydraulic drive without external oil supply. It convinces due to its compact, cost-effective drive with a high force density.

The system integration is easy and commissioning can be realized quickly which is also ideal for retrofitting. The SelCon offers good dynamics and control loop performance with position control via a servo pump. Additionally it is equipped with an integrated fail-safe function.Digital transformation, renewable energies and efficiency in steam and gas power generation will be the hot topics discussed at Electrify Europe by engineering company Voith.

TurCon DTc is a compact and cost-effective steam turbine controller which ensures a highly reliable operation of power plants. This controller is “pre-engineered” with software and the operation of the user interface is intuitive. It suites to steam turbines of all power classes and allows simple, fast and cost-effective system integration with various communication interfaces.

You can see and discuss all these technologies by visiting Voith at booth A-S10. For more details and to register for Electrify Europe click here.


Is the missing link in utilities innovation a human one?

Until recently, ‘utilities’ and ‘innovation’ were not words that were typically synonymous with each other. But times are changing fast. The utilities sector is now characterized by radical transformation, and utilities are now on a countdown to change.

But technology is only part of utilities’ innovation story. Transformation as a result of changing consumer trends is perhaps just as profound as the impact that technology is having on the energy sector.True innovation will require utilities to take greater strides toward diversity

And understanding consumers, and what drives them, is one of the key areas in which utilities are still lagging. This is because energy consumers are diverse – and energy leaders, in most cases, are not. Essentially, this is an issue of firm culture; as the business landscape evolves, utilities must pivot to become more agile and inclusive from the ground up.

The findings of EY research into gender diversity at the world’s biggest utilities over a three-year period have not been encouraging. In 2016, women made up just 5 per cent of executive board positions of the top utilities by revenue. Since 2014, the number of women on boards has increased by a disappointing 1 per cent year-on-year. This means it would take the sector until 2058 for women to make up just 30 per cent of boards … that’s 40 years away!

Diversity goes far beyond gender alone, and we know that diversity of ethnicity, sexual orientation, socioeconomic background and age all make for the highest performing teams. Yet anecdotal evidence suggests that utilities are still primarily led by men from similar ethnic, social and educational backgrounds, and who’ve spent most of their careers in the sector.

Leadership lacking in diversity does not reflect the broad base of consumers that utilities serve. How can businesses understand a customer base that they cannot always relate to? In the future energy world, companies will grow value – not from the kWh – but from selling new products and services enabled by a digital grid platform. Getting under the skin of consumers is critical if utilities are to offer the kind of products and services that meet their needs. If utilities are unable to quickly determine what consumers want, they will lose out to those that can from other sectors, such as retail and telecoms.

Adoption of AI

Outside of the boardroom, technological innovation itself also calls for diversity. A lot of the innovation we are seeing across the sector is borne out of the data produced by businesses, which is used to automate decisions via artificial intelligence (AI).

However, there is a risk that a lot of this data could generate unconscious biases toward certain demographics, thereby potentially skewing the decisions themselves. The only way to overcome this is to build a diverse team that is trained to mitigate the potential for such bias.

Indeed, it is important that utilities equip their people with the skills and confidence required to lead and team inclusively to maximize everyone’s contributions. The workforce engenders a wide range of perspectives and solutions to the issues utilities are facing in today’s competitive landscape. By embracing the notion of making each employee feel valued for who they are and by what they contribute — regardless of their race, culture, lifestyle, gender or age — teamwork and innovation will result.

Lack of diversity and inclusiveness ultimately hinders utilities’ ability to effectively address the complex changes they face. Indeed, numerous studies prove that diversity boosts profitability, innovation and problem-solving. So just as disruption demands that utilities act fast and be bold in aspiring to develop innovative solutions, it is critical that their boards are sufficiently diverse to successfully drive that forward.

True innovation will therefore require utilities to take greater strides toward diversity – to attract more women, as well as people from a range of ethnicities and backgrounds with different and fresh perspectives.

We’ve seen the energy world make great progress in its adoption of technology: now it’s time to focus on the human element of innovation and build a better – more diverse – working world.Benoit Laclau is EY Global Power & Utilities Leader

Benoit Laclau is EY Global Power & Utilities Leader. The views reflected in this article are his views and do not necessarily reflect the views of the global EY organization or its member firms.

This article is an extract from a longer exclusive interview that will appear in PEi magazine later this month. Subscribe now to be sure of receiving your issue.

Utility transformation is a key topic of the conference programme at Electrify Europe in Vienna in June. For more details click here.




LightFair 2018: Reflections on the Ever-Changing Lighting Industry

The annual LightFair trade show and conference is always an interesting measure of where the lighting industry is headed, as many exhibitors showcase new products still a few months away from their official launches into the marketplace. Over the past 20 years, LightFair has reflected the rapid penetration of LEDs into virtually all niches within the lighting market. The transition has been nothing short of remarkable.

Siemens Gamesa wind turbines destined for Japan

Siemens Gamesa has been contracted to supply two wind turbines to Japan, adding to the existing install base in the country.

Both nacelles and hubs will be manufactured in Denmark, while the blades will be produced in China and Denmark.

Siemens Gamesa logo
The turbines will be delivered in 2018-19 and the first batch has arrived at the port in Hokkaido last April. Siemens Gamesa will also handle the operations and maintenance services at these facilities for the next 20 years.

Álvaro Bilbao, CEO of Siemens Gamesa’s APAC Onshore said, “Siemens Gamesa is strongly committed to the Japanese market. We were pioneers in this market and we have established ourselves as the leading supplier thanks to our ability to adapt to our customers’ needs”.

Since entering the Japanese market in 1999, Siemens Gamesa has installed 188 wind turbines in the country (more than 323 MW). The company is also an active player in the operation and maintenance segment.

In addition to Japan, Siemens Gamesa’s footprint in Asia Pacific extends to China, South Korea, Indonesia, the Philippines, Thailand, Vietnam, Australia and New Zealand, where it has already installed more than 6.6 GW.



Blockchain: From disruption to new business models

Blockchain has the potential to change the business world as we know it today. Entire value chains can be shortened by it – including in the energy industry.

In the field of renewables, this shift can lead to new business models, from peer-to-peer trading to flexibility schemes or investment incentives to name just a few. Although startups and even classical utilities are increasing their efforts in developing blockchain-based applications and processes, nevertheless the number of scalable case studies is marginal right now and developers have difficulties realising their promising ideas.

So how does the blockchain vision translate into the world of energy, utilities and renewables?How does the blockchain vision translate into the world of energy, utilities and renewables?

As a digital transaction system that allows for secure data storage and execution of smart contracts in peer-to-peer networks, blockchain can eliminate the need for intermediaries in transactions. Instead, they are performed peer-to-peer in near real time, as integrity and security are guaranteed by the blockchain.

From an IT perspective, blockchains solve the double spending problem – a phenomenon of the current state of the internet where a copy of each set of data is sent from server to server when information is transferred. For any transaction system this issue needs to be eliminated, which so far has been the job of trusted institutions.

By taking over this task blockchains make any intermediary superfluous and are therefore referred to as the Internet of Value – an evolution of the current Internet of Information. A next step might be the application of blockchains in the energy sector as the Internet of Energy, which leads us to the ever-growing startup scene around the technology.

Blockchain technology gained relevance for the energy sector at the beginning of 2016 with an experiment in Brooklyn, New York, when owners of PV systems sold their power in the neighbourhood using the Ethereum blockchain without a utility.

A recent survey indicates that today, around two years after the launch of a major blockchain microgrid research project, there are 122 organizations involved in blockchain technology and 40 deployed projects. Between Q2 2017 and Q1 2018, over $300 million was invested in the blockchain in the energy industry.

While it is still much too soon to speak of a triumph as blockchains must continue to evolve, the technology has the potential to radically change the energy industry. It provides the opportunity for new or more efficient business models and thus the opportunity for entirely new companies entering the market.

Starting points

The years 2015 and 2016 were starting points for blockchain in the energy sector. The last month was marked with relevant infrastructure layers like the Tobalaba test network of the Energy Web Foundation or IOTA – a blockless distributed ledger, so in the coming years we will see numerous rollouts of new, relevant application layer and business models.

There are at present many new players who are currently developing entirely new areas of value creation, with a variety of startups and established utilities working hard to test blockchain technology. These possible platforms and distributed database systems are striving for acceptance in order to become the leading player in the decentralized world.

Following the example of over 70 banks and financial institutions and their R3 consortium, utilities could also attempt to enable a decentralized power grid and compensate for lost revenues by providing the business platform as a service via such community chains — a kind of consortium. Since the consortium’s participants are known and thus have a particular level of trust to each other, the integrated governance of these kind of blockchains is much easier than for free accessible public blockchains. This, in turn, also leads to the advantage of a less energy intensive performance.

There are many indications that blockchains will gain a foothold in the energy sector — an efficient decentralised energy world requires appropriate decentralized technologies. Blockchains could represent and execute various business processes of the energy world and would be an ideal instrument for IoT devices to manage their transactions.

Blockchains are also useful as a trust-building element to provide transaction logs for energy to manage power flows and the accounting of cellular systems, automate proof of origin, enable P2P trading and the administration of asset registers. Companies and foundations are currently developing the next generation of blockchains for the energy industry, which protect privacy, are fast enough, and have the usual interfaces.

For a wide implementation, developers still struggle to identify the specific business model for the different use cases and simultaneously comply with regulatory requirements. A tremendous regulatory hurdle is the European General Data Protection Regulation and the right to be forgotten. Blockchain is actually not designed for meeting the current state of regulation since one of its major features is immutability. Another hurdle is the handling of personal data. With peer-to-peer deliveries one can draw many conclusions on the personal behaviour. From this aspect a way to aggregate and de-personalise data has to be found. In addition, energy law varies from country to country, which means that the application must be adapted to national law or national law has to assimilate to the principles of blockchain.

Euphoria and reality

In truth, blockchain technology can barely justify the current hype around it. Blockchains are not a panacea, but should rather be seen as one of many technologies that could form the basis for next-generation service infrastructure in the energy sector.

Many digital services are already possible today without blockchains. While many ideas are being developed around the technology, a clear direction of where and with what economic benefits blockchain-based applications could be used is still far from apparent. Most of the current applications are attempting to solve fractional parts of the energy market problems, being far away from the often-named vision of a blockchain of everything.Blockchain has the potential to change the energy industry

Meanwhile, research and use would clarify limitations of the technology in the state of the art, for example, limited rate of transactions, long response times between the connected network peers, or the ever-growing volume of data. We are currently experiencing a phase where the blockchain energy pilots from a few years ago are under pressure to deliver concrete results and pathways for commercialisation.

The blockchain euphoria alone is not sufficient to maintain the funding for projects in eternal proof of concept stage. Therefore, the priority at the moment should be to prove the existence of a viable business model by focusing on a real, existing problem that consumers or energy actors are facing.

Disruption vs Enabling

Although utilities should actively engage with blockchain technology, there is no reason to be alarmed as the technology is still young for use in the energy sector. Blockchain technologies work wherever transaction costs exceed the transaction value – for energy trading, processes in high temporal resolution (real-time energy economy) become necessary. However, both the related opportunities and risks are already apparent. They should be examined with respect to each company’s own position and strategy in order to derive strategic options. For the majority of companies, the fast-follower strategy is possibly the most appropriate one, but future-proofing the business is even more important.

As with any new technology, the existing market players should invest time and resources to understand the potential and develop use cases. The incumbents can be disrupted if they stop innovating and adapting to new business models. A number of European utilities have understood this and they are actively researching this area.

Another relevant question that remains unanswered is “will blockchain enable a renewable future?” Interestingly enough, the majority of the existing projects, especially crowdfunding-focused startups, are somewhat exaggerating the greenness in their communication.

Despite this, the reduction in market friction by the future blockchain application will have a positive impact on the future of renewables. The current electricity market is still struggling to integrate a high share of intermittent generation and operate the grid in a smarter way. The blockchain applications that we are seeing today could create the basis for a more digitalised and automated market where it will be easier to trade flexibility, cheaper to balance intermittent generation, or perhaps even remove the need for balancing by implementing real time nodal pricing.

Although the technology is not yet sufficiently scalable and regulatory hurdles have to be overcome, these examples set the vision for a number of passionate players to develop the market of the future."

Stephen Woodhouse, Chief Digital Officer at Poyry, is one of the speakers in the Blockchain Arena at Electrify Europe in June. To register click here.