GE hoping to fill the gap at Abu Dhabi nuclear power plant

Mini-plants offered as backup should there be any delay.

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General Electric hopes to sell portable mini-power plants to Abu Dhabi to help fill gaps should there be any delay in the Arab World's first civil nuclear power plant.

Abu Dhabi’s four 1,400-megawatt reactors are due to generate a quarter of the emirate’s power once the last one is scheduled to come online in 2020. With power demand rising at rate of close to 10 per cent a year, the emirate may need to buy a backup option, said Lorraine Bolsinger, the chief executive of GE’s Distributed Power business, which sells the industrial equivalent of generators.

“I’ve never seen a nuclear power plant come online on time,” she said during a visit to Abu Dhabi to pitch the turbines. “You don’t want to get into your reserve margins. Those power plants better come on in 2017. The question is, should you be planning for that now and have this capability, or weather through that time?”

The share of such small, mobile gas or diesel-fuelled power plants in the global electricity mix is expected to double over the next decade as developing countries seek fast solutions to racing power demand. Its advantages, though not the fuel, are similar to those advocated by proponents of small modular nuclear reactors or rooftop solar: they are quicker to install, easier to finance and better at serving remote communities than their larger counterparts.

GE formed Distributed Power a year ago to cater to that market, and has just sold four gas turbines worth US$135 million to Libya to meet peak summer demand. The business is based in Cincinnati, Ohio, where GE also builds the airplane turbines that are sometimes recycled into the mobile power plants.

The Middle East needs such systems, which range in scale from 100 kilowatts to 100MW, not only to power remote oil and gas platforms offshore but also to assist in nation-building, said Nabil Habayeb, the company’s regional president.

“Especially after the Arab Spring, governments need to respond quickly to people, and people want reliable power accessible to everybody, clean water, along with many other things as well,” he said. “Reaching out to remote places and providing reliable, accessible power is a major driver of power generation growth in the region.”

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