GE’s new generator progamme got under way in earnest at the end of October when officials from the US Department of Energy (DOE) met with GE representatives to ‘kick off development’ of a high-temperature superconducting generator expected to produce major benefits for US utilities.

The programme has been in a state of virtual existence since late last year, when the DOE agreed to provide $12.3 million in funding as its contribution to a ‘co-operative agreement’ supporting a three and a half year programme to move HTS technology toward full commercialisation. The project team includes GE Global Research, GE Power Systems, the National Energy Group (a subsidiary of Pacific Gas and Electric), American Electric Power, DOE Oak Ridge National Laboratory, DOE Los Alamos National Laboratory and the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority.

The HTS project is expected to produce major improvements in the efficiency and reactive power capability of new generators, as well as the capability to retrofit the technology into existing generators. The proven stator design is to be retained, but the generator will incorporate a new rotor design, and an HTS winding described by GE as ‘unprecedented in its simplicity’. Recent progress in HTS wire manufacturing has helped pave the way for the development of a generator with the potential for ‘competitive cost, high reliability, rapid market introduction and a high probability of acceptance by the power industry’. Concept designs indicate that HTS generators can achieve significant efficiency gains, leading to an increase in overall power plant energy efficiency and significant annual reductions of CO2 emissions.

An initial step in the development program is the production and testing of a 1.5 MVA proof-of-concept model for the rotor, cryorefrigeration and HTS subsystems. A demonstration rotor has been assembled and is currently undergoing testing at GE’s Global Research Centre. After completion of the rotor tests, the next stage will be the construction and full load testing of a prototype scaled up to a 100 MVA.