Each one weighs nearly 400 tons, as much as two really big blue whales. Each one will cover thousands of miles by sea and land from the place of their birth in Belfort, France, to the farming town of Bhikki in Pakistan’s Punjab province. They are still fairly unknown, but once they reach their destination, they will affect millions of lives.
The giants that will be making their way to Asia are a pair of GE’s air-cooled 9HA gas turbines, the largest and most efficient gas turbines on the planet today. They’re capable of delivering greater than 61 percent efficiency – once the power-generation equivalent of running a four-minute mile – when used in a combined cycle configuration with steam turbines. They will become the beating heart of the Bhikki Combined Cycle Power electricity generation plant that’s being built by China’s Harbin Electric International for Punjab government’s Quaid-e-Azam Thermal Power Ltd. utility.
The new power plant will be a key weapon in Pakistan’s arsenal to roll back crippling electricity shortages that have plagued the country for years. “After a while you just have to find ways to work around the load-shedding,” says Muniza Junaid, a biosciences research associate who works at a leading Pakistani university. “It’s ironic. On the one hand, I work in one of the most advanced laboratories in the country, but on the other I can’t even heat up my dinner or run my washing machine when I want to.”
“Load-shedding” is the term locals commonly use to refer to electricity shortages. For many Pakistanis it’s a critical piece of information that determines how they plan their days, just like the weather forecast in the U.S. or Europe. Load-shedding gets ubiquitous in the sweltering summer heat, when power shortages often exceed 12 hours a day. “I don’t think you can understand what that’s like unless you’ve experienced it for yourself,” Muniza says.
The two units at Bhikki will be operated on imported “re-gasified” liquefied natural gas (RLNG), but will be able to use substitute fuels if price or availability of RLNG starts to fluctuate.
Together, they will add more than 1.1 GW to the national grid by 2017 – the equivalent power needed to supply more than six million Pakistani homes. And that is a feat worthy of giants.