Road trip

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Drew Robb Editor-in-Chief[/caption]

A recent road trip from California to Florida gave me a chance to view the past and the future of the North American power landscape. California has long outlawed coal and now only consumes 0.7% of its power from it.

While the “Golden State” is well known for its massive wind farms (take a drive someday into Palm Springs, Tehachapi or the Altamont Pass near San Francisco to view a sea of

  wind turbines spinning as far as the eye can see), it is also earning a reputation as a champion of utility-scale solar power.

Witness the Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating System in the middle of the California desert which is featured in our news section. Apart from its extent (almost 400 MW), it is a truly remarkable sight for anyone to see when driving between Los Angeles and Las Vegas.


In the windswept California desert beside the Ivanpah solar plant[/caption]

Entering Texas and Oklahoma, too, wind turbines littered the horizon on each side of the freeway. Texas now leads the nation by a large margin in wind power, but it continues too generate 36.5% of its power from coal.

The only coal plants to cross my path on the journy were in Arizona and New Mexico. In Northern Arizona I came across the Cholla Generating Station east of Flagstaff with a mountain of coal waiting to be burned. Arizona has 16 operating coal-fired plants supplying 40% of that state’s power . Further along Interstate 40 (I-40), I entered New Mexico where 90% of the power is produced by 11 coal plants. I saw one, the Escalante Generating Station west of Albuquerque from the I-40.

Cholla and Escalante had the feel of aging World War II aircraft carriers. Vast and capable of outputing impressive amount of energy, but no longer regarded as a necessary part of the landscape. Short of a cataclysmic shift in U.S. and world politics, these behemoths will gradually fade away. In their place, we will see more Ivanpahs, many more wind farms and, of course, plenty of combined cycle power plants. More than likely, we will see states following the Texas pattern -- continuing to eke as much power out of its aging coal assets while replacing them gradually with gas-fired and renewable facilities.

Which brings me to our cover story on combined cycle plant construction. This article explains the evolving trend of modularing more and more aspects of plant build.While stick-built construction isn’t going away, OEMs and EPCs are realizing that modular construction off site makes economic sense while easing the time and labor crunch onsite.

Our annual visit to the GE Oil & Gas event in Italy continues to provide plenty of interesting material. As well as the global energy picture, the show offered insight into where GE is heading with its turbine and recip businesses in the oil & gas industry.

And as I drove through the American heartland, I was reminded again of the importance of oil & gas in the U.S. economy. Texas and Oklahoma were supposed to be one big cattle ranch and farm. Yes, I saw a lot of cattle and endless fields. But I also noticed how central oil & gas are to these regions.

In addition, the current issue contains valuable contributed stories on overspeed protection, waste gas utilization and rotor bowing. I hope you enjoy it as much as I enjoyed putting it together.