Turbine Technology Services (TTS), a full-service gas turbine engineering firm, has been experiencing renewed interest in gas fuel system conversions and upgrades on gas turbine generators to better utilize natural gas as lower-cost fuel source for power plants.

Because of a dramatic increase in the US natural gas resource base, primarily fueled by shale gas exploration, plant operators are seeking assistance from industry specialists to address their needs to upgrade gas turbines, properly equipping them for full use of the natural gas sources that have become more readily available to power suppliers.

In addition to shale has, liquefied natural gas (LNG) technologies are increasing the availability of natural gas to regions that were not previously serviced by natural gas, changing the economic landscape for power generation providers.

TTS is seeing significantly increased interest in the use of natural gas as the primary fuel for power generation and has recently converted two gas turbines from diesel fuel operation to natural gas operation. The conversion was done so the units could be relocated to a region with a more economical natural gas supply.

Other operators with existing gas fuel systems are modernizing their systems with state-of-the-art equipment to ensure higher reliability of their generating equipment, maximizing the economic benefits of this competitive fuel as a result.

"The consensus of many gas turbine fleet operators is that many of their generating assets which previously sat idle are now operating at record rates," says Frank Hoegler, vice president of Turbine Technology Services. "Even less efficient gas turbines are operating due to the less than predicted fuel prices combined with lower maintenance costs of these units."

Power generation from coal is falling at a rapid rate. According to new figures from the US Energy Information Administration, coal made up 36% of US electricity in the first quarter of 2012, down from 44.6% in the first quarter of 2011.

That dramatic drop, which represented almost a 20% decline in coal generation over the last year, was primarily due to the low cost of natural gas. EIA expects that natural gas generation will climb steadily this year, while coal will see a double-digit drop by the end of 2012.

With these trends furthering the need for fuel system conversions and upgrades, TTS not only assists power plants to uphold compliance with new environmental regulations, but also uses new technologies as an opportunity to gain a competitive edge in a saturated power market.