The Gas Turbine Association (GTA), the national voice for that industry, has a new leader – from the Carolinas!

Salvatore DellaVilla Jr. is the founder and CEO of SPS®, a Charlotte-based company that helps energy producers understand and improve the reliability and maintainability of capital intensive equipment.  That includes gas turbines.

“Our customers operate some of the most sophisticated facilities and complex technologies in the world. Data is abundant in power facilities, the competitive market places a premium value on ‘good data’ and how to use it,” says DellaVilla. “SPS’ philosophy is Data First. We provide key performance metrics or (KPIs), that allows energy producers to make informed business decisions about the performance and operational readiness of their equipment.”

The GTA is a voice for the industry. Gas turbines produce about one third of our nation’s electricity. They play an increasingly important role in power generation, including as a resource to support renewable generation sources. As they have replaced coal plants in particular, they have improved emissions performance.

ECC asked Sal a few questions about his role in the GTA.

ECC: Sal, first, congratulations on your new spot with the Gas Turbine Association. Tell us what the GTA does.

Sal: GTA was founded in 1995 and was established as an important vehicle to communicate, educate and influence policy makers on the value of continued technology advancement and R&D for gas turbine driven systems used in various industry applications; power generation, aviation, and process industries.

Gas turbine technology has provided a path for higher performance and operating efficiencies.  With today’s important focus on clean energy and carbon neutral solutions to reduce the real impact of climate change, gas turbines provide a proven approach for mitigating the impact of greenhouse gas emissions.

ECC: So it is not an “only gas” solution, but a “many of the above” energy solution?

Sal: GTA has to support the collaborative efforts between conventional gas technologies with renewables to ensure the challenges in front of us can be achieved, with power delivered in a reliable and resilient manner.

Today, the intersection of public interest, public policy, and private enterprise demands energy solutions that are constrained by the need to reduce global emissions and the carbon footprint – GTA is playing an important role to put science and engineering solutions on the marketplace’s table to effect positive change.

ECC: Gas has been a big part of electric generation for a long time, and even more over the past decade as coal plants have been closing. What kind of pressure does that put on the turbine industry?

Sal: The abundance of gas, especially in the U.S., has provided many benefits: A reliable low-cost supply, the opportunity to make the U.S. a significant exporter of gas through liquefaction processes, and as a replacement fuel for coal fired systems. As you suggest, coal fired plants are closing across the nation and are to some extent being replaced by natural gas fired gas turbine systems in combined cycle applications. The market challenge is really about the right technology approach to replace this lost power generation.

ECC: So the issue is not purely technology, but policy, too?

Climate Accord, Paris. Image: UN Climate Change.

Sal: Here’s the point. There are those in key policy positions that would say, “Coal is first. That we need investment in this area.”  There are others who would say to shutdown all fossil fuels by 2040/2050.

ECC: Those seem to be widely different viewpoints.

Sal: Given these two divergent positions, where do gas turbines fit?  GTA would suggest that gas turbines are vital for energy resiliency and reliability. They are essential for responding to the impact of climate change. Research from the Electric Power Research Institute indicates that, “The U.S. is responsible for 44% of global CO2 emission reductions since 2005, and 80% of that was from the electricity sector.  Energy efficiency and cleaner generation have been the reason for these gains. Fuel blending can also help lower CO2 further.”  The United States has met the terms of the Paris Climate Change Accords, at least in spirit and execution.

ECC: So what is missing?

Sal: What we lack is collaboration, cooperation, and a will to drive to and effect change that can be managed without compromising the robustness of our energy system.  GTA is working to build collaboration and cooperation across the diverse interest groups.

ECC: Turbines are a well-established technology. There are still technological advancements in turbines, we imagine. What are they?

Sal: There are numerous opportunities for technological advance – not just design improvement around temperature and efficiency.  Advanced manufacturing and 3D printing – there is tremendous investment and advancement in this area.  Materials development and advancement – shortening the time to develop new materials, which is typically a proprietary process, for extreme operating environments.

ECC: Where does the nation turn for help?

Sal: The national labs and universities are doing tremendous research and development in this area.  Fuels – fuel mixes, hydrogen; all with technical challenges and opportunity focused on a carbon neutral operating system. Data and analytics – using first principles engineering models with the vast amount of near real-time data from operating units for predictive maintenance and for fast and accurate operator action.

ECC: So we know what needs to be solved?

Sal: These technology issues are here now – and solutions are being sought with the focus on ensuring that the energy market continues to be a source of employment opportunity challenged by the demands of the ever changing market. Gas turbine technology, now and in our future, is a major part of the “Clean Energy Solution.”

ECC: What goals do you have as you take this leadership position?

Sal: My biggest challenge, after over 40 years in this energy market and gas turbine industry is to sit back and listen – to recognize that collaboration and cooperation is the only way to solve problems.  My goal is to ensure that GTA is positioned to help.

Check out “Gas Turbines 101” on the GTA website. It tells you how a turbine works.

In How Stuff Works there is an explanation of the machines: “Gas turbine engines are, theoretically, extremely simple. They have three parts:

  • Compressor – Compresses the incoming air to high pressure.
  • Combustion area – Burns the fuel and produces high-pressure, high-velocity gas.
  • Turbine – Extracts the energy from the high-pressure, high-velocity gas flowing from the combustion chamber.”