With its latest new product announcement, globe-spanning conglomerate GE is trying to solve several of the electricity sector’s most pressing challenges at once.

The new FlexEfficiency 50 Combined Cycle Power Plant design was announced today in Paris, amid claims that the unit’s ability to quickly cycle up to full power and operate at a very high 61% operating efficiency make it a game changer in the industry.

The new unit design builds off of the company’s aviation experience in quickly and efficiently ramping up and then ramping down operations. The new unit can achieve full load in 28 minutes, GE says, which makes it more than 50% faster than the industry benchmark.

“As our customers seek to increase their use of renewable energy, the challenge of grid stability sharpens,” Vice President for Thermal Product at GE Power & Water Paul Browning said in announcing the new product.

“Much of today’s power generation was built for yesterday’s grid,” President and CEO of GE Power & Water Steve Bolze said at today’s press conference that announced the new product.

The challenges of cycling up and down quickly to accommodate shifting power supply from intermittent renewable resources while preserving grid and electricity supply reliability and at the same time promoting supply-side efficiency was the complicated challenge GE set itself.

The new FlexEfficiency design, which follows in the GE tradition of fused naming conventions like EcoImagination, is GE’s answer to the problem.

Announcing the new unit design and availability in France, and the production of the new unit at the company’s Belfort factory, added an additional shading to the press event.

Executives opened the event by citing the European Union’s goals to reduce greenhouse gases 20%, increase the share of renewable fuels in the energy sector by 20%, and reduce overall energy consumption 20% by 2020.

The “clear imperative” from the EU made it easy for GE to talk about the project in France rather than in the US, where GE is based, executives said at this morning’s press conference.

Fifty vs. Sixty

The 150MW FlexEfficiency design integrates a gas turbine that operates at 50 Hertz (the number of cycles per second) rather than the 60 Hertz at which the US power sector generally operates. A higher-cycle design is in the works, GE says, but the product is not yet available to most North American generators.

A major 25-year cycle in growing use of natural gas for generation is underway, GE’s Bolze said this morning. The FlexEfficiency natural gas unit to allow generators to take advantage of that resource while also moving over the long term to increased use of renewable fuels.

The US is a major natural gas producer, and set to rely increasingly on natural gas, but a lack of direction on energy policy has often left a patchwork approach to integration of both natural gas and renewable fuels into a still coal-reliant electric generation sector.

Picture:An employee of General Electric (GE) passes by a gas turbine at GE Energy Belfort’s plant on November 19, 2009. GE Energy in Belfort produces medium- and high-power gas turbines and specializes in the design and construction of electrical power plants installed worldwide. AFP PHOTO / SEBASTIEN BOZON (Photo credit should read SEBASTIEN BOZON/AFP/Getty Images)