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Distributed power generation

Fast power from mobile power plants

How can power plants be brought to inaccessible areas where the infrastructure for conventional solutions is lacking? Siemens fast power solutions offer mobile, modular power plants that are tailored to the needs of the rapidly developing countries of Asia, Africa, and Latin America.

It’s a chicken and egg situation. What needs to come first for industrialization to take place – the power plant, or the type of settlement and commercial activity that makes a power plant necessary? Where the pace of development is relatively slow, infrastructure may evolve to meet the gradually rising demand. But in many countries, the situation is completely different. Development is so rapid that slow growth of infrastructure is not an option.

“When we look at countries that are on the cusp of development, the demand for electricity very quickly exceeds local supply,” says Tilman Harig, Siemens’ Head of Proposals and Order Implementation, Distributed Generation. “The task then is to develop the infrastructure very quickly.”

Rapid connection to the grid
This entails particular challenges. “The need is for a power plant that can be available quickly. Not just one that can be delivered quickly – that is just one aspect – but one that can be installed quickly, too,” says Harig. “That is where mobile and modular solutions come into play: Fast and reliable electricity deployment!" Fast power is about delivering energy to regions that need to develop rapidly. But it’s also about meeting short-term demand for additional capacity in developed regions, e.g., the rapidly growing demand for air conditioning units that leads to load peaks in urban centers.

The need is for a power plant that can be available quickly. That is where mobile and modular solutions come into play.
Tilman Harig, Head of Proposals and Order Implementation, Distributed Generation, Siemens

“We see this particularly in Southeast Asia and the archipelago of islands in the region,” says Harig. “But the concept can also be applied in Africa and Latin America.” Fast power is based on standardized, pre-tested modules that are easy to transport and install, are versatile, and can be used in a flexible way, and can easily be enlarged if the need arises. The aim is to have the plant connected to the grid six months after the contract is concluded.

Optimized for difficult conditions
Much depends on the conditions in place locally. If these are particularly good – that is, if all the time consuming preparations have been completed on site by the time the contract is concluded, and assuming the hardware can be connected to existing infrastructure – the plant may be connected to the grid in less than six months. But the reverse can also occur. “If the site is a swamp that must first be drained for use, or a volcanic island where earthquake protection regulations apply, it may take longer,” says Harig. “Ultimately, we have little influence on the conditions on the ground.”

Where Siemens does have an influence is in the agility of the plants themselves – and this is optimized to ensure that even under adverse conditions, power can be delivered to the grid where it is needed. Because shipping the power plant quickly to
a port in the country of destination is not enough to meet the customer’s needs. Just as important is the challenge of transporting it from the nearest port to the point of destination.

The whole distance

“Fast power is designed to take account of the whole distance covered,” says Harig – “including conditions in the destination country.” A key point here is that the mobile power plants have a high energy density. That means that their size is small and their weight is low in relation to their capacity, facilitating transportation. For example, to install a fast power module based on the SGT-400, a turbine with a 10- to 15-megawatt capacity, a mobile crane with a capacity of only 5-10 tonnes is needed.

Heavy construction equipment is often lacking at the destination. But Siemens fast power is designed for precisely those regions that do not yet have highly developed infrastructure; and this goes not just for energy but also for transport routes and the availability of machinery. That’s why another distinguishing feature of Siemens fast power is the availability of a portfolio of plants of different performance classes, from a capacity of 50 megawatts down to smaller modules with lower megawatt capacity. That means that fast power can reach places that are inaccessible for larger-capacity mobile plants.

Gas turbines for flexible use
The plants’ key components are gas turbines that, depending on requirements, may be either industrial or aeroderivitive. These are relatively fuel-neutral and work with gas as well as with oil. This is important because fuels such as gas or liquefied natural gas (LNG) are not always available at the places where fast power is used – this includes remote areas in particular need of fast access to more electricity.

The modules are also well suited to play an important role in the increased production of electricity from renewable sources. The availability of wind and solar energy is inevitably subject to fluctuations. These generally need to be offset from other sources to ensure a stable grid.

“The more renewable power there is in the grid, the more minor adjustments are needed, for instance, when there is no wind or if a cloud covers the sun,” says Harig. Aeroderivative gas turbines are particularly suitable here, since they start up very quickly and can respond immediately to fluctuations in the peak loads and provide rapid increases or decreases in generation.

The more renewable power there is in the grid, the more fast load adjustments for grid stability are needed.
Tilman Harig, Head of Proposals and Order Implementation, Distributed Generation, Siemens

The “sweet spot” between standardization and flexibility

Once the modules are in place, the next job is to connect them to the grid as quickly as possible. “They are pre-checked so that it doesn’t require a big team to get them operational,” says Harig. The modularity – and also the standardization – of the plants is what will determine the speed.

One solution is to adapt fast power from the outset to the characteristic conditions, for example, climatic conditions, at the location. “In typical locations, the climate is either hot and dry or hot and humid,” Harig says. “That means if we can adapt to these conditions, we have already covered 80 percent of application cases.”

This involves finding the “sweet spot,” the ideal balance between standardization and flexibility in the scenarios for which fast power was developed. Generally, in addition to the classical power producers, the target market also includes industrial customers, for instance, those requiring electricity or process steam, such as the cement industry. “This is another big market that we are supplying,” says Harig, “but these customers tend to require more tailored solutions for their plants as a whole.”  Fast power has a rather different focus. “Here, the emphasis is on standardized configurations that enable us to deliver promptly and connect to the grid quickly,” explains Harig. For all its flexibility, the priority is clearly that fast power can be used in very inaccessible regions or when an existing grid requires additional capacity quickly.

The Southeast Asian islands
A typical area of application is Southeast Asia, in particular, the Indonesian archipelago and adjacent island chains. The benefit is obvious: Many of the islands lie far from the main centers of economic and infrastructural development, but should still benefit from that growth, both in terms of daily power supply for the population as well as regarding industrial applications. Fast power is especially straightforward to use in a maritime environment – the next port is never far away; thus, in a destination country that still lacks developed infrastructure, transportation is generally easier to manage than in areas that are far from the coast.

The same applies to the supply
of liquid gas. The oil and gas companies involved are working on developing an infrastructure based on distribution tanker fleets. This means that LNG is transferred from a large liquefaction plant to smaller distribution vessels, so that the islands only require a relatively small onshore distribution structure. The maritime surroundings and the favorable development in terms of LNG supply make Southeast Asia particularly suited to fast power, as do the region’s economic drive and administrative stability.

Adapting to local conditions
The reliability of the machinery is of course always important, but in the case of fast power, its low susceptibility to malfunction is especially important – the purpose, after all, is to generate energy in remote, hard-to-reach places. The mobile power plant turbines are a tried-and-tested technology, their reliability and durability have been proven, and of course there are local Siemens service organizations in every region of the world. “In addition, whenever possible, we train our partners and customers on-site,” says Harig, “so that they have the right skills for operational maintenance, and we maintain the fleet in partnership.”

The agility of fast power does not end with delivery and installation. If the plants at the original location are no longer in use, there is no reason why they cannot be transported away and used elsewhere instead. “Naturally,” says Harig, “the mobile solution is designed in such a way that the power plant can be quickly transported to another location.” Fast power remains fast.

Justus Krüger is a freelance journalist based in Hong Kong.
Picture credits: Mario Wagner/2agenten