With digital solutions and one of the world’s most efficient gas turbines, China Light and Power (CLP) is helping Hong Kong, Asia’s world city, increase the amount of natural gas in its energy mix and drastically cut its carbon footprint.
“Summer is typhoon season in Hong Kong,” says Ken Fong, Deputy Director at Black Point Power Station, one of the largest gas-fired combined cycle power stations in the world. And while summer storms may be business as usual in Hong Kong, there is something new: “With climate change, we’re seeing stronger typhoons than in the past,” says Fong. In September typhoon Mangkhut, the most intense storm that hit Hong Kong since records began, came with the highest wind speeds and storm surges ever recorded in the city. Fong’s company, CLP, has been working for years to adapt to increasingly severe weather by making its outfits more resilient. “For instance, our power plant here is designed to withstand stronger wind speeds than the normal requirements,” says Fong. “We also designed it for flooding situations that are above the standards required by regulators here.”
Increasing the resilience of its installations to adapt to climate change is, however, only a part of how CLP acts on these issues. The other part is: doing its bit to mitigate climate change by reducing its emissions of greenhouse gases. Most recently, this means that the company is installing a new SGT5-8000H heavy-duty gas turbine at Black Point, more than 85 of which have been delivered worldwide, set to go into operation by 2020.
Just three years ago, Hong Kong was generating 48 percent of its energy from coal and 27 percent from gas, while it imported the rest from mainland China. But as part of its commitment to the Paris Climate Change Agreement, the city is aiming to increase the use of natural gas in its total energy mix for power generation to about 50 percent in 2020 and bring down its carbon footprint by up to 36 percent in 2030. CLP’s Black Point Power Station is playing a central role in reaching these targets.
Black Point, located in Tuen Mun, Hong Kong, currently runs eight gas turbines in operation since 1996. When the plant entered into operation, CLP became the first electricity supplier in Hong Kong to employ natural gas for power generation, and since then, the use of natural gas has enabled CLP to reduce total emissions – even at a time when the power demand on the company’s system rose by 80 percent.
Once the new SGT5-8000H turbine starts to feed electricity into Hong Kong’s network, it alone will increase the ratio of gas in CLP’s energy mix from 30 to 50 percent. And considering that CLP provides around 80 percent of Hong Kong’s power, this makes a rather large difference to the city’s overall energy mix and carbon reduction targets.
Constructing the new turbine at Black Point is now further upping the ante. Not only will the plant significantly add new gas capacity to Hong Kong’s energy mix, the new unit will also enable CLP to phase out no less than half of its entire coal capacity. “The plant we’re building is one of the most efficient plants of its type in the world,” says CLP’s CEO Richard Lancaster. “We’ll be adding about 1,100 megawatts of gas-fired capacity."
In addition, CLP will further reduce its emissions by installing gas turbines that have among the best input-to-output ratio available, with a power output of 550 megawatts in combined cycle operation. “Building these units means that we can make more efficient use of gas. In other words, we will burn less fuel and produce less carbon dioxide to generate the same amount of electricity,” says Fong.
The difference is by no means negligible. While older or more conventional types of turbines have an efficiency rate of 45 to 50 percent – meaning that they will convert this ratio of heat into electricity – the new combined cycle unit at Black Point has an efficiency rate of more than 60 percent. “This is a big step,” says CEO Lancaster.
CLP and Siemens Energy partnered in this project from the start. It is the first time CLP and Siemens Energy are working together in power generation – as opposed to power distribution, where the two companies already have a long-standing cooperation. “Way our project management team is working with the Siemens Energy team “I find this very useful and meaningful,” says Fong. “Both offices are right here on site. We have regular meetings and exchange ideas, and, of course, we all aim at the same target. It’s been a good journey and we look forward to the commissioning of the plant, where Siemens Energy will take charge.”
Along with the SGT5-8000H gas turbine, Siemens Energy will supply an SST5-5000 steam turbine, a heat recovery steam generator, a water-cooled SGen5-3000W generator and an SPPA-T3000 control system that increases plant performance. “Also a lot of piping and pumps,” says Michael Eckert, Vice President of Project Management in Asia at Siemens, “everything inside the machine hall. And, of course, a lot of coordination work with CLP throughout the course of the project. I consider myself a fully wholehearted project manager, so for me, this is precisely the fun in our job.”
The plant is not only remarkable for its central role in Hong Kong’s energy policies, it’s also setting additional benchmarks. For example, CLP is taking safety on its construction sites extremely seriously, and its approach is clearly succeeding. “We have a zero-harm culture,” says Eckert, “not allowing that any harm is derived out of our work to the people or to the environment, and it fits perfectly with CLP’s approach. I have never seen a power plant in the construction phase with a stronger focus on safety than this one.”
Black Point is also breaking new ground with digitalization and the so-called digital twin. “This is a big dream in all industry,” says Eckert. “Everybody wants to have it, but nobody has it to the full extent.” Ideally, a digital twin – in this case – is a complete digital copy of the real power plant. This is particularly useful for maintenance, as it allows the operator to look at different virtual scenarios and plan maintenance in a proactive way, so that issues can be addressed before they start to create problems.
The challenge in creating a digital twin is the magnitude of the information. “If you aim to start at 100 percent, you’ll fail,” says Eckert. Data sets need to grow over time. The better approach therefore is to put the twin in place gradually and to build a system that is so flexible that it can grow with usage. “That’s the way we decided with CLP to go forward,” says Eckert. “We want to have the digital twin to the extent possible in operation for maintenance when we go online with this power plant.”
As part of the plant’s digitalization, Black Point has a feature that no other power plant in the world yet possesses. “Together with CLP, Siemens Energy developed this very innovative digital solution,” says Eckert. “To measure the sound emissions of equipment in the plant – changes in noise patterns. Artificial intelligence will use the growing database of sound emissions to detect potential issues, and the maintenance crew will check the AI’s diagnoses.” CLP and Siemens Energy expect that over time, with increasing data sets, it will grow into an additional comprehensive and efficient way to detect defects and support maintenance.
Reliability, innovation and efficiency are key at Black Point. “What we expect from the new unit is no less than high reliability, low emissions and high efficiency,” says Fong. “This gas turbine will support the targets for the energy mix in our city. It will be our workhorse for power generation in Hong Kong.”
January 30, 2019
Justus Krüger is a journalist based in Hong Kong.
Picture credits: Hans Sautter, Getty Images