How fast power systems kickstart economic growth in low-infrastructure regions
Quick economic development requires energy – real fast. This is a challenge, especially where roads and heavy equipment are missing. The solution: Fast power solutions that can be ramped up quickly even under adverse conditions.
By Justus Krüger
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 that makes a power plant necessary? Where the pace of development is relatively slow, infrastructure can evolve to meet the rising demand gradually. But in many countries, the situation is completely different. Development is so rapid that slow growth of infrastructure is not an option.
The solution to this challenge is fast power: Delivering energy production with maximum speed and versatility to regions that need power, not in a few years, but now.
The Southeast Asian islands
A typical case is Southeast Asia, in particular, the Indonesian archipelago. The benefit is obvious: While many of the islands lie far from the main centers of economic and infrastructural development, they should still benefit from that growth. Fast power is especially straightforward to use in a maritime environment – the next port is never far away; thus, in a destination 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 liquefied natural gas (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 fast power particularly suited to Southeast Asia, as do the region’s economic drive and administrative stability.
Gas turbines for flexible use cases
Access to LNG is not mandatory, though. The key components for fast power plants are gas turbines that are fuel flexible and work with gaseous as well as with liquid fuels. This is important because fuels such as gas or 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.
Siemens Energy is a leading provider of such solutions. Case in point: The gas turbine is integrated into a mobile unit that can be installed and commissioned in less than two weeks and can begin generating electricity immediately. With an electrical output of up to 44 megawatts, the aeroderivative gas turbine delivers more power and higher efficiency than any other mobile gas turbine.
The whole distance
Since mobility is key to fast power, the plants in questions are designed to have a high energy density. That means that their size is small and their weight is low in relation to their capacity, which facilitates transport.
This is important because heavy construction equipment is often lacking at the destined location. For this reason, 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. Depending on the use case and the conditions on site, plants of different performance classes are required to meet this challenge – from a capacity of 66 megawatts down to smaller modules with lower megawatt capacity. Thus, fast power can reach places that are inaccessible for larger-capacity mobile plants.
Tried and tested reliability
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 and their reliability and durability have been proven. At Siemens Energy, for example, the design leverages the know-how and experience gained from millions of operating hours accumulated in flight, industrial and marine service.
The standardization and modular design of fast power packages enable rapid deployment and installation. Each unit is fully assembled and tested at the factory in order to verify operation and performance and minimize the scope of commissioning work needed on site.
Support for renewables
Fast power 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. Fast power 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.
Quick on its feet
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 moved away and used elsewhere instead. This is what they are designed for – it is called fast power, after all.
Nov 11, 2019
Justus Krüger, freelance journalist based in Hong Kong.
Combined picture credits: Patricia Trancynski, independent Medien Design