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UME profiles the projects breaking new ground around the world

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UME looks at the global utilities projects pushing technology forward.
UME looks at the global utilities projects pushing technology forward.

Despite our obvious Middle East focus, developments in the utilities industry don’t occur in conveniently separated regional steps.

The rising power needs of China, or the desert conditions of the South-West US, are just as likely to prompt the next big industry advance as the state of affairs closer to home.

Whilst developments, of course, need to be regionally focused, there is also a great deal happening elsewhere on the planet that is of particular interest to the region’s utilities sector.

With that in mind, this month UME has cast its net further than normal to profile some of the truly world-leading projects that are underway outside of the Middle East region.

Covering projects across nuclear, renewables, conventional power and desalination, we look at the projects on the cutting-edge of technology and innovation, and consider how the developments might apply to the Middle East

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Lake Kivu, Rwanda - Wärtsilä
Rwanda’s Lake Kivu, sitting on the border with the Democratic Republic of Congo, holds deposits of methane gas estimated at 60 billion cubic metres in its lower density layers.

Such a vast holding of burnable indigenous fuel presented both a substantial boon to a power hungry nation (where only around 15% of the population has access to electricity), as well as a potentially grave risk – through a hazardous spontaneous gas eruption.

As part of the project to tap the gas, reduce the risk of natural release and generate power, Wärtsilä was awarded the contract to engineer, supply and install a new power plant capable of utilising the gas reserves.

In one of the first projects to use methane as a feedstock, and the first to use gas sourced from the lake at such a scale, the firm supplied 20-cylinder Wärtsilä 34SG gas-powered engines with a total output of 25 MW.

This output – amounting to around 25% of total capacity in the country – has helped to significantly reduce the reliance on imported energy, and consequently has helped to reduce the cost of electricity to consumers within the country.

Tony van Velzen, Wärtsilä regional director for Africa, said of the development: “This is a landmark project, and one that has the potential for huge environmental and economic implications. Wärtsilä’s environmentally sound dual-fuel and gas engine technology is in a class of its own, and this kind of unique challenge is one that Wärtsilä is well able to handle.

“Smart Power Generation, providing flexibility in the ability to use the most readily available fuel, in this case methane gas, is a key element in meeting future energy needs – not only here in Africa, but throughout the world.”

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Rio Madeira, Brazil - Alstom Grid
The Rio Madeira project, which aims to connect the new hydropower plants on Brazil’s Madeira River with the country’s south-eastern region, will be the longest transmission line on the planet when completed.

The High Voltage Direct Current (HVDC) scheme will span 2,386km and transport electricity to the areas of Brazil with the highest power consumption.

Alstom Grid is playing a major role in this truly cutting-edge scheme, and is currently supplying a 600kV HVDC bipole to support the project. The firm has already opened, in 2011, a new 800kV testing laboratory for the testing and production of power transformers at its factory in Canoas, Brazil.

This US $30 million facility has allowed the firm to design, manufacture and test AC and HVDC transformers up to 800 kV – the highest DC voltage level currently in operation.

Under the scheme, Alstom is to supply 28 600kV converter transformers – four of which were produced and tested at its Stafford factory in the UK, and the rest of which are to be produced at both its Canoas facility, and its factory in Wuhan, China.

The firm says that it sees the Rio Madeira project – its first commercial ultra HVDC scheme – as a showcase for its technology, and has emphasised its importance in the continuing development of future ‘supergrids’ using HVDC.

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Gjøa platform, North Sea - ABB
Providing consistent, reliable power to remote offshore platforms presents some considerable benefits, but also substantial technical and logistical challenges.

At almost 100km in length, ABB’s alternating current (AC) link to Statoil’s Gjøa platform in the North Sea is the longest land-to-floating-installation cable of its kind in the world.

The static AC cable delivers 40 MW of power at 90kV from the Norwegian shore, at a depth of 380 metres, across a distance of 98.5km. Whilst impressive in length in itself, ABB believes that the real innovation is the 1.5km ‘dynamic cable’ that connects the subsea cable to the platform.

Weighing 130 tonnes, and subjected to mechanical stress and fatigue from the sea and climate, the cable has to cope with platform movements of up to 75 metres in any direction.

Instead of utilising a traditional lead sheath to shield subsea cabling, ABB says that it has developed an alternative solution with the ability to withstand the conditions over a working life of at least 35 years.

ABB says that one of the key advantages of a power connection from the land is the carbon dioxide emissions savings made as a result of negating the use of on-board gas turbines. For the Gjøa platform, this has been estimated at a saving of 210,000 metric tonnes per year at full production.

In addition, reliability is bolstered significantly without reliance on smaller power units that require on-platform maintenance and repairs to keep them operational.

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Agua Caliente Solar Project, Arizona, USA - First Solar
When completed, Arizona’s Agua Caliente solar project will be the world’s biggest solar PV plant in operation, with a final generating capacity of 290MW - enough power to meet the average needs of 100,000 homes each year.

The giant scheme covers an area of 2,400 acres of previously-disturbed farmland, and will displace 220,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions each year when fully operational.

First Solar is designing and constructing the project using its thin-film PV modules, and will then maintain the facility for its owners – NRG Energy and MidAmerican Solar. When finished in 2014, the scheme will produce electricity for Pacific Gas and Electric Company under a 25-year power purchase agreement.

“Agua Caliente is a significant milestone in the history of utility-scale PV solar generation,” Joe Broom, First Solar Project Director of Engineering, Procurement and Construction for the facility, told UME.

“This is true not only because it is the largest operating PV power plant in the world today, with 250 MW of capacity already grid-connected, but also because of its advanced technology control system that support the stability and reliability of the transmission grid.

These grid-friendly capabilities include voltage regulation, active power controls, ramp-rate controls, fault ride-through and frequency control.”

The firm has said that the project demonstrates the potential rapid deployment of utility-scale solar PV projects, together with the seamless integration of this power source into the electrical grid.

Transmission access at the site is being provided by the existing 500kV transmission line adjacent to the facility, with a new regional switchyard constructed at the project.

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Shin-Wolsong Nuclear Plant, South Korea - Samsung C&T
The Shin Wolsong Nuclear plant, located near Gyeonggju Gyeongsangbuk-do in South Korea, is a Korea Standard Nuclear Power (KSNP) plant that will be capable of producing 1GW from each of its two reactors when completed this year.

As the primary constructor of the plant’s No. 2 reactor, Samsung C&T says that it has employed numerous advanced construction techniques to boost build quality and minimise construction time.

The firm assembled the 178 tonne containment building in three sections and raised the entire structure into place using a 1300 tonne crane – a first of its kind in South Korea.

In addition, it also employed automatic welding on the reactor coolant pipes (vital components for delivering heat generated at the core to the steam generators) and simultaneously installed the reactor coolant loop and the reactor vessel internals rather than in sequence.

Samsung also installed five separate protective shields inside the reactor as precautionary measures, whilst the reactor facility is designed to withstand earthquakes of 6.5 on the Richter scale and the reactor containment vessel and building are built to withstand internal explosions.

Together with KEPCO, Samsung C&T was the winning bidder to build the 4-reactor
(APR-1400) nuclear plant contract in Barakah, UAE, and has said that it has “its sights set on nuclear power plant markets in the Middle East and beyond”.

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Huaneng Qinbei Power plant, China - Emerson Process Management
With an ever-increasing utilities’ focus on environmental concerns related to power generation, bolstering the energy efficiency of coal power stations is a real talking point in the industry.

This is particularly true for the world’s biggest coal consumer, China, where the International Energy Agency estimated (for 2008) that it relied on coal for 80% of its generating capacity.

In such an environment, Emerson Process Management has installed its Ovation expert control system at two new 1GW ultra-supercritical power generating units at the Huaneng Qinbei power facility in Henan Province.

The firm says that this technology will tightly control boilers, turbines and balance-of-plant processes to ensure efficient and reliable operation.

Emerson’s technology is being employed to automate over 60% of China’s new generation of power facilities, as the country looks to ultra-supercritical technologies to significantly enhance its coal-based electricity efficiency.
The boost to efficiency is estimated at around 50%, whilst also producing lower emissions that traditional subcritical power plants.

At the Huaneng Qinbai site, the Ovation technology will monitor and control over 29,000 I/O points across the two new units.

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Power Consumption and Brine Waste – Sorted!
Caofeidian Industrial Zone (CIZ), a 2.5 hour drive from Beijing, epitomises China’s ambition of sustainable industrialised growth. A 310km2 zone was created with a vision to establish a circular economy with industries that complement each other in a development that champions resource recovery, renewable energy, emission reduction, and environmental protection.

In 2009 when the Caofeidian Government were looking for a solutions provider to help meet their fresh water demand with the increased development, they were looking for a provider that not only had the financial strength to develop the project, but also the technology to lower the energy consumption for fresh water production. That solution provider was Aqualyng.

Aqualyng, a Norwegian water company that engineers, constructs, finances, owns and operates seawater reverse osmosis desalination plants was awarded a 30 year Build Own Operate Transfer (BOOT) to develop a first phase 50,000 m3/day seawater desalination plant in CIZ.

What makes Aqualyng unique, and why it was selected for the project, is Aqualyng’s proprietary energy recovery device, the Recuperator. The Recuperator is a work exchanger that uses the pressure from the saline-reject (brine) from the reverse osmosis membranes to pressurise pre-treated seawater, which in turn lowers the energy required to produce fresh water.

Energy recovery devices have played a large part in revolutionising the industry by allowing energy consumption to be reduced to as low as 2 – 2.5 kWh / m3, and in turn lowered water production cost. For Caofeidian Seawater Desalination plant, energy consumption as low as 1.7 kWh / m3 has been recorded.

The plant, the first potable water large scale commercial desalination plant in China, constructed in an amazing 18 months, is one of only a few plants in the world where brine from the plant is fully recycled.

In most SWRO plants, brine is normally discharged back to sea. In keeping with the Zone’s vision for renewable resource, Aqualyng , the Caofeidian Government, and local industries worked to look at solutions for brine reuse.

The Caofeidan Government, in conjunction with salt and chemical producers, constructed an approximate 50 Km pipeline to pump brine discharged from the plant to evaporative salt production works and chemical plants. As seawater desalination is the prime source of fresh water production in the GCC, as well as other parts of the Middle East, the energy consumption variables are still considered high and as strains are beginning to show by the large volume of brine being discharged back to the Gulf.

The future of seawater desalination in the Middle East may wish to look east to the vision of sustainability that is being applied on projects like Caofeidian Seawater Desalination project.

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