August 23, 2017

Alternative fuels can provide bridge to SA’s natural gas infrastructure

South Africa’s gas-to-power programme to deliver 3 726 megawatts of electricity is expected to come online between 2019 and 2025, as the country develops infrastructure to utilise liquefied natural gas (LNG) for power generation. In the interim, South Africa could benefit from immediate access to additional generating capacity by running alternative fuels through mobile fuel-flexible turbines, which can transition to LNG once the infrastructure is in place and the fuel is available.

This is according to Mark Makanda, regional sales director for APR Energy, who says that throughout the developing world, electric utilities are pursuing greater energy independence – in power generation and fuel type. “Not widely leveraged, however, are refinery byproducts such as liquid petroleum gas (LPG),” he explains. “This lower-cost, clean-burning fossil fuel is typically unaffected by wild swings in crude oil prices and is readily available around the world. In addition, LPG can ensure the reliable power generation that intermittent renewables cannot.”

Dual-fuel turbines provide the flexibility to seamlessly switch between LPG and other fuels, allowing power generators to easily adjust fuel supply based on cost and availability. “A mobile fast-track power solution, using state-of-the-art mobile turbine technology, offers myriad benefits as an environmentally friendly bridge to a better quality of life and economic growth while South Africa develops the infrastructure needed to support its gas-to-power programme,” Makanda says.

The primary cost factor for fossil-powered generation is fuel. “With global crude oil prices rapidly declining from USD $100 a barrel in 2014 to less than USD $30 in early 2016, petroleum derivatives such as diesel fuel and heavy fuel oil (HFO) became increasingly cost-competitive for fast-track power generation,” he says.

However, economic forecasts widely agree that global petroleum prices are rebounding after a significant two-year decline. “At the same time, with the growing availability of natural gas worldwide, prices for gas liquids such as LPG are expected to remain flat through at least 2018, resulting in an anticipated cost differential of approximately 20-50% compared with HFO and diesel,” Makanda says.

“Based on these assumptions, an electric utility could save tens of millions of dollars in fuel costs over two years while operating 50MW of turbine-powered generation on LPG.”

Besides the advanced turbine technology which offers flexibility to burn alternative fuels, there are many additional advantages to mobile fast track power, Makanda states. “Firstly, gas turbines and reciprocating generators are easily transportable by land, sea and air and the installation and commissioning are rapid due to minimal construction and set up required for the modular solution. Rapid installation means reliable power in weeks not years – for as long as the need exists.”

Makanda adds that generating capacity can be located near demand, reducing the need for transmission and distribution infrastructure, while also cutting the power loss that occurs as electricity travels long distances across the grid. There is minimal up-front investment, as customers simply provide the site and fuel, avoiding long-term financing and credit issues.”

The advantages of switching from diesel-powered reciprocating engines to mobile turbines running on LPG are further magnified when one accounts for the significant emissions and noise benefits, he says. “Similarly, the higher power density of mobile turbines means they can generate the same amount of electricity on a fraction of the land as reciprocating engines or renewable sources such as solar and wind power – making turbines an ideal fit in areas with space constraints and markets where local economic drivers such as tourism require power generation to be unobtrusive,” concludes Makanda.

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