July 22, 2017

Fuel-flexible turbines can boost SA’s infrastructure goals – expert

Colm Quinn, regional sales director at APR Energy
Colm Quinn, regional sales director at APR Energy

In the Finance Minister’s Mid Term Budget Speech, he recognised that “security of energy supply is a cornerstone of sustainable growth.” However, the country is still far from realising the R240 billion that has been set aside for infrastructure development in the energy sector. In the interim, the installation of modular fuel-flexible turbines could help drive economic growth without a major capital investment in permanent infrastructure.

This is according to Colm Quinn, regional sales director at APR Energy – the world’s leading provider of fast-track mobile turbine power. He says that in the near term, the ability to add power to the national grid in weeks rather than the years required for permanent construction could produce a revenue-generating export to other Southern African countries in need of electricity. “In the longer term, the additional power would help Eskom meet increased demand once commodity prices recover and South Africa’s mines ramp up operations.”

He says that an added benefit of using the fuel-flexible turbines would be the cost savings. “Since fuel constitutes approximately two-thirds of the cost of power generation, the ability of the fuel-flexible turbines to run on a range of fuels and to switch seamlessly between fuels enables better management of costs based on fuel prices and availability,” Quinn says, explaining that the turbines can run on conventional fuels such as natural gas and diesel, as well as alternatives like liquid petroleum gas, naphtha and kerosene.

In addition, once South Africa’s liquefied natural gas (LNG) infrastructure is in place beginning in 2019, the turbines already would installed and ready to utilize the natural gas – again, saving the time and expense of constructing a permanent power plant, he says.

The fuel-flexible turbines also would provide an environmental benefit, since they are a cleaner-burning alternative to coal-fired generation or diesel reciprocating engines. Moreover, the compact, power-dense turbines have a much smaller footprint than renewable energy plants being considered by utilities and energy-intensive industries.

“The significant amount of land required is often an important consideration for companies weighing the emissions advantages of renewable energy. A 50MW solar farm would cover approximately 430-500 acres, while 50MW of wind turbines start off at around 100 acres if installed on a ridgeline in hilly terrain and range to 2,500 acres if installed across open, flat terrain,” Quinn says. “By comparison, a modular 50MW plant using the clean-burning turbines requires about 1.4-acres of land,” he adds.

Perhaps the biggest advantage over renewable energy is that fuel-flexible turbines are not subject to the intermittent nature of sunshine, wind and rain as they can generate reliable power, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.

There are other advantages of mobile fast-track power solutions beyond the environmental benefits and flexibility of fuel type, Quinn says. “Because the turbines are easily transportable and minimal construction and setup are required, a fast-track plant can be installed and producing power within 30 to 90 days. Their modular design also allows turbines to be easily added or removed, offering a scalable solution that can adapt to changing power generation needs.”

Finally, Quinn adds, these solutions can be installed close to the demand, reducing the need for transmission and distribution infrastructure, while cutting the power loss that occurs as electricity travels long distances.

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