Open-access content 6th April 2010
Facilities managers must apply more innovative thinking in their approach to power generation strategies, says Aggreko’s Jeff Short.
8 April 2010
Like some mortgage holders tied into uncompetitive deals, a hidden proportion of UK businesses are suffering from the high price of fixed energy tariffs made back in September 2008, with many paying over 50 per cent above the current market rate. I believe that alternative sources of energy could provide cheaper, more flexible electricity in many instances.
A key challenge facing plant managers and FMs is their ability to think outside the box and consider alternative energy sources, which can involve the use of short-term solutions. Clearly, challenging times and volatile energy markets demand a more flexible approach from FMs, who increasingly need to consider alternatives such as combined heat and power (CHP), gas, wind and even solar energy. Looking ahead to the next 10 years, I see temporary power solutions playing a far more important role in overall energy planning in manufacturing plant and hospitals alike.
A good example of this thinking is the recent use of the latest generation of temporary gas powered generators. Organisations that use at least 1 MW of continuous power have access to an industrial scale gas supply and are paying over 6p/kWhr for their electricity, and could be making significant savings on their current tariffs. One UK manufacturing business confirmed savings of up to 50 per cent on its fixed tariff by using temporary gas-powered generators. And this is not an isolated opportunity; there are many sectors from food processing and steel to quarrying, shipping and healthcare which could benefit from switching to gas generators.
CHP adoption is another area where FMs could lead the way in enlightened energy management. A recent study undertaken by Imperial College and the University of Surrey found that the UK’s reliance on electricity to heat homes and power cars could pose significant risks to uninterrupted energy supplies. As demand for electricity is predicted to climb by over 13 per cent, to 150 gigawatts by 2050, the need for innovation in this area could not be more apparent. FMs, with their potential role as catalysts of change in many industries, have a key role in bringing about innovation in this area of energy strategy.
Looking further ahead, wind power is another exciting area of power generation that FMs need to be thinking about. Granted, it is unlikely that electricity from wind will form a major element of the total picture for years to come, if at all, but businesses will inevitably have to plan a proportion of their energy consumption around this sometimes fallible source.
Recent experience from Ireland’s 900 MW of installed wind capacity in 2009 illustrates the point. During a three month period (January to March) there were 12 occasions where power output varied by more than 100 MW within 15 minutes, 76 when that variation occurred within 30 minutes; that variation is equivalent to around 37 per cent of the average output. The peak output was 940 MW, the lowest was 9 MW. These variations in output bore no relationship to demand, which was at its peak during a cold period in mid-February, characterised (as cold winter periods often are) by very little wind.
Presenting these facts is neither a polemic against wind-power, nor one in favour of thermal plants. It is simply stating that the generation mix in 10 years time will be different, and will have to cater for part of the mix being far more variable than system operators are used to having to deal with.
This will mean that FMs will have to be much more ‘fleet of foot’ and tactical when it comes to energy management. Increasingly, power management will become a key operational function within many industries, with businesses and public sector bodies needing to plan their energy sourcing far more effectively than they do at present.
In the next decade, FMs will need to become experts at energy sourcing, possibly managing a number of different suppliers in a complex matrix. Life will inevitably get more complex as organisations grapple with the realities of oil’s demise.
Jeff Short is central area sales manager at Aggreko