By Alec Stewart

Like many engineers, I have an app on my mobile phone that lets me keep an eye on the make-up of our electricity generation in the UK.  At the time of writing, gas is delivering around 45% of our generation with wind, nuclear, solar, biomass and European Transmission making-up the remainder.

As we look forward to COP26 in Glasgow and the outcomes from this conference, the increasing need to reinforce our UK electricity network for decarbonisation, decentralisation and digitisation is well documented and to a larger degree, underway.

It should come as no surprise therefore that the UK Government has released their most recent portfolio for inward energy investment opportunities. Foreign capital will be crucial to deliver the essential improvements needed within this infrastructure and at the necessary pace required.

The need for ‘energy’ decentralisation sits alongside decarbonisation and is very much at the heart of the UK energy reinforcement strategy. There are obvious benefits in generating electricity closer to, or at the point of load, reducing energy costs, transmission losses and improved security of supply.

Decentralisation, typically in the form of lower capacity, more flexible generation, makes great sense. For collectives or larger individual consumers, a desire to be independent from the grid, alongside increasing pressure to reduce emissions, are potential drivers for moving towards self-generating power on site.  

One of Cundall’s customers, a medium speed liquid fuel and gas engine manufacturer, has a long history of providing decentralised electricity generation (typically between 100 and 200 MW) in some of the less-developed countries in the world.  Cundall’s involvement with this customer has allowed us to work alongside the engine manufacturer and their wider power plant designers and specialist engineers.

With an open brief, we have collectively looked closely at modularisation, interchangeability and scalability.  The modularisation approach extends beyond components and equipment, to the logistical challenges of transportation between the location of manufacture and the place of installation. 

Critically, our customer didn’t want to transport anything to site that wouldn’t be used in the final installation. Our solution was steel cargo boxes, typically used to transport equipment, that would become the structural solutions for engine room halls, radiator farms, exhaust gas requirements and fuel treatment (liquid fuel option).

Alongside this, the customer has re-arranged and rationalised the plant to maximise the efficiency of modules and minimise the extent of on-site works. Wiring looms, plug-and-play and pipework coupling solutions are also provided in the final design. Solutions were developed for power generation, combined heat and power and hybrid solutions.

We didn’t quite achieve a flat-pack power-station, but our customer was delighted with the future cost and time benefits that the exercise has delivered for their business.

With more and more critical systems customers considering decentralised gas generation as a viable alternative to either primary or back-up power supply functions, it is good to know that the medium speed engine manufacturers are aligning their turn-key solutions for these essential future markets.

For more information about Cundall’s critical systems sector please click here.

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Alec Stewart, Critical Systems, Sustainability

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