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An independent mindset is a typical characteristic of most island communities. Out of necessity. The more isolated they are, the more independent they have to be. Such remoteness defines their lifestyles, and also demands innovative solutions for harnessing natural resources, as well as the judicious use of any that have to be transported there.It’s an approach that two remote communities have embraced on opposite sides of this planet.
Part of the Kingdom of Denmark, the Faroe Islands lie between Iceland and Norway. They have a thriving fishing industry renowned for its environmentally friendly processes and squeaky-clean fish. Surrounded by strong winds, rough seas and summers with almost 24 hours of light, the conditions seem ideal for generating electricity from renewable sources for the local population of 50,000. However, the islanders’ demands are constant, while the weather conditions are most definitely not.
“There is no way for us to import electricity to balance a grid that runs on renewables,” explains Terji Nielsen, research and development manager at Elfelagið SEV, the publicly owned main power producer on the islands. The company operates 13 thermal and hydroelectric power plants on the islands, as well as a number of wind farms.
Currently, wind power covers 20% of the island’s electricity demand, hydro covers 40%, and 40% comes from hydrocarbons. While the goal is to become more or less fossil-free by 2030, Nielsen explains that a secure back-up system will remain in place. “The wind-diesel hybrid grid provides the resiliency necessary to ensure the power is stable and available whenever it’s needed,” he says.
When Nielsen started at the company in 1999, the islanders suffered ten to 15 blackouts a year on average. Now, it’s down to two. For the last eight years, Nielsen has been mainly in charge of preparing the electrical infrastructure so it can better cope with the more intermittent renewable sources on the islands. The aim is to have no blackouts at all, but in such a remote, isolated area that’s quite a feat. Very fast reaction times is one of the most essential demands the back-up has to fulfill. With ramp-up times of under five minutes, MAN’s four-stroke engines have proven to be an ideal solution, and are integral components in this stable grid. The Sund plant, the largest of three thermal plants, is currently being expanded to improve the back-up set-up.
MAN Diesel & Turbo is to supply four MAN 9L51/60 GenSets fitted with the latest selective catalytic reduction system, significantly reducing levels of NOx. They make a crucial contribution to reducing the impact of the plant on the environment, and also to balancing the power.
“Reliability is paramount,” explains Nielsen. “We cannot compromise on the security of the power supply for all our customers. We need to be very sure that the technology we install really can deliver.” And as government initiatives encourage islanders to replace oil heating with heat pumps, and gasoline or diesel cars with electric cars, demand is set to increase.
Which is why SEV is interested not only in the here and now. Such a small, isolated energy system serves as an ideal kind of test lab. New technology can be tried out, because the impact is measured quickly and reliably. In 2016, Europe’s first wind-connected storage system, a 2.3 MW lithium-ion battery, was installed here, and will significantly contribute to reaching the target of 100% wind penetration by 2030.
In the future, the company is looking into even more intelligent control systems that will accurately predict renewable power generation – whether wind, solar, hydro or tidal – for a 20-hour period, helping define which thermal power plant is needed, and automatically choosing the cheapest source with the lowest marginal cost.
“Engine power plants are definitely a bridging technology to green generation,”
Yet their role has changed: “From ‘baseload backbone,’ the contribution of the engines has shifted toward ‘smart back-up,’” adds Tim Meyers, Sales Manager Caribbean, MAN Diesel & Turbo. “By the time we installed the first engines on Bonaire in 2009, combining renewable and fossil generation was little more than an exotic niche.
This has changed dramatically. With climate goals as ambitious as today’s, a sustainable energy supply can only be secured through the smart combination of renewables, storage and fossil back-up. The future is hybrid, and fully integrated hybrid plants as well as micro grid solutions have become part of the generation portfolio we offer to our customers.” At the far side of the Atlantic, over in the Caribbean, the conclusion is very similar.
While Bonaire looks and feels very different from the Faroe Islands, it’s not your typical Caribbean island. No lush, green, tropical landscape here. Part of the Netherlands Antilles, located in the Caribbean just 85 km off the coast of Venezuela, Bonaire is dry, hot and barren. With cacti. But when it comes to green energy, it’s truly a pioneer. Much like on the Faroe Islands, the local economy also depends on the environment. Some 50,000 tourists, predominantly on diving trips off the pristine coastline, are important for the livelihoods of the 16,500 locals. But it’s mainly wind and diesel, not hydro or solar, that power this community.
In 2013, ContourGlobal took over the operation of the world’s largest wind-diesel hybrid power plant of its kind. It’s the sole power generation facility on the island and a major engineering achievement in integrating wind and diesel power. Giorgio Narminio, Caribbean Assets COO at Contour-Global, is convinced of the hybrid solution. It’s crucial not only for protecting the environment, but also for a reliable grid: “Integrating wind power saves an estimated 54,384 barrels of heavy fuel oil a year,” he highlights.
“But even when the wind conditions are good, three engines are constantly on the grid. The MAN engines keep the reactive power in good shape and maintain a stable grid and frequency.”
The essential back-up that keeps the holiday resorts lit up and running, whatever the wind and weather, comprises a fleet of five MAN 9L27/38 2.87 MW diesel engines, while 12 Enercon E-44 900 kW wind turbines provide the wind power. A 3 MW battery bank and a bespoke power management system complete the advanced set-up. It supplies the island, roughly 288 square km, with an output of up to 28 MW gross capacity of environmentally friendly energy, with 14 MW peak capacity. For 2017, it’s predicted to provide 110 GWh, 35 GWh of which will come from wind.
They offer a more flexible and efficient option than one large one. Although Bonaire could, in theory, produce up to 90% of their power with wind, the grid would become too unstable. For this reason, wind power is capped at 70% to 75%. At least 30% of power always comes from the engine power plant.
Bonaire is close to the equator, so fortunately it’s not affected by hurricanes. However, the winds can be extremely strong, and they are also intermittent. “You have to bear in mind that in September and October on Bonaire, wind penetration is zero. There is virtually no wind at all. It’s why an extension to the power plant could only include more diesel engines,” explains Narminio.
“Without the diesel back-up, the island wouldn’t have a stable supply of electricity.”
It would be plunged temporarily into darkness.
As is the case on the Faroe Islands, the purpose of the engines is to support the stable and reliable grid. Thanks to the continuous improvements by ContourGlobal, the last major outage was back in 2015. “We achieve over 97% availability of the engines and the wind farm, providing the islands with a most reliable and stable system,” highlights Narminio. “We have the technical, skilled people who have made a difference to the service here.”
In moving away from hydrocarbons toward more sustainable sources of power, smart islands need to be able to meet the challenge of a fluctuating power supply from renewable sources and a fluctuating power demand from the consumer side. It is this intermittency of renewables, particularly wind power, that demands a flexibility of response from other energy sources on the grid, says Meyers.
“The MAN engines rapidly step in to supply power when needed, and are throttled back when wind or solar conditions improve. This kind of system is able to adapt to the prevailing climatic conditions – instantaneously.”
Although these two smart island communities are in very different situations, it’s clear that three factors have played a role in moving toward more stable, climateneutral energy production: the culture of the society, the natural environment and an innovative mix of technology.
Hybrid power plants are clearly a central growth technology on this pathway. The result: sustainable micro grids that are powering islands on opposite sides of the North Atlantic Ocean, providing role models for every community.
As a power company, we cannot compromise on the
security of the power supply for all our customers.
electricity currently generated from
on the Faroe Islands
Percent availability of engine and wind
The MAN engines keep the reactive
power in good shape and maintain a stable grid and frequency.
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