Q&A: technology

Aggreko on decarbonising the industry with hybrid modular power 

Aggreko believes that hybrid modular power systems that can incorporate solar generation and battery storage could be the key to unlocking decarbonisation in heavy industry. Yoana Cholteeva talks to Andrew Boyd, global director of sales for microgrid sales and storage solutions, to find out more.

Andrew Boyd, global director of sales for microgrid sales and storage solutions at Aggreko. Image: Aggreko

As a supplier of temporary power generation, Aggreko started first with diesel, before moving onto gas technology. Over the past five years however, the company has been dedicating more and more time and effort to help cut emissions and contribute to the energy transition.

As part of Aggreko’s current overall strategic plan, the company is preparing to grow its hybrid and renewable fleet instead. In a step towards that goal, Aggreko acquired a battery storage company called Younicos in 2017, as well as subsidies in a renewable space company with software technology. Fortunately for the company’s investments, energy technologies, much like mobile phones, are continuing to get better.

Yoana Cholteeva: Could you tell me a bit more about Aggreko’s hybrid modular power systems that rely both on solar and gas generation?

Andrew Boyd: So, here are a few examples. We’ve got a 7MW power plant in Patagonia, South America, where we're using our existing efficient gas engine technology. To that, we've added battery storage to help control customers’ carbon footprint even more. Also, as important, this helps stabilise the power supply and levelise the cost of energy. This hybrid example uses a reciprocating gas engine and factory storage to gain efficiency gains and reduce our carbon footprint.

Another example is where we've got heavy fuel power plants in a modular power block. What we were able to do on this particular application is to use battery storage to replace one large engine, which would need to run at what we would call a spinning reserve. As a result, again, the over 10MW battery technology has enabled the customer to cut the cost of energy.

And a third example, which is a full hybrid system, is a project that we have up and running at a Gold Fields site called Granny Smith, in Australia. This is where we're using existing gas technology, but we've actually added 8MW of solar hybrid on to the client system. We have a computer-aided design team, which can do a simulation of what we would call the solar irradiation; in other words, how much energy we can get from the sun. We can do these designs to reduce the amount of energy needed to be produced with a thermal asset by replacing gas with solar.

How are on-site and temporary power systems improving over time?

I've been a global director for years and technology is always evolving, because it is really about value. It's also about the people that we have in that business, who really want to make a difference and change the future for their children and grandchildren. That ethos is being passed on in the company, which is fantastic for me to see, as a little bit of an old timer. There's a constant update of the type of solar panels we use, how many watts of electricity you can get from one square metre, etc. These things get better every three to six months, just like mobile phones and other things.

We have a really detailed software department and technology centre running in Berlin, which has a simulated electric power grid. We are able to simulate a customer's grid with software technology, because software really is where technology blends in order to work correctly.

This software can create an artificial environment, it tells a grid that there's going to be an event. And by the way, it can create an artificial event where it doesn't shut systems down, because electronics are very susceptible to or sensitive to any [load] change. So, software really is the key to our product.

How does work on centralised power generation differ from distributed generation?

For centralised power, we're talking about utility customers looking for longer-term contracts and more stable power supplies. So this is something that's slightly different to our space. On the distributed side, and again, it’s kind of software driven as well, we need to make sure that we can comply with any transient load changes and there's a lot of data.

An important lesson to learn is to spend a lot of time with the client and talk about what expected load profiles are going to look like, how do we manage that load that gives them the optimal fuel burn and also a stable power plant. Because with a distributed power plant, you haven't got the cushion of the grid, so you have to be more careful about how you design that power.

Aggreko has also helped provide reliable power to data centres in India, Singapore, and Ireland using gas generators and batteries. Could you tell me more about these projects?

The data centre projects that we have were focused to provide reliable power so there are absolutely no errors or any power failure whatsoever. Because if you lose your power in a data centre it’s a big issue for your clients. So, we used our most efficient gas engine possible, with the lowest emissions.

They are more susceptible to any issues, especially if there's a sudden load set challenge. What we do there is we use our battery technology to buffer and assist with any load set changes. So that really is the ethos behind one of our successes.

In this way, the customer has confidence that they’ve got low-cost energy with these gas bytes. And in some cases when there's no choice, because there's no quick connection, then our first option is to look at how to keep the lowest cost of energy, and how to keep the power system unaffected if there are any load fluctuations.