The Changing Genset Industry

At the AMPS Conference in March, earlier this year an AMPS Lifetime Achievement Award was presented to Allan Bretherton for his work with AMPS and in the Power

Generation Industry.

At the AMPS Conference in March, earlier this year an AMPS Lifetime Achievement Award was presented to Allan Bretherton for his work with AMPS and in the Power Generation Industry. Allan was offered a job with Woodward in 2006 where he stayed for the next 10-years and says that this was the most enjoyable job he ever had. In 2009 Allan became a Director of AMPS for the first time, resigning in 2016 through ill health. During the last 2-years Allan has had a number of major operations and during this time, has always been fully supported by Woodward working from home when he could. Earlier

this year Allan decided to retire. He says: “I have enjoyed most, if not all, of my working life and would certainly recommend the Power Generation Industry to anyone who enjoys a challenge and a changing environment.” We’re very grateful to Allan for writing the following article for AMPS Power.

Since I started work in 1969, almost half a century ago there has been many changes in all walks of industry but perhaps none have changed quite as much as the gen set industry. I use the word “gen set” because to open this article up to Power Generation would take weeks, if not months to complete.

One of the first major breakthroughs in electricity occurred in 1831, when British scientist Michael Faraday discovered the basic principles of electricity generation. Building on the experiments of Franklin and others, he observed that he could create or “induce” electric current by moving magnets inside coils of copper wire. The discovery of electromagnetic induction revolutionized how we use energy. In fact, Faraday’s process is used in modern power production, although today’s power plants produce much stronger currents on a much larger scale than Faraday’s hand-held device.

That was the start and the market for gen sets (a diesel engine and rotating generator) developed. Like all good ideas, the driver for gen sets was remarkably simple once “discovered” and that is to provide power where and when needed. Pumps also developed alongside gen sets, the principle being almost identical. Pumping for irrigation and gen sets for electricity became an absolute “God Send” in Africa where gen sets and Pumps are still known as “Listers” in the same way that we refer to a vacuum cleaner as a “Hoover” though Dyson may have something to say about that in the future.

Early Diesel gen sets were a simplistic affair and I’m sure Lister-Petter would agree, they were not the most environmentally friendly either. Main developments have been in control technology, emissions technology, and stability of the gen set being able to maintain tight speed control (G3 and G4, +/- 0.25%) and recovery over a wide range of loads. Control in the early days was totally manual; a simple hand crank to start the engine and a hand controlled “Governor” to set the speed and apply the load. Clearly, these methods were somewhat “hit and miss” but did the job they were intended for, provide power where required. Does anyone remember the 1967 file “Quater mass and the Pit” and the feeble power generation set up?

There is still a place in the market for key start controls as below and if it does the job and is fit for purpose then why not? However, control technology has moved on and remote control, synchronising, load sharing, paralleling and scheduled maintenance are now key control requirements. We are no longer merely looking at a portable power source but key installations such as remote telecom towers as well as emergency back up for Banks, Hospitals, Airports and even the London Olympic Park. Although there is a plethora of control manufacturers that can meet today’s control requirements just a small sample are below:

Traditionally, larger more expensive industrial, locomotive or ship engines would be used in Brazil for standby/peak shaving applications. This unique design was the most cost-effective solution available and was based on a 15% annual plant utilization factor. Some of its most impressive features include very low acquisition and installation costs, optimized fuel economy at all dispatch levels and low operations and maintenance costs. The generating sets operate at 440v and step up to 34.5 kV transformers, which again step up to the 230 kV transmission grid line. A single plant operator remotely controls each plant, via a state-of- the-art SCADA system which was developed specifically for this project by Aruanã and FG Wilson. This advanced control system dispatches and regulates power from the generating sets as required, with a user friendly interface. This provides tremendous savings in operating and maintenance costs over the lifetime of the power plant. Aruanã Energia, hope to market this type of plant for smaller distributed power stations in the range of 50 MW, with a focus on isolated power systems in developing countries and remote industrial operations such as mining sites.

The Way Forward (or one way forward) I think it’s fair to say that the mobile phone and mobile communication is here to stay. This market demands telecom towers in remote locations to relay the signal. Traditionally, these have been powered by diesel gen sets with fuel tanks close to the actual point of usage. Now, if you work a plantation or you are a small farmer here is a “free” supply of diesel.

Diesel being syphoned off has been recorded in many areas. However, LPG is much more difficult to syphon and store. Recent development between Perkins and Woodward have resulted in the successful launch of the Perkins P400 gas engine at the Middle East Electricity (MEE) exhibition in Dubai. For full details see: