Rob Schueffner, Hybrid Energy Solutions Manager for Caterpillar Electric Power, provides an update on Caterpillar’s advanced microgrid technologies and how they can shape the future of power generation in Africa.
What makes hybrid energy solutions viable for customers in Africa?
With the increasing global demand for the affordable electricity that can be provided by hybrid energy solutions, the performance of key components in them is improving quickly while purchasing costs are decreasing rapidly. These factors have combined to improve the ROI and help to make an attractive business case for using these technologies, and African customers have rapidly adopted the concept.
The increasing sophistication of microgrids and availability of advanced modeling tools used to design them are also helping to make a better business case for these configurations. Every enterprise is different and every power need is different too.
By using software tools such as HOMER® hybrid power system optimization software, engineers can optimize microgrids and distributed energy resources in the design phase by simulating hundreds or even thousands of system permutations to determine the best solution.
As a result, we have successfully designed, installed and commissioned diverse systems. At one site, we integrated a new solar facility with large medium-speed, base-load generator sets as well as quick-response, high-speed generator sets. Today, the system generates nearly 15 million kWh of energy per year, or about half the power needed for company operations during peak sunlight hours. With 50% solar penetration, the system delivers an annual savings of 14% to 16% in the cost of power generation.
At another site, we recently introduced 10 MW of Cat® Energy Storage System grid stability modules to an existing power system that includes nine hydroelectric generators and dozens of diesel generator sets. This system is expected to save the customer up to 5 million liters of diesel fuel annually.
And at a third location, we designed a system from the ground up for a new facility that features our solar photovoltaic modules, Cat generator sets, and a Cat Energy Storage System grid stability module.
Caterpillar is well known for its traditional engine technologies. Why do customers trust you to supply state-of-the-art hybrid microgrid technologies?
The key to Caterpillar’s longevity has been our eagerness to dive into our customers’ businesses, understand their business needs and the power required to support their operations, and then recommend a solution that delivers on every important aspect of performance: productivity, efficiency, reliability, durability, safety, and ease of maintenance.
Our deep understanding of our customers’ enterprises provides us with a tremendous advantage over newcomers to the space. In many cases, our hybrid microgrid customers already own Cat machinery or power generation products. They understand our commitment to quality and performance. They have experienced first-hand the commitment and knowledge of our local Cat dealers. They already know the value that Caterpillar can deliver and the lengths we and our Cat dealers will go to help them enjoy greater success.
We also have a distinct advantage through our leadership in developing field-proven technologies that support the electrification, power control and intelligence of machinery used in the harshest operating environments. For instance, the Cat Bi-Direction Power (BDP) Module offers state-of-the-art energy conversion and storage technologies through power electronics technologies originally developed for the Cat D7E track-type tractor, which was first introduced over a decade ago.
After the installation, what can customers do to get the most value from their hybrid microgrid system?
One of the keys to an effective maintenance program is designing the system the correct way from the beginning. Again, this means we look to fully understand how the enterprise operates and how the power need fluctuates on a daily, weekly, seasonal or yearly basis. Only then can we design a solution to address the power need effectively and economically.
For example, building redundancy into a given system may increase the initial purchase cost, but if a single component is taken offline for regular maintenance or underperformance, it will have a smaller impact on the output of the entire system.
The ongoing operation of the system is also an area where we can leverage advanced data harvesting, analysis, dashboarding, and telematics technologies. Cat Connect Remote Access Monitoring helps our customers optimize the utilization and maximize the performance of power systems. It provides essential insights into the location, health and efficiency of power systems by collecting data to populate a dashboard of key performance indicators in real time.
Cat Connect Remote Asset Monitoring can be configured to send alerts and reports to the dealer or customer to support preventive maintenance, performance optimization and life cycle planning.
Ultimately, it delivers essential insights to help customers make timely, fact-based decisions that can boost productivity while avoiding costly repairs and unplanned downtime.
This tool enables our customers, dealers, and Caterpillar engineers to monitor and assess the performance of our hybrid microgrid systems wherever they’re located in the world. In fact, one of our customers was delivering a presentation at an industry conference in Canada when he showed the audience how he was able to monitor the near real-time performance of the hybrid microgrid at his operations in southern Africa.
Are there particular industries that are better suited for hybrid microgrids than others?
We’ve provided better power availability that also reduces operational costs across many industries. For example, B2Gold built a 7 MW solar facility at its Otjikoto gold mine in Namibia that has reduced its HFO consumption by 3.4 million liters per year, which company officials estimate will result in a payback period of four-and-a-half to five years.
Early this year, we commissioned a 6 MW hybrid energy solution for a leading agricultural producer in the Middle East. The new agricultural facility features the largest single-site microgrid located in the UAE, which provides power for cooling equipment, water chilling, mushroom cultivation and other greenhouse processes.
Our dealer network is also using hybrid microgrids to improve their own operations and reduce their energy costs. Mantrac Ghana installed a 500 kW hybrid energy solution at its new world-class component rebuild center in Takoradi, Ghana. The solar PV system currently provides more than 30 percent of the energy needed, with an opportunity to install an additional 500 kW when facility operations expand and the power requirement increases.
How has the COVID-19 pandemic affected your support for customers?
While our typical ways of doing business have certainly been impacted by COVID-19, we have still been able to keep projects moving forward by leveraging the expertise of the engineers who work in our global network of Cat dealers.
For instance, we successfully commissioned a hybrid microgrid this April despite the logistical challenges presented by the ongoing COVID-19 crisis. To comply with travel restrictions and social distancing measures, project managers for the Cat dealer and Caterpillar used remote collaboration tools to supervise embedded on-site technicians as they performed the final series of steps needed to test and prepare an extremely complex solution for full-time operation.
Where can we learn more about Caterpillar’s hybrid microgrid offerings?
Your local Cat dealer will guide you through the entire process, and you can get started by visiting www.cat.com/microgrid.