Five Great Efficient Utilities

Innovative Utilities are not only ahead of their time today, they started thinking about being ahead of their time years ago.  

By Chris Carlson

Power Magazine (Vol. 159, No. 12, December 2015), a global power generation industry leader since 1882, published their 2015 Renewable Top Plant Award Winners, showcasing the versatility and innovative trends that have set the bar for those in the field of producing the clean plants that will increasingly energize the world of today into the future. The scorecards appear to assess the plants by three key parameters. These plants:

  1. Revived or utilized a geographic location,
  2. Was completed on/before schedule and on/under budget, and
  3. Provide clean and sustainable sources of renewable energy.

Ranging in size from large to small, they all developed unique solutions to problems posed by geography, new technologies and market forces.

Thermosolar Borges, Les Porges Blanques, Catalan, Spain

It is amazing to see efficiency in exercise. Spain produces nearly half of the planet’s olives, leaving the region awash in grove waste. It’s a thrill to imagine every time some olive oil hits the pan that it is helping power a region in Spain, once cursed by its geography, now able to thrive due to its geography.

A hybrid plant, Borges is the first to combine concentrated solar power (CSP) and biomass generation, revitalizing by taking advantage of, a unique geographic region. Catalan, located in the north east of Spain, is an agrarian region that lies well beyond the prime geography for Spanish solar photovoltaic (PV) generation. The olive groves produce large quantities of bio-waste, an abundant byproduct that is used in Thermosolar’s biomass furnace. In a a region that was unable to efficiently produce solar energy due to the inhospitable geography of the region, the hybrid plant is now able to provide 22.5 MW of renewable energy, around the clock. When sunlight is blocked or dim, unlike PV solar plants, output is not cut or dangerously reduced – power is provided and subsidized by bio-fuels. Thermosolar is owned and operated by Abantia and Comsa Emte. Construction began in March 2011 and completed 20 months, for a total investment of €153 ($167) million.

Olkaria Geothermal Expansion Project, Rift Valley Province, Kenya

Kenya is at a point where it can take advantage of its indigenous potential, by tapping into the under used Great Rift Valley, unleashing the potential to become a powerhouse in the century to come. Maybe the annual conflict over damming and water rights to the Nile will become but a thing of the past.

Almost at the center of the 3,700 mile Great Rift Valley (running from southern Africa into the heart of Jordan) lays the Naivasha sub-basin, with hot springs, searing rocks, and 10 GW of potential geothermal power. In the early 2000s, the 20+ year old 15-MW turbogenerators were replaced, bringing the plant’s total capacity up to 105 MW of generation. In 2008 the Kenyan Government announced a series of initiatives to revamp the site and meet the growing market demand within the country and region. By drilling new access points into the basin, installing new steam-water separators total geothermal capacity has risen to over 520 MW of generation. The bulk of the award winning work was done in-house, with the support of industry experts from Japan’s Toyota Tsusho Corp. and South Korean Hyundai Engineering & Construction Co.

Sihwa Lake Tidal Power Plant, Gyeonggi Province, South Korea

It was a lake damaged by industry. Today, it is a lake that, like the phoenix, has arisen from the ashes to find new purpose.

Roughly the size of Manhattan Island, once dubbed the “Lake of Death”, Lake Sihwa now houses over 552.7 GWh harnessed from the 60 billion tons of annual tidal circulation. The tidal power plant, a converted sluice that was used to flush the poisoned lake with clean ocean water, is now “the world’s largest power-producing tidal barrage.”

After seven years of construction, the Sihwa Lake Tidal Power Plant, owned and operated by the Korean Water Resources Corp (K-water), has proven a concept and restored purpose to an abandoned segment of geography. The concept, that a tidal power plant of this size is feasible, has been adopted by the Korean government, Korea Hydro & Nuclear Power, and G.S. Engineering & Construction, with the hopes of building a similar tidal power plant in Incheon Bay to harness the potential of the Yellow Sea off the country’s western coast.

Desert Sunlight Solar Farm, Desert Center, California

This industry creating mega project is setting new industry standards. As a result, private industry must now cooperate with the regulations in place to address the questions of the community, while insuring that no corner is cut. 

By 2015, over six square miles of the Mojave Desert has been converted into the largest solar PV project of its kind on Earth. With over eight million PV modules and over one thousand miles of electrical wiring, this uncultivated piece of land was transformed by over a thousand workers into 550 MW of renewable power. Over the course of three years, wildlife and biological experts surveyed the site to insure the project reduced the adverse risks such a large man-made structure would have on the local ecosystem. Though environmental concerns still permeate, the solar farm seems to have set the benchmark high for those who wish to execute such a project, insuring that they take the time and resources needed to protect the geography and wildlife.

Blue Lake Expansion Project, Sitka, Alaska

This project is a case study for the way in which a community can transition away from fossil fuels. At the same time, the project is an example of how dams across the world can remain in operation while being modernized to meet the demands of the day. It’s exciting to see the free market’s invisible hand guided by the moral conscious of the community.

Owned and operated by the City and Borough of Sitka, the dam is built on the rainfall prone Baranof Island. The small city of under nine thousand needed to remove itself from the market fluctuations of fossil fuels. With over 10 feet of rainfall per year, Sitka harnessed hydropower in the 1950s, using an 'all-of-the-above strategy' that included oil as a fuel. When oil prices rose in the early 2000ds, the islanders were driven to plan a dam rebuild.

Construction of the new project allowed the old dam to continue to operate. This seamless transition from the old, underperforming dam to the new one allowed the small community, not connected to the main-land, to remain competitive and viable.Overcoming the Alaskan seasons, the logistical coordination (the project required specials tools from around the world), combined with the need for the old dam to remain operational, proved that groundbreaking projects can enable more efficient hydropower without damaging a local economy.

All-in-all, Power Magazine's choices reflects their continuing worl keeping leaders informed of the way that utilities are evolving to meet community, political, market and technological challenges.