Modern power system with flexible energy solutions
Progressive and environmentally conscious Caribbean utility Roatan Electric Company (RECO) is leading that change. Since 2015, which saw the installation of the island’s first wind power plant, the utility has been upgrading its existing power system to operate to maximise efficiency and integrate renewables at a large-scale. The island’s 3.9 MW wind farm, 12 MW of solar PV, 28 MW Wärtsilä power plant with four 34SG engines running on LPG, and a nine-kilometer underwater subsea cable, are all examples of how RECO is introducing flexible power generation to effectively absorb current and future system load variations. The result: clean power, and expanded distribution network to two nearby islands.
Flexible added capacity
Notably, in 2016, the island reduced its carbon footprint by a quarter and improved its electricity supply by introducing a 28 MW power plant of Wärtsilä 34SGLPG engine generating sets. The solution of liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) engines run on propane, and with multi-fuel capabilities, enables RECO to efficiently manage generating assets, maximising generating cost. The ability of Wärtsilä’s SG engines to perform efficiently at ambient temperatures and with minimal water consumption (the benefit of a closed-loop cooling system), was an important consideration to operate in the local climate.
Storage tech optimises engine plant performance and facilitates renewables integration
Existing operational and infrastructure challenges are related to high energy costs and fuel consumption as well as other difficulties associated with operating an isolated distribution grid, has spurred a renewables shift for Roatan. And it has not stopped at a more efficient power plant.
Wärtsilä’s solution was an energy upgrade—including a new 10 MW / 26 MWh energy storage system and advanced control platform—that introduced flexibility into the local Roatan grid. While the batteries secure reliability by eliminating the need for mechanical spinning reserve, Wärtsilä’s sophisticated GEMS energy management software controls Roatan’s entire energy system, including enhancing earlier delivered Wärtsilä engines and solar panels. GEMS provides data visibility into the entire system, including load forecasting, and has enabled the optimisation of the (load) data and system assets. GEMS also enable the further integration of intermittent and variable solar and wind resources into the existing grid.
These energy optimisation capabilities have increased the reliability of the system, as well as prepared the Roatan hybrid power system for a shift to large-scale renewables integration. Both have resulted in continued island investments in infrastructure—from new roads to streetlights—as Roatan adopts sustainable energy solutions. It is expected that by the end of 2021, more than 20% of the delivered island energy will come from renewable sources.
Future lies in renewables
RECO and Wärtsilä share an ambitious vision of leading a clean energy future. This future lies in renewables integration, and storage is a critical part of the fastacting, flexible and efficient (backup) generation technology required for the ambition to be realised. Hybrid projects like RECO are particularly well-suited to geographies like Roatan which traditionally rely on expensive diesel to meet their power needs. The addition of GEMS introduced a fully optimised approach, and it can now work around and with existing wind and thermal generation towards cleaner, more reliable and more efficient energy.