2016_1 bringing clean power to the caribbean master

Bringing clean power to the Caribbean

Wärtsilä is not only helping Caribbean nations increase their use of renewables, but it is also boosting their tourist industries with more stable, reliable power units.

Text: PAUL CONNOLLY Photo: WÄRTSILÄ

When one thinks of Wärtsilä engines and power plants, one doesn’t generally conjure up images of palm trees, crystal clear water and sun-drenched, golden beaches.

But Wärtsilä recently won a contract to supply a 28 MW Smart Power Generation plant to Roatan Electric Company (RECO) on the island of Roatan, Honduras. The turn-key order includes four Wärtsilä 34SG-LPG engines running on propane gas. The power plant will be delivered on a fast-track basis and is expected to be operational by December 2016.

“Wärtsilä’s solution will provide cleaner, more reliable and more efficient energy to our customers,” says Richard Warren, Vice President and General Manager of RECO.

RECO operates in the Bay Islands just off the northern coast of Honduras, where the growing tourism industry has increased the demand for electricity. By providing a reliable supply of energy, the new power station will help to keep the lights on for tourists and locals alike.

“The price of propane has come down a lot over the last few years,” says Sampo Suvisaari, Regional Director at Wärtsilä Energy Solutions. “And the infrastructure for importing, storing and handling propane is relatively simple and inexpensive. Propane has the nice feature that you can liquefy it at basically ambient temperature. So you see propane tanks everywhere. This now makes propane an attractive solution for the Caribbean islands and other locations with no access to natural gas pipelines,” says Suvisaari.

This is the second propane-fired power plant supplied by Wärtsilä to the region within a year. Suvisaari explains why.“Until recently, there have been frustrations with the power supply in Roatan. There’s just not been enough capacity. Some hotels have actually been using their own power generators. But this modernisation will provide a good, solid power supply. And that indirectly will be very helpful indeed for tourism. Roatan only has 60,000 inhabitants, and the vast majority of those rely on tourism. Our propane plant will undoubtedly help these people.”

Another key aspect of the power plant is that it can run on three different fuels.

“The multi-fuel capability gives us the advantage of changing fuels in the future. We can use propane, ethane or methane, depending on cost and availability. This will directly reduce the price of electricity for consumers,” says Warren.

Suvisaari agrees that this multi-fuel capability is vital. “The tri-fuel capability provides unmatched flexibility and ensures that Roatan will have a safe, affordable and reliable energy supply. They can switch to the cheapest available fuel very easily.”

As everyone knows, harnessing renewable energy is key in reducing the environmental impact of electricity generation. So the wind-balancing functionality of the power plant provides yet another huge benefit for Roatan’s future, by enabling a form of alternative power that wouldn’t otherwise be a feasible source of energy for the island.

“RECO has been investing in wind power,” says Suvisaari. “They bought and installed at least a dozen windmills in the hills on the island. So part of their electricity is being provided by wind power, but of course wind doesn't blow predictably. You have to have something else that compensates when the winds subside so the lights don't dim, and you don’t lose power. The technology of our engines ensures that such a shortfall can be instantly compensated.”

When wind power fails, up steps Wärtsilä’s power plant. Another way of bridging the wind-power deficit would be hydropower, but “Roatan has zero hydropower so you need our power plant to enable it,” says Suvisaari. “Without our power to balance up the deficit, wind power would not be a reliable enough source of energy.”

Wärtsilä’s installed power capacity in Honduras is approximately 500 MW. “The peak demand of a small nation, such as Honduras, is around 1500 MW – the average baseload probably less than 1000 MW,” explains Suvisaari. “We’re playing a major role in providing that energy.”

Click here to find more techinical details about Wärtsilä 20V34SG-LPG GasCubes. 

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