The energy-management unit within global power generation group Alstom is looking to recruit South African auto- mation experts as part of a plan to rapidly scale up its operations in the country, senior vice-president Laurent Demortier tells Engineering News.
Alstom has been awarded a €100-million (R1,1-billion) instrumentation and control contract at Eskom’s R125-billion Medupi coal-fired power station, being built in Limpopo province, and has also extended an option (worth a further €100-million) to install an identical system at Eskom’s R142-billion Kusile facility, the schedule for which is likely to be delayed by a year.
Demortier, who has overall responsibility for Alstom Energy Management, which has experienced double-digit growth despite recent recessionary conditions in a number of countries, says that the contracts are among the largest in construction for its ALSPA Series 6 solution – a distributed control system (DCS).
The DCS, which incorporates Microsoft’s so-called smart energy reference architecture, or Sera, will reportedly make Medupi South Africa’s first-ever ‘smart-grid-ready’ power station.
In other words, the system will position Medupi as a flexible power plant for the anticipated evolution towards a more diversified energy mix, where variable sources, such as wind and solar, as well as micropower (distributed generation) from commercial and even residential properties can be fed into the grid, without destabilising the network. It would enable Medupi’s operators, for instance, to reduce or add production “at the margin”, as such variable sources of energy, which are likely to receive preference ahead of carbon-intensive sources, enter or exit the grid.
The new DCS, which has been developed by Alstom experts in India, France and the US, is also currently being installed at 11 other power station sites in Europe and the Middle East and across generation platforms, from coal to hydro.
Its Web interface reportedly increases visibility and control over what, in the case of Medupi, will be more than 220 000 input/output signals, while the information technology (IT) architecture is said to be both “open and secure” and easy to operate.
Alstom Energy Management secured the Eskom contract following a two-year tender process, which initially involved all major DCS vendors.
Following an intensive head-to-head contest, involving scrupulous technical and commercial analysis, Alstom was awarded the contract in November 2009.
The French multinational’s energy-manage- ment business has grown from 400 employees to 1 000 employees in just one year within a bigger group of 81 000 people, and Demortier says that, “in South Africa, we will also have to grow fast”.
Alstom expects the market for such solutions, which are central to any smart-grid aspirations, to expand from around €17-billion a year to more that €50-billion by 2020, with touch points across generation, transmission, distribution and energy storage.
Currently, some 40 people are working on the South African project, but this number will grow to at least 180 people, excluding the hundreds of employees working under sub-contractors that will be required to test and install the systems ahead of commissioning towards the end of 2011 – the first of Medupi’s six 790-MW units is scheduled to be synchronised to the grid during the first half of 2012.
Demortier says that the group will con-sider acquisitions to help it in accelerating the development of its South African business.
In light of this contract, Alstom will develop its resources to deliver not only on the Eskom contracts, but also on further growth in the region.
“We are going to go through a big recruitment drive for automation experts. So, if we find a good company with a lot of people on whose skills we can draw, it may be simpler for us to create a partnership or do an acquisition,” Demortier adds.
“All approaches are welcome,” he quips, adding that the company has already approached several South African IT companies to partner it in the Medupi contract.
Besides the utility business, Alstom Energy Management will also target opportunities arising within South Africa’s mining and petro- chemicals sectors, where there is a desire to improve energy efficiency as tariffs rise, to avoid the prospect of penalties.