Power moves

Increased interest in Combined Heat and Power has had the effect of creating new engineering positions in the sector across a number of disciplines

With the UK in the midst of one of the coldest winters in recent years, the question of securing the country’s future energy supplies is not far from everyone’s mind. The past year has seen a resurgence of conflict over Russian gas supplies, with flow through Ukraine being cut, leaving countries in Eastern Europe without power.

There are fears that as Britain becomes more dependent on gas as an electricity-generation source, such problems could have a future impact here unless alternative means of generation are found.

Natural gas accounted for 43 per cent of UK electricity production in 2007, up from 36 per cent the previous year, although most of this is still sourced from the North Sea.

One method of creating more energy from the same amount of raw material is the use of Combined Heat and Power (CHP) systems, which simultaneously generate usable heat and power — usually in the form of electricity — in a single process. Because CHP systems make extensive use of the heat produced during the electricity generation process, they can achieve overall efficiencies in excess of 70 per cent at the point of use. In contrast, the efficiency of conventional coal-fired and gas-fired power stations, which discard this heat, is typically around 38 per cent and 48 per cent respectively at the power station. Efficiency at the point of use is lower still because of the losses that occur during transmission and distribution.

Increased interest in CHP has had the effect of creating new engineering positions in the sector across a number of disciplines.

Centrax, supplier of gas turbine products, is involved in power generation for the CHP and power-generation industries. It supplies 5MWe installations for industrial customers and has recently become European packager for the Rolls-Royce Trent 60 turbine rated at 50 to 64MW. Orders for six units have been secured for grid-support power-generation applications, with strong enquiries for future projects. The company has been installing gas turbines for industrial power generation applications for more than 40 years and since 1980 has marketed the Rolls-Royce 501, 2.5 to 6.3MW range of turbines for CHP applications within Europe.

Since 2000 Centrax has worked to grow its market area for the 501 product to include Russia, India, Eastern Europe and elsewhere, bringing significant growth in its business. Along with continued growth in sales of CHP and power-generation projects, Centrax claims to have a well-established customer-support organisation with depots across Europe.

The continued growth of the business has created significant employment opportunities, particularly in project management, mechanical, electrical and controls engineering, as well as production and field-support roles, according to the company.

‘We are expanding both our markets and products,’ explained Harry Trump, general manager at Centrax Engineering Services. ‘Recently we have been able to increase our market for the Rolls-Royce 501 5MWe Turbines allowing us to expand into India, Russia and Eastern Europe and also into the oil and gas industry with a recent order from Petrobras in Brazil. Centrax is involved in projects including the building of remote power plants in Siberia and replacement of power plant in Bermuda, while the Trent units have use in peaking and mid-merit power generation applications. The 5MWe market expansion has enabled us to sell significantly more units. We have secured a number of orders for Trent packages and have very strong enquiries for future projects.’

In terms of Centrax’s recruitment requirements, he added: ‘We have relatively specific needs. Ideally, we are looking for engineers with experience of rotating machinery. However, this does not necessarily have to have been gained in the turbine industry. We have had a lot of success with people from other industries who have related experience, particularly in control system and machinery design.’

Successful applicants will gain a chance to work with all aspects of the product. ‘One of the greatest attractions of our business is the challenge and interest value of working with this technology from an engineering point of view,’ said Trump.

He added: ‘Our employees have the opportunity to take projects from enquiry to installation, so our engineers see the whole process from sale design, build, installation and commissioning.’