Every power plant construction project has its own unique challenges, but few compare to those faced by Haitian electric utility E-Power S.A. in the aftermath of the January 2010 magnitude 7.0 earthquake that killed 200,000 people and displaced almost 1.5 million residents.
Founded in 2005 and based in Cité Soleil, the young company had just won an international bid in 2008 to provide 30 megawatts (MW) of electricity to Port-au-Prince for 15 years. E-Power contracted with Hyundai Heavy Industries to build the facility's heavy-oil fueled, turnkey generating plant, which included eight Hyundai generator unit groups, each with a capacity of 3.9 MW.
Power to recover
Beyond the earthquake's catastrophic toll on human life, physical health, shelter and psychology, much of the infrastructure Haiti would need to recover was also damaged beyond repair. This is why E-Power's leaders knew they had to get their new power plant up and running, and why they'd also need optimized controls to make it happen.
"So much was destroyed in 2010 that we had no way for Hyundai to unload the equipment for the new plant near Port-au-Prince," says Ludwig von Lignau, operations manager at E-Power. "There was also no bridge from the Dominican Republic that could handle this equipment, and so the U.S. Army agreed to build a makeshift dock near the site. Using the ship's crane, we began unloading on March 3. We worked with DECCO Ltd. of Korea day and night, and completed the power plant in eight months." The plant cost about $57 million to build, which included about $42 million in funding from the World Bank's International Finance Corp. and two other banks.
Von Lignau and Keith Jones presented "Modernizing Power Plant in Haiti" during the Siemens Automation Summit 2016. Jones is president of system integrator Prism Systems Inc., a CSIA-member system integrator and Certified Siemens Solution Partner based in Mobile, Ala.
The 30-MW facility in Cité Soleil has 180 employees, and is one of five power plants serving nearby Port-au-Prince. Despite its relatively small size, E-Power's plant delivers about 35% of the city's total power, and its dependable, cost-effective, heavy-fuel-oil units also help stabilize the city's grid. "We're able to respond very fast to changing electricity demand because we can start units in just 10 minutes. We can react quickly to high-frequency requirements," explained von Lignau.
To maintain the plant's reliability and stable electricity delivery, von Lignau added that E-Power's engineers and managers realized in 2011 that they needed to upgrade the control system managing Hyundai's eight units.
"The plant was commissioned with system running on Windows Server 2003, but it was very difficult to backup and do recovery," said von Lignau. "The time difference between Korea and Haiti complicated technical support efforts, and some challenging system recoveries mandated an upgrade."
To help with its controls upgrade, E-Power sought help from Prism Systems, which found controls originally installed by Hyundai weren't in a standard implementation, which included improperly implemented Simatic S7-300 PLCs, as well as coding and support issues.
"We needed to upgrade to Windows 7 and Window Server 2008 R2, and bring E-Power's control architecture, coding and licensing up to date," said Jones. The most-competitive bid from Prism also included upgrading the plant's controls to Siemens Industry's Simatic PCS 7, Version 8.1, with new PC hardware; implementing a properly designed system with two servers, one client and one engineering station; and using more Siemens industrial hardware.
"Hyundai had a good, presentable control system, but there were some underlying issues due to its non-standard implementation that required a lot of operator touches and was difficult to upgrade," explained Jones. "However, the control system was networked by Ethernet, and only minimal screen changes were needed."
Jones and von Lignau reported that installation and onsite support for E-Power's upgrade took less then a week, and the actual upgrade was carried out over a scheduled weekend outage. "Keith had prepared the new screens and coding before the day we planned to shutdown and switchover to the new controls," said explained von Lignau. "On the day itself, we shutdown at 6 a.m., implemented the new control system's equipment and software, and powered up by 5 p.m."
"Partnering with Prism also gives us better proximity and availability of support, no language barrier, plus we’re practically in the same time zone,” added von Lignau. “We also have the possibility of enhancing the installation by adding a 55-inch display on the client station. Now, we can also retrieve and monitor operations data remotely, and share it with our CEO, board of directors and state-utility client as needed. And, we have gone from about 22 grid failures per months to just five grid failures per month."
Jones added, "Even more than usual, this project made us feel like we're doing something positive in the world."
Electricity aids economy
Beyond powering and stabilizing Port-au-Prince's grid, von Lignau added that electricity from E-Power is helping to support and encourage investment in traditionally impoverished Cité Soleil's economy as well.
"Our local ice factory relies on us for the 4,000 10-pound bags of ice they pack each day, and we have a Heineken plant moving in across the street and food warehouses, too," said von Lignau. "Available power from our plant is helping to stabilize this whole area."
In addition, von Lignau added that E-Power is producing a good return for its investors. "We're delivering about 30% return on equity (ROE) because we're the cheapest plant in the area at about 11.5 cents per kilowatt hour, which is even less expensive than the government's utility."