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Low Load Diesel Perceptions and Practices

w ith in R e m o te Ar e a Po w e r S y s te m s

1.

UNIVERSITY OF TASMANIA

Survey Summary Report


November 2014

Centre for Renewable Energy and Power Systems


Private Bag 65, Hobart TAS 7001, AUSTRALIA

Contents
1. CONTENTS ....................................................................................................................... 1
2. INTRODUCTION ............................................................................................................... 3
3. BACKGROUND ................................................................................................................. 3
STAKEHOLDER SURVEY ....................................................................................................................... 3
PARTICIPANTS .................................................................................................................................... 4
PRIOR RESEARCH ............................................................................................................................... 4

4. SURVEY RESPONSE ....................................................................................................... 5


5. FUTURE RESEARCH PRIORITIES.................................................................................. 9
6. CONCLUSIONS ................................................................................................................ 9
7. ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS ................................................................................................. 9

J. Hamilton, M. Negnevitsky, X. Wang


Centre for Renewable Energy and Power Systems
School of Engineering & ICT, University of Tasmania
Private Bag 65, Hobart, Tasmania, 7001, Australia

2. Introduction
GLOBALLY diesel accounts for the majority of energy generation within off-grid
communities, yet renewables offer cost competitive supply alternatives. A key
roadblock to greater renewable penetration remains the performance of the diesel
generators and their inability to run at low loads. The lower a low load operating
capability, typically within the range of 30% to 40% rated capacity, the greater the
share of renewable penetration that can be achieved. Consequently low load
capabilities for diesel generators are increasingly of interest to stakeholders looking to
lower the cost and environmental impact of electricity generation within remote
applications.
Prior to researching low load diesel technologies and applications, an understanding
of the current perceptions and practices surrounding low load diesel generation is
beneficial. Such an understanding affords the audience an opportunity to identify and
remove any duplication of effort, to target subsequent research optimally to meet the
market need and importantly to identify key industry stakeholders. The University of
Tasmanias Centre for Renewable Energy and Power Systems has prioritised low load
diesel application as an energy research initiative having surveyed stakeholders to
explore existing perceptions and practices ahead of research within the sector. This
summary report compiles and communicates the results of the survey to participants,
ahead of informing future research initiatives.

3. Background
Significant prior awareness and experience was found to exist with regard to the
low load capabilities of diesel generators. Of note, Australian companies have been
responsible for developing a significant percentage of this prior experience.
Unfortunately, much of this knowledge is inaccessible to consumers, remaining siloed
and underutilised within private companies. This body of prior research was used to
frame both the identification of relevant stakeholders and to inform the survey content
and methodologies, as outlined within this paper.

Stakeholder Survey
Prior to identification of relevant stakeholders the survey content, aims and
deliverables were drafted. The survey intent was to improve the shared understanding
of low load diesel technology, while responses identified possible future research
priorities, providing insight for all remote area power systems considering improved
efficiency.
The limitations of survey campaigns to gather data are well documented, with prior
surveys within the field acknowledging poor observed participation rates, often as low
as 5%. To address these attitudes the survey was offered both electronically and in
hardcopy, the later largely to CIGRE and IEEE conference participants. Respondents
were also able to submit extracts of data in any suitable electronic form, specifically
intended to address barriers for respondents reporting multiple systems. The online
survey further assisted to ensure respondents anonymity, with URL provided as both a
text string and a machine-readable QR code.

The survey consisted of 74 multiple choice questions divided into sections


comprising of respondent details, system details, diesel specific, and low load diesel
specific questions. Subject to the respondents answers, the online survey would
adjust in length, only presenting relevant questions, with not all 74 questions
displayed to all respondents. Although all questions consisted of multiple choice
answers an allowance for essay style answers was provided in a number of instances,
should respondents wish to provide additional detail.
The survey concluded with an invitation for respondents to share a link to the
survey via the associated URL.

Participants
Over 300 stakeholders were shortlisted, with each approached, either in person, or
with a personalised email invitation to participate in the survey campaign. A priority
was afforded to owner operators of remote area power systems, given their direct
exposure to the operational environment. The survey was also promoted via a number
of academic, conference and diesel engine online technology forums.
Of the approached stakeholders approximately one third of individuals logged onto
the online survey interface, from which a total of 42 responses were received. While
the response rate was low, approximately 14%, it was within expectations, and
importantly the majority of owner operators identified participated within the survey.
While it is impossible to accurately account for participation rates on an individual
basis, as many respondents opted not to leave identifying details, approximately two
thirds of invited owner operators provided follow up contact details. Of note
particularly poor participation rates are suspected of the mining sector stakeholders
approached, representing a possible improvement to future survey campaigns.

Prior Research
Stakeholder responses conveyed a general awareness of prior low load diesel
initiatives, specifically the high renewable penetration wind/solar diesel hybrid
systems installed across Western Australia between 2008-2012. Knowledge of such
programs extended to recognition of an achieved low load operational capability and
the identification of cylinder temperature as a key operational parameter in
determining success of any low load operational trial. However little insight was
available beyond this high level knowledge.
Low load capabilities of diesel generators have significantly improved since 2008,
facilitated in part by the rapid uptake of efficient automotive diesel engine
technologies. As such, the timing of the current survey campaign was appropriate to
re-engage with industry, exploring current perceptions and practices surrounding low
load diesel operation.
Outside of these prior research initiatives and a general acceptance that low load
capabilities were feasible, little publication of low load diesel research was identified.
The exception to this has been the research into low load diesel capabilities
undertaken by the Alaska Energy Authority and NTNU Trondheim. Both of these
initiatives investigated operation below manufacturers warranted low load limits, with
few technical barriers identified to restrict long term adoption of the practice.

4. Survey Response
All survey responses were received electronically. The response rate of 14%
allowed for an informed sample size including most of the relevant Australian utilities
and independent power producers (IPP).
A number of respondents were uneasy about providing personal contact details,
despite reassurances of confidentiality. Such reluctance illustrates a distrust in the
survey medium, with the majority of participants appearing to decide to participate
within the survey after only a few questions had been completed (dropout rates were
significant within the first few questions and then fairly negligible). In a number of
instances the requested information was deemed by the respondent to be confidential
in nature, and was thus not provided. These observations suggest that a survey may
not have been the optimal form of data capture from a trust and participation
perspective.
Professional experience of respondents was satisfactory, with over three quarters of
respondents reporting greater than 5 years remote area power system (RAPS)
experience and greater than two thirds reporting owner operator accountabilities.
System capacity varied significantly across respondents with a need to normalise
some responses to allow for meaningful comparison. System size by distribution
network length showed much less variation with two thirds of respondents networks,
under 10km in length. Irrespective of size 78% of respondents had greater than 4
diesel generators within their system.
The average age of generation equipment spanned a considerable demographic,
with an average age of between 5 to 20 years for three quarters of respondents.
Interestingly most respondents had purchased a diesel generator within the last 5
years, yet a third also had a generator greater than 20 years of age. These responses
suggest diesel generators are purchased on a per unit, as needed basis.
The vast majority of respondents, 89% reported residential demand as the primary
use of electricity within their remote area power system, with industry and
government facilities also represented, Fig 1. Of note the lack of mining industry
participation evident across the survey suggests these stakeholders either saw less
benefit in low load diesel approaches or held greater intellectual property concerns
than other respondents, resulting in poor sector representation.

Fig. 1. Main use of electricity reported within remote area power systems. Residential load forms
the majority of demand in such communities with air conditioning and heating major contributors.
Other uses identified included government buildings and services.

All consumers could be classified across 4 generic demand profiles, with 44% of
respondents nominating a twin peak profile as representative of their daily demand.
As a caveat 100% of respondents reported a seasonal variation in demand, with two

thirds of these respondents classifying their seasonal variation as between 10% and
50% by magnitude. System owners generally sized their largest generator in respect to
the maximum system demand plus a contingency. For the majority of respondents,
their largest generator was within the range of 200kW to 800kW, suggesting this to be
the optimal product sizing for any low load specific technology.
From a renewable perspective, 78% of respondents had considered adding
renewable and/or storage technologies. Most respondents, 67%, also reported a
feasible mean annual wind resource of greater than 6 m/s at 30m hub height (the
remaining 33% were unsure as to wind speed at site). Not surprisingly 67% of
respondents also had wind turbines installed to exploit this resource, with 44% having
more than 4 wind turbines installed. Across this portfolio of wind assets one third of
respondents reported a wind turbine reliability of greater than 95%.
Fewer respondents had solar technologies installed, with under half indicating a
system inclusive of solar generation. However, the vast majority of systems
considering additional renewables prioritised solar photovoltaic (PV) for this
application. Presumable this scenario is reflective of the significant cost reductions
observed for solar PV panels in recent years. Of the systems with solar installed, half
of the systems adopted distributed models, while half preferred centralised
deployment, indicating no strong preference for either approach. Given the size of
these systems, it is an appropriate conclusion that distributed models adopt existing
dwellings to deploy their panels. Where solar was installed the total capacity fell
under 100kW for three quarters of respondents, possibly illustrative of the superior
scalability of solar PV, as compared to wind, which can become non-commercial for
small scale application (as both the infrastructure costs and turbine sizing are
relatively fixed).
Energy storage was only exploited by one third of systems, indicative of the cost
barriers currently associated with these technologies. Of the storage systems in use the
majority adopted battery technologies, with thermal storage also reported.
Reliability of the remote area power systems was high, with 78% of systems
reported as having fewer than 50 faults per year. Average fault duration was also
reported as between 1 minute and 1 hour by the same number of respondents.
Importantly the operation of the diesel generators was listed as the single largest issue
by the majority of respondents, Fig. 2.

Fig. 2. Main issues reported within remote area power systems. The majority of respondents
identified diesel operation as their single largest issue. Other issues identified included birds, bats and
vandalism.

Diesel supply costs into remote area power systems vary significantly subject to
timing, supply, volume, security, location and commercial considerations, Fig 3.
Regardless of these pricing pressures diesel supply remains the largest operational
costs for remote diesel power generation, with diesel generation expensive in
comparison to renewable generation alternatives. Cost recovery was achieved in most
instances via a combination of consumer billing and government subsidy, Fig 4.

Fig. 3. Diesel fuel costs $AUD per litre, reported within remote area power systems. The large cost
variation is attributed to the significant transportation costs faced by many remote communities.

Fig. 4. Cost recovery mechanisms. The majority of respondents identifying a combination of


consumer billing and government subsidy to recoup generation costs. As no single party pays the full
costs associated with generation, any case for delivering lower power prices may present only partial
value to individual stakeholders.

A key roadblock to high (> 50% annual average) renewable penetration within
remote area power systems remains the performance of the diesel generators, and
their inability to run at low loads. Engine specifications typically advise operation
within a range of 60% - 85% of their maximum rated load. Among the survey
participants, no common agreed definition of low load threshold was observed, with
manufacturers typically defining this limit as operation below 30% name plate rated
capacity. Regardless of definition the ability to run diesel generators at low load levels
was seen as valuable by the majority of survey respondents. Short periods of low load
running are permissible providing that the engine is purged (brought and held at full
load state) on a regular basis, yet again no common agreed definition of a short period
was observed. Respondents were aware that low load operation can result in
incomplete fuel combustion, and without such a purge routine will lead to permanent
engine damage, primarily via cylinder glazing.

Incomplete low load fuel combustion was primarily attributed to low cylinder
temperatures and low cylinder pressures. Poor combustion leads to soot formation and
fuel residue seepage, further compounding efficiency problems. Glazing occurs when
hot combustion gases blow past the piston rings, causing the lubricating oil on the
cylinder walls to flash burn, creating an enamel-like carbon glaze which glazes
the bore and removes crucial cylinder honing treatment. Assuming that poor low load
capabilities can be attributed to low cylinder temperatures and pressures, controlling
cylinder temperature and pressure was identified as a pathway to improve low load
capabilities, Fig. 5.

Fig. 5. Operational parameters reported as critical to low load operation by survey respondents.
Temperature and pressure clearly identified as primary parameters. Other responses identified oil and
coolant temperatures.

Additional maintenance obligations were seen as a barrier to low load technology


adoption by 62% of respondents, this is despite lack of agreed definition surrounding
low load, and prior acknowledgment by respondents of limited experience with regard
to low load operation. Upon further analysis the cultural belief that low load diesel
operation implies significant additional maintenance expenditure was identified as a
key cultural barrier to technology adoption by respondents.
Asked if specific suppliers offered superior low load technologies, a number of
respondents agreed, however no two respondents nominated the same manufacturer.
Such responses suggest that perceived low load capabilities have much more to do
with good salesmanship than actual technical capability (that is the market generally
isnt able to discern a technology difference across suppliers, despite a belief that one
exists). Such a response speaks volumes as to the lack of clear, unbiased and relevant
information on low load diesel capabilities and comparisons.
To conclude the survey respondents were asked what area of low load diesel
application they would like to see researched, with 55% nominating a focus on the
operational and maintenance implication of low load diesel application. This response
was commonly supported by a recommendation that equipment manufacturers be
included in any subsequent research initiative.
The collated industry opinion is useful to inform and direct future low load diesel
research priorities. In particular the lack of knowledge surrounding low load diesel
capabilities presents a critical road block to adoption and further exploration of the
technologies within industry. As such, UTAS are preparing to conduct a low load
diesel pilot program, specifically to share operational insights with a broad base of
industry stakeholders.

5. Future Research Priorities


UTAS have identified low load diesel research as a priority energy research
initiative and in addition to benchmarking current low load capabilities are intending
to explore improved low load operational thresholds via adoption of improved low
load combustion technologies. Such technologies will facilitate optimised low load
engine performance and are likely to include load variable cooling, improved exhaust
gas conditioning and load variable turbo geometries.

6. Conclusions
Diesel generators are expensive to operate and maintain, with remote area power
system owners increasingly aware of low load approaches and technologies as one
possible solution. Such awareness extends to support of wider market adoption, yet
implementation of low load approaches remains poor. One possible reason for the low
adoption rate lies within cultural barriers to change, with many operators reliant on
significant operational experience to inform their perspectives. As low load
technologies emerge, no such operational track record exists, and thus market
acceptance lags technical capability. Poor publication of technology capability also
contributes to a lack of definition surrounding low load approaches, with equipment
manufacturers failing to prioritise low load diesel applications within their business
activities. Without such a focus consumers are left stranded between manufacturers
legacy low load thresholds, associated warranty conditions and conflicting awareness
that improved low load capability is feasible.
At the same time stakeholders see renewable plus storage technologies as a future
solution to their energy requirements, but remain unclear as to both the optimal timing
and the cost competitiveness of these future approaches. Importantly low load diesel
approaches promise an immediate, cost competitive measure, to reduce both the cost
of generation and the associated environmental emissions. A further cultural barrier
exists in a disconnect between low load diesel and renewable plus storage approaches.
In many respects low load approaches provide a transitional approach, allowing
consumers to move away from diesel dependence in preparation for storage solutions,
yet the approaches are perceived by many consumers as contradictory.
Such cultural barriers appear long held and are reinforced by a lack of clear and
accessible information on low load technologies within the market. In further
exploration of low load technologies it is recommended that researchers consider
measures to address such cultural barriers, in that they possess as large, if not larger
hurdles to the eventual adoption of low load approaches within the market, as do
technical barriers.

7. Acknowledgements
UTAS would like to thank all participants for their involvement and support during
the survey campaign. Participants who have expressed interest in the upcoming low
load diesel pilot program will be advised as this proposal progresses towards
implementation. For further detail please contact James Hamilton at
james.hamilton@utas.edu.au.