Monday 21 October 2013

So, Farewell, Teesside Power

As the goverment's monstrous Hinkley decision is rolled out ...

The Teesside Power Plant at Wilton, near Middlesborough is the world's largest CCGT / CHP plant, at 1,875 MW.  Commissioned in 1993 by Enron (who else) it had a chequered career in the post Enron world and is now apparently to close.  There has been some ill-informed comment about how old and inefficient it is - but I can tell you more.
No shed: no soft engineers need apply
First of all, marvel at its looks - it's the bit within the red ring (and has nothing to do with the big cooling tower behind).  Why is it all so exposed; where is the typical power station turbine hall, or 'shed' ?  Well, there isn't one, and power plants (like oil refineries) don't need sheds, they are perfectly well-suited to the outdoors.  The sole purpose of a shed is to keep pampered electrical engineers' clip-boards dry, for which boon they expect developers to spend many thousands of unnecessary wedge.  It took Enron to call BS on this: let the soft gits get wet, like civil engineers do.  The result is something that was built in record time (two years instead of the three that is still to this day considered standard for plants less than half the size). and looks pleasingly space-age.

What about those claims of inefficiency ?  This is easily explained.  In 1990, the start of the first Dash For Gas, everyone else was being suckered into buying new turbine technology: GE Frame 9's and various ABB / Siemens / Alsthom offerings of notionally, nay revolutionary higher efficiency.  Problem was, it didn't work at first, and several other plants starting up in the 1991-94 period spent their early months in pieces on the deck being re-built.  An efficiency of 43% x something (Teesside) = more electricity and revenue generated than 48% x nothing (everyone else).

Enron, by contrast, chose slightly less efficient, but tried-and-tested multi-fuel Westinghouse kit - 8 gas turbines and, crucially, two steam turbines (the bright blue chunks in the middle) - in two clusters of 4 + 1 (see aerial photo), hence the racy 4-tube exhaust stacks.  They worked brilliantly from the word go; the project came in under budget and under time and was a wonder of the world in its day, with awestruck visitors from all over the world.
2  x  (4  +  1)
It was from this platform, plus other gas infrastructure they built on Teesside - gas processing, gas import/export, gas distribution, black-start capacity, fuels storage, high-quality steam distribution ... that Enron's mighty European energy trading business of the 1990s was built.  Enron optimised the hell out of it all.  After their demise (2001) the power plant became a pawn in complex litigation and was operated in the most pedestrian fashion simply to keep a modest cash-flow stream coming to service the considerable debt involved.  The system was never optimised again, because only the Big E knew how to do it.

I could tell you a load of entertaining stories about it, and maybe I will.

Should it be closing ?  If you take the nameplate efficiency (43%) then it is certainly outclassed by the 55%+ plant that has been built in recent years.  So, in the hands of its current pedestrian owners GDF (I am being restrained) yes, it is clearly a candidate for closure.  We'll never know what it would be doing today in the hands of Enron, but they'd certainly be squeezing a lot more out of the entire set-up than "43%" implies.

What a distressing waste.



Anonymous said...

The Reuters piece you link to cites "competition from renewables and cheap coal" as the reason for closure. This is absurd. Heavily subsidised and intermittent renewables plants should not be allowed to undercut efficient baseload capacity like this plant. Are our leaders too dumb to anticipate the consequences?

DtP said...

Cheers Nick. Exemplary info as per. I figured you'd chuck the thread above in too - hmm...I think the Rubicon may have drowned the troops!

CityUnslicker said...

Sad to see such waste, driven by politics rather than economics. or shoud I say, by political economics!

hovis said...

CU has ever really been any different or is it matter of degree?

Nick Drew said...

Thanks, Dick. Yes, we are all drowning in something that tastes very unpleasant

Some of the Teesside stories would go down better over a beer (- watch for the Xmas drinks notice in due course)

hovis - it may have been the same in the past but rarely on quite the same scale

'the whole of PFI' might be another recent example

Gordon Brown probably perpetrated a few more besides - and this one is in fact the logical outworking of the Blair/Brown/Miliband energy policy 2006-10 (Mandelson 1998 was much better)

the WW1 settlement imposed on Germany might be another?