ABB’s plug-and-play E-house brings power to the loneliest places on the planet

2014-02-06 - Powering industrial operations in harsh, remote locations has never been simple. The need to build substations from scratch in the Gobi Desert or on a platform in the North Sea adds a whole extra layer of risk and expense to a project – which is why clients around the world are gravitating to ABB’s plug-and-play ‘E-house’ concept.

The Atacama Desert in Chile and the Gobi Desert in Mongolia may be at opposite ends of the earth but they have much in common. Each are located at great distances from established power infrastructure, each experiences extremes in climactic conditions and each holds valuable reserves of mineral wealth.

Until recently, establishing, upgrading or expanding industrial operations in places like these presented a special problem in terms of powering new plant and equipment.

Mining companies, for instance, would have to build substations from scratch, which typically would involve calling in multiple contractors and vendors to install everything from medium voltage switchgear, to frequency converter drives, low voltage distribution equipment and automation systems.

To shelter all this you need a house, conventionally constructed of brick or concrete. And, it must be suitably insulated and ventilated.

One must also factor in the remoteness of the location. It may entail long journeys for each contractor and there may not even be roads to the site itself. For the workers and supervisors, accommodation and welfare facilities must be provided.

Then there is the climate. Extreme cold in winter and heat in summer will play havoc with the functioning of the equipment, so robust HVAC systems are needed.

In short, the remoteness and harshness of the location increases the risks of delays, cost escalations and mistakes as multiple vendors strive in an unfamiliar, challenging setting to make the project commercially viable.

Overall, establishing the necessary power infrastructure in such settings can be a capital expenditure ‘wildcard’ comparable in complexity, if not in scale, to the main project.

To mitigate the potential for problems such as these, clients are turning to ABB’s plug-and-play ‘E-house’ solution.

In 2012, ABB received an order worth $8.2 million to deliver E-houses for a new natural gas processing plant being developed by Yacimientos Petrol íferos Fiscales Bolivianosin, in Gran Chaco, Bolivia.

In 2013 Mongolyn Alt Corp., one of Mongolia’s largest national mining companies, commissioned ABB to provide E-houses for its greenfield copper and molybdenum project in the Eastern Gobi Desert, where temperatures can fall as low as -43°C.

And in January 2014 ABB has delivered three major orders from mining firm Sierra Gorda SCM to provide E-houses for various new processes at its project in northern Chile’s Atacama Desert. Located 1,700 meters (m) above sea level, the site is one of the most arid places on the planet and experiences similarly extreme temperatures.

These are just some examples of industrial clients recognising the value of the ABB E-house.

The concept is simple. E-houses are prefabricated metal enclosures that come preinstalled with switchgear, frequency converters, control systems and any other equipment needed in a substation including third party equipment required by the client.

They are reinforced and insulated to withstand extreme environmental conditions such as temperature variations to plus or minus 50°C, altitudes above 5,000m, ice storms, floods, seismic conditions, and even explosion blasts.

Each E-house is manufactured according to the client’s specifications. Thereafter, all electrical and control equipment is installed and tested prior to shipping. Once installed on site, all that remains is to effect the necessary external connections – “plug it in”, in other words.

A multidisciplinary project team takes care of the design and delivery of the E-house solution, coordinating all inputs and conducting the integrated engineering as required.

Awareness of the E-house value proposition is rising fast across many sectors. Oil and gas companies use them for offshore processing platforms and FPSOs (Floating Production, Storage and Offloading vessels). Utilities interconnect offshore wind farms or photovoltaic farms in desert zones. Internet service providers (ISPs) propose them for data centres to house their power and cooling systems.

The E-house package can be adapted to suit each application. Common to all, though, is the removal of risks associated with onsite construction and assembly involving multiple contractors, the assured predictability of time and cost, and the guarantee of required performance.

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