Gibraltar builds a modern LNG power plant powered by MAN Energy Solutions
Gibraltar poses a peculiar conundrum: it is an island in all but geography. Located on the southern tip of the Iberian Peninsula, you might assume Gibraltar was part of Spain. But because of its centuries-old status as a British Overseas Territory, there’s a clear border that separates it from the mainland – effectively making it an island in terms of political, economic and industrial infrastructure. When it comes to power generation, this unique territory requires a unique energy solution.
Commercial hub upgraded to natural gas
Around the base of the Rock of Gibraltar is a bustling hub of commerce whose energy demands are projected to rise dramatically in the next decade. Regardless of whether Brexit further reinforces the border that already separates the peninsula from the Spanish mainland, its community requires superior, more efficient power generation. Now residents and businesses are looking forward to a significant upgrade: a state-of-the-art facility with high-efficiency natural gas and dual-fuel engines provided by MAN.
The new Gibraltar Electricity Authority facility
What is Liquefied Natural Gas?
Liquefied Natural Gas, or LNG, is natural gas transformed into a liquid state after being cooled to -162°C (or -260°F). The benefit of liquefaction is that natural gas becomes 600 times smaller in volume, allowing for flexible transportation without relying on pipelines. And in terms of safety, LNG is non-toxic and non-corrosive. It doesn’t explode and cannot burn. The new LNG terminal in Gibraltar consists of five double-wall stainless steel tanks, each with a capacity of 1,000 square meters.
Michael Caetano, Chief Operational Officer of the Gibraltar Electricity Authority (GEA), explains, “Gibraltar needs a new, modern power plant. The existing plant is almost 40 years old.” Until recently, Gibraltar’s energy needs were 100% powered by marine diesel – so, a better solution was urgently needed – one that switches from diesel to cleaner liquefied natural gas (LNG).
The location of the new power station is on the North Mole in Gibraltar Harbor, an advanced arrangement of a gas-fired power station with an LNG hub which will serve as the basis of the island’s future power supply. Eventually, it will be the only power station on the whole grid, so it’s crucial to meet the highest standards in reliability, emissions, and efficiency. “The new power plant comes with modern technology and will use natural gas as its primary fuel,” Caetano asserts. “It will have higher thermal efficiency and at the same time significantly reduce emissions to the atmosphere.”
Michael Caetano, Chief Operational Officer of Gibraltar Electricity Authority
An aerial view of the new power plant in the port of Gibraltar
Interplay between power plant and LNG terminal
The new process to deliver secure and sustainable energy to the Rock of Gibraltar has three distinct phases: delivery of LNG by an ocean-going LNG carrier, then stored at a dedicated terminal, and “regasified” as needed into natural gas at the power plant.
The interplay between the power plant and the connected LNG terminal is especially important: heat is fed into the terminal from the plant for the evaporation of the LNG, while simultaneously the natural gas is delivered from the terminal to the gas engines in the power plant. This relationship increases the overall plant efficiency and supports maximum independence of the energy supply.
MAN Energy Solutions Project Manager Hugo Guitard
At the epicenter of the plant are three MAN 14V51/60 gas engines plus another three dual-fuel engines, with an overall capacity of 86 MW. “The gas engine we have supplied is simply the most efficient large-bore gas engine in the market today,” beams Hugo Guitard, Project Manager at MAN Energy Solutions. “And thanks to its dual-fuel capability, the plant can remain operational even during disruptions in the gas supply.”
There’s also the added benefit of automatization. “The old power plant with its old engines were more or less manually operated,” says Stefan Terbeck, Technical Project Manager at MAN ES for the 51/60 family of engines. “All the switching on of pumps and synchronization and so forth, the degree of automatization was very low. With this new power plant, the GEA has nearly 100% automatic operation. Much less operator intervention is required.”
MAN ES Project Manager Hugo Guitard (second right) with his team in front of a dual-fuel engine
Compact, stout, and unique in the world
With only 6.5 square km available on the entirety of the island, space is a precious commodity on Gibraltar. The power station sits in a small area between a Cruise Line Terminal, the Port Authority office, the city, and the airport, which necessitated a special powerhouse design to meet strict security and emission regulations. “The location at the port has limitations because of space, and at the same time height restrictions because of a nearby airport,” says Caetano.
But no other site would have been feasible: one of the main criteria for building a power plant is to have its fuel source as close as possible. With deliveries made by LNG tankers from around the world, without a pipeline in support, having the new station situated near the port is essential. So, how do you work with the room you have?
The chimney height was also restricted to 28 meters. “Technically, a power plant normally has a very high chimney,” says Terbeck, “but in Gibraltar, it was not possible to build a typical chimney with, for example, 40 meters height. It must not penetrate this area where the airplanes approach the airport, which led to a very special powerhouse design that’s most definitely unique in the world.” And, thanks to the exhaust gas treatment in place, the plant’s exhaust gas emissions are in line with global best practice.
Thus, the storied location of Gibraltar has a new landmark to accompany its British military base, prehistoric caves, Moorish Castle, cable cars, and of course the wild Barbary macaques. Through a remarkable feat of engineering, the power station on the North Mole in Gibraltar Harbor allows the quasi-island to continue its proud history of independence and self-sufficiency, regardless of what international politics hold in store.
The people and businesses of Gibraltar will have better air quality, a quieter environment, and see the rewards of better energy efficiency.