Restoring Power at the Height of the Pandemic

When vandals damaged the CHP control panels at EDL’s Wellingborough landfill site, rendering the engines unusable, the timing could not have been worse. One week before Easter 2020, the coronavirus pandemic was sweeping the UK.

  • by Gen-C
  • October 29, 2020
  • EDL’s Wellingborough site
    EDL’s Wellingborough site
  • Vandalised control panel and new Motortech panel after replacement.
    Vandalised control panel and new Motortech panel after replacement.
  • The vandalised control screen and the Motortech replacement with touchscreen.
    The vandalised control screen and the Motortech replacement with touchscreen.

Based in Wellingborough, Northamptonshire, the EDL landfill gas site generates 1.5 MW of power per hour, enough for 1,500 homes. It is a crucial power distribution site for the local area, so site engineers were dismayed to discover that vandals had broken in over the weekend before Easter and smashed the CHP control panels, placing the engines out of action.

Pandemic pressure 

“At the time, the country was in a state of national emergency, with the coronavirus lockdown having only just come into force,” says Paul Newman of Newman Electrical Services, main mechanical contractor for EDL Midlands.

Even in normal times, getting the two Jenbacher 320 1 MW engines back up and running would have been a challenge as the damaged control systems were no longer available on the market, so fixing or replacing them was not possible. However, the added factor of a global pandemic affecting the supply chain and resulting in millions of workers being furloughed made the situation even trickier.

Despite these concerns, Lee Heath, EDL’s Operations Manager, called Gen-C’s Managing Director James Thompson at 10am on the day the damage was discovered to see whether there was anything he could do. “I had dealt with Gen-C for a number of years and had always been impressed by their level of customer service,” states Lee. “However, the speed of their response on this occasion was astounding. Sean Kennedy, Gen-C’s Head of Sales, was on site by 1pm to assess the damage and had quoted to replace the panels by the end of the working day.”

James explains: “We could see the predicament that EDL were facing and knew how important it was to get their engines back up and running as quickly as possible. As power supply specialists, we are classed as key workers, so we were able to get on site within hours to assess the situation. We recommended upgrading their vandalised panels to the far superior Motortech open access control panels, which are based on the popular ComAp technology, along with Motortech ignition and knocking control systems. However, as this was an unplanned upgrade, it was especially important to keep costs down, so we made sure the new equipment could interface with the engines’ existing Jenbacher parts, including the mixer, throttle and auxiliary components.”

Establishing social distance

Happy with Gen-C’s quote, and the speed of response, EDL instructed them to begin work as soon as possible. But with lockdown measures and social distancing guidelines now imposed, this was to be an installation unlike any other. “In a week when most of our competitors were closing premises and furloughing staff, we were figuring out how to complete the project while minimising the chance of our employees, and EDL’s, catching COVID-19,” says James. “Firstly, with hotels being closed, I rented an oversized house in the local area for our engineers to stay in. It was big enough to zone off separate bedroom, living and bathroom areas for each person in order to minimise social interaction. I then assessed the site and identified clear working zones for each staff member, to reduce the risk of exposure.”

With the health and safety of personnel now assured, it was also important to ensure that the supply chain had not been affected by the pandemic. “Fortunately, we have the capacity to store a lot of parts at our Sheffield headquarters and every item required for the EDL project was in stock. This meant we could begin work asap – in fact, we started the project just three days after I received the initial call from Lee.”

Superior engine performance

The installation took place without a hitch – the first engine upgrade was completed within two weeks, despite the Easter bank holiday weekend and restrictive COVID-19 working conditions, while the second took just eight days. Gen-C’s engineers removed the vandalised control panels and replaced them with Motortech’s advanced gas engine technology. Not only does this ensure improved reliability for the engines, it also enables site managers to dial in remotely at any time via phone or tablet to see instantly how the engines are performing, receive an alert whenever there is a fault, diagnose the fault, rectify it and even remotely restart the engines. Gen-C also upgraded the engines’ ignition and knocking control systems with the latest Motortech technology.

“The difference in performance is like night and day,” confirms Paul Newman. “The engines run much more smoothly and reliably, and the fact that we can monitor and restart them remotely has proved invaluable; especially as fewer personnel have been able to be on site in recent months.”

With both engines running well, Paul and Lee are full of praise for Gen-C’s support during a difficult and unprecedented time: “Gen-C’s speed of response was fantastic, but more than that, their professionalism and knowledge ensured a difficult situation had a positive outcome for us. Their ability to keep costs down was also impressive. Gen-C quoted us a figure on the day we contacted them and stuck to that price throughout the project; even when unexpected parts needed to be fitted. There were no surprises for us in either cost, performance or service. Gen-C delivered exactly what they promised, on time and on budget.”