Power companies are moving out of their comfort zone and into a new era of electrifying construction.
From the floating nuclear plant to the solar farm in the desert, power projects are becoming weirder, wackier and more wonderful than ever.
Here we list some of the most innovative and progressive developments in the world today.
The world’s first osmotic power plant was opened by European renewable energy giant Stratkraft in November 2009. The facility is a prototype with a limited capacity of 4KW, but testing and validation on-site is expected to lead to the construction of a commercial plant within the next three years.
The plant, developed with research organisation Sintef, works by pulling and separating sea water and fresh water through an artificial membrane, known as polyimide. Salt molecules in the plant’s sea water chamber then build up, causing pressure which is utilised in a power generating turbine. The amount of water is obtained at ten litres a second, but raising the flow rate, and therefore the pressure of the water, could make it possible to increase power output.
Osmotic power plants produce no noise pollution or unfriendly emissions and are easy to maintain, with almost no moving parts. These facilities could also respond quickly as an emergency power source, using membranes to store energy.
Due to the lack of demand, however, the permeable membrane is currently an expensive resource, so to have any meaningful power output, a very large membrane area is required.
This energy centre, built to provide heating and cooling across the site for the London 2012 Olympic Games, was officially opened in October 2010.
Constructed by Elyo East London Energy, a subsidiary of GDF Suez, the centre features a gas-fired combined cooling and heat power plant and biomass-fired boilers which use woodchip fuels to deliver low carbon energy.
The facility, the largest of its kind to be built in the UK, has an initial capacity of 46.5MW for heating and 16MW for cooling, which will be provided through electric, ammonia-based and absorption chillers driven by heat recovered from the gas-fired plant.
It is hoped the centre will contribute towards the Olympic Delivery Authority’s target to reduce carbon emissions across the Olympic Park by 50%.
The design of the building, by John McAslan & Partners, was based on iconic London power stations such as Tate Modern (the former Bankside power station) and Battersea power station.
A second energy centre is currently being built in Stratford, East London, to supply energy to the new retail and commercial developments in the area.
Tahara solar and wind power generation project, Japan
In an attempt to move away from nuclear power after the Fukushima Daiichi disaster in March 2011, more and more Japanese energy companies are investing in renewable projects.
One such development is the Tahara solar photovoltaic and wind power generation joint project which is set to begin construction in June 2012.
A seven member consortium led by Mitsui Chemicals will develop the $230 million project, to be located in Tahara, Aichi prefecture, and shareholder Toshiba will take responsibility for engineering procurement and construction of a 50MW solar photovoltaic plant.
Toshiba will also provide expertise on how to protect the development from natural disasters including soil liquefaction caused earthquakes.
A new feed-in tariff approved in August 2011 is expected to bolster solar, wind and geothermal projects still further in Japan.
Desertec, Sahara Desert
By 2050 a network of wind farms and solar plants stationed across the Middle East and North Africa is set to supply 15% of Europe’s electricity needs via high voltage, direct current transmission cables.
Since the Desertec concept was developed by German particle scientist Gerhard Knies and a network of scientists, economists and politicians in 2009, the project has received strong support from energy heavyweights such as Deutsche Bank, E.ON, Munich Re and Siemens.
Knies has explored the idea of generating solar power from the desert since 1986 and believes the desert receives enough energy in a few hours to power the whole world for a year.
In November 2011, Desertec Industrial Initiative announced that the first phase of the €400bn project would begin in Morocco during 2012, with the construction of a 500MW solar farm. Hundreds of parabolic mirrors will be situated near the desert city of Ouarzazate and will generate heat for conventional steam turbines.
The Desertec Foundation is also endorsing TuNur, a 2GW project to be built in Tunisia. Project developer Nur Energie and its Tunisian partners, led by Top Oilfield Services, will construct the project which will consist of solar-thermal power plants, in several phases, starting in 2014. First electricity is expected to reach Europe by 2016 via a transmission line to Italy.
Egypt is also keen to participate and hopes to have a 1,000MW wind farm built by 2016 in the Gulf of Suez.
Akademik Lomonosov, Russia
Russia’s state-run nuclear energy company Rosatom is planning to roll out several floating nuclear power stations, the first of which is under construction and set to be launched next year.
Akademik Lomonosov, a self-contained, low-capacity plant is being built on a vessel and will be towed to coastal waters along the Russian Arctic Circle once all other stations are complete in 2020.
Although the MH-1A became the world’s first floating nuclear power station when it was built for the US Army Nuclear Program in 1967, the Rosatom project represents the first mass production of this kind of vessel.
Each vessel will contain two modified KLT-40 naval propulsion reactors which will provide up to 70MW of electricity, enough to power a city with a population of 200,000 people. The stations could also be converted into desalination plants capable of producing 240,000m³ of water a day.
Environmental groups have, however, expressed their concerns over the floating plants, saying they would be more vulnerable to accidents and terrorism than land-based stations.
The 2011 Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster in Japan has only added fuel to these concerns, but manufacturers say that in deep water, tsunamis have minimal effect on floating structures, while earthquakes transmit much less force to them than to land-based sites.