Colossal power by the sea
The Maasvlakte Power Plant 3 in the Netherlands burns 100 kilograms of coal per second and is designed to run for six years without shutting down for maintenance. SKF plays a key role in keeping the electric current flowing.
Jutting into the North Sea on the western edge of the Netherlands is the Maas-vlakte, a massive manmade extension of the Europoort industrial facility and part of the Port of Rotterdam. This windswept promontory is home to a range of industries, including container terminals, distribution centres and chemical producers. At the centre is the Uniper power station.
Active in more than 40 countries
Approximately 36 gigawatts generating capacity
Gas storage capacity of 8.2 billion cubic metres
400 TWh long-term gas contracts
1.7 billion euros EBITDA (earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization) 2017
With an installed generation capacity of 36 gigawatts worldwide, Uniper is one of the world’s largest power generators. The three-square-kilometre plant in the Maasvlakte, opened in 1974, boasts the largest, most efficient and cleanest single-unit coal-fired power station in the world. Its flagship, the Maasvlakte Power Plant 3 (MPP3), began operating in 2016. It uses AO-grade coal (anthracite) and biomass and has a capacity of 1,100 megawatts, serving clients with electricity, heat and gas. It also processes waste streams from chemical companies and delivers steam, cooling water and electricity in return.
Coal comes to the harbour area on 250,000-dwt ships from countries across the globe. The docking area is connected by a three-kilometre underground conveyor belt to the plant. “The ships come in and we see what they’re carrying and decide what we want,” says Rutger Boere, maintenance manager at Uniper Maasvlakte. “The coal is traded as it’s transported – it’s like a marketplace on the sea.” The coal used by Uniper is always blended. “Different coals from different sources vary in terms of their composition, and we select what we need to stick to the strict emission limits,” Boere explains.
MPP3 is 80 percent coal-fired, but it also burns biomass, meat and bone meal, bio-propane and some waste from neighbouring companies on the Maasvlakte.
“Some 100 kilograms of coal burned per second produce 1,100 megawatts of electricity,” Boere says. “But the plant also produces fly ash and gypsum for use in the construction industries, and it supplies steam to its neighbours for their industrial processes.”
In addition to MPP3, Uniper also operates the Utility Centre Maasvlakte Leftbank (UCML) plant, which burns gas and some chemical waste streams, producing 80 megawatts of electricity and supplying heat and cooling water to local chemical companies.
“UCML is inextricably linked to predecessors of MPP3,” Boere says. “The MPP2 has been converted into a synchronous condenser that delivers reactive power and manages energy to stabilize the grid. It’s the only synchronous condenser in Europe converted in this particular way, and it took us just 15 months to convert. It’s great to be able to turn something old and obsolete into a key element supporting energy transmission across the continent.
“MPP3 is right at the top of the merit order for European power suppliers, and we run at almost full load, day and night, 24/7,” Boere says. “It’s a dynamic, volatile and complex system. Power is hedged and traded daily in blocks of 15 minutes.” The volatility is due to the unpredictability of solar and wind and is difficult to predict, he explains.
The Maasvlakte plant is connected not only to its industrial neighbours but also to the European grid, so maintenance is a tricky ballet to choreograph. “Our agreed outage interval for essential maintenance on UCML is six years, which means we have to keep all our systems running continuously for that period of time until we can shut down for essential maintenance,” Boere says. “And when we shut down, all our neighbours shut down too. Our outages are all aligned.”
From a maintenance perspective, it is a challenge to ensure such high availability, especially with a small team. “There are just 23 people in the maintenance department who are responsible for managing the asset,” Boere says. “Sometimes we feel the asset is managing us. But we have SKF to support us.”
This is a 1.6 billion-euro plant that uses the latest technology, and SKF is up to that challenge.
Previously, Uniper had three different independent contractors providing maintenance services, but the lack of interaction between them meant more work for Uniper. “SKF brings extensive technical knowledge along with state-of-the-art equipment and engineering power, with qualified people who can support us in our business,” Boere says. “This is a 1.6 billion-euro plant that uses the latest technology, and SKF is up to that challenge. That said, we thought we’d be further along the optimization process by now, but perhaps we overestimated our progress in terms of taking back the technology from our previous contractors. And we’re not making life any easier for SKF, as we are currently introducing biomass combustion to our portfolio, which has added a whole raft of new rotating tech to maintain!”