Sainsbury’s go DIY on power generation

Posted: May 5, 2016 by tallbloke in Energy, solar system dynamics, turbines

Courtesy of Josh 

From The Telegraph:

Sainsbury’s has cast doubt on the UK’s ability to keep the lights on, revealing it has built a string of new power plants for its supermarkets in part due to fears of a looming energy crunch.

Paul Crewe, a senior executive at the supermarket giant, said he had sleepless nights over energy security and feared UK electricity demand could soon outstrip supply.

The new gas-fired power generators – already supplying electricity for 10 supermarkets, and due to be built at a further six this year – would enable the stores to keep trading even in the event of a blackout, he said.

“It gives us energy security,” Mr Crewe said. “Energy security is extremely important, it keeps me awake at night if I’m honest thinking about it – especially as we use just under one per cent of power in the UK. We know UK grid infrastructure is at an extremely stretching period of time.”

He raised concerns about the UK being “reliant on interconnectors from Europe and gas from the Baltic and Russia”.

“Having the ability to generate our own power at a local level gives us surety of supply at these locations as the availability of electricity becomes more stretched across the national grid infrastructure, with demand potentially outstripping supply in the near future,” he said.

Emily Gosden, energy editor
5 MAY 2016 • 12:01AM

Full story

  1. Joe Public says:

    It’s good to read Sainsburys is being green by using low CO2 natural gas fired generators, rather than the dirty diesel generators that’d be used when STOR is used.

  2. If you count water vapor as a greenhouse gas then natural gas is a worse “polluter” than diesel or coal. The AGW scamers count water vapor as a multiplier but leave it out of the definition of greenhouse gases. Water vapor is included in the supposed heat balances of the ignorant “climate scientists” whose understanding of heat & mass transfer (an engineering subject) is close to zero but they leave out the effects of water vapor when it condenses into clouds.
    The story does not say what type of equipment is being used. Is it gas turbines (which are like a jet engine and modified to use natural gas instead of a light kerosene) or is it a diesel engine modified to take natural gas which often can use multiple fuels such as diesel, kerosene or LPG? Gas turbines are normally more than 5MW in size. Diesel generators can come in any size from 5kW to 80 MW (for ships where they can use heavy fuel oil similar to thick crude oil at $60/barrel). Diesel engines could even use oil-coal emulsions I have seen diesel engines fueled by natural gas used in hospitals with co-generation using the cooling water to supply hot water to the wards and the exhaust in a waste heat boiler to make steam (for autoclaves to purify utensils).
    With co-generation the efficiency of the diesel units gets into the range 60-80% depending on the ratio electricity and heating.

  3. Joe Public says:

    @ cementafriend

    “The story does not say what type of equipment is being used. Is it gas turbines (which are like a jet engine and modified to use natural gas instead of a light kerosene) or is it a diesel engine ….?”

    The story states “The new gas-fired power generators”; supermarket-sized standby generation is invariably via an engine rather than by turbine. They’re only there to keep the lights on; the IT technology operational; and, provide control-power for the invariably installed gas-fired space & water heating. They may also be sized to keep any baker’s ovens running if the latter are electrically heated. So they’ll be considerably smaller than 5MW.

    “With co-generation the efficiency of the diesel fuel-fired units gets into the range 60-80% depending on the ratio electricity and heating.”

    That efficiency is below the efficiency of any gas-fired gas-fired space & water heating plant on site, which would be a minimum of 80% going up to 90%+.

    Going for gas-fired units implies the stores already have a gas supply, so additional fuel storage won’t be needed; and just as important – its storage space won’t have to be scavenged from more-profitable use.

  4. E.M.Smith says:

    Um, Joe Public, I think you might want to do a little tech catch up. What you say was true, about 1980, but not now . (I don’t know the exact date of the swap).

    I know a little something about this as I managed and built data centers with their own power systems…

    has a nice package of 30 kW or 60 kw base size, ganged as needed for larger size. Gas turbines with optional heat cogen. Nice size for businesses. They can be throttled down if needed.

    One was intalled at my kid’s school to replace a swimming pool heater. The gas used to heat the pool prior still heats it, but now also gives 30 kW of “free” electricity in the process. Overall efficiency approaches 100% (how close is unclear) as the waste heat dump is at about 75 F to 80 F and sometimes that is nearly ambient…

    The local shopping mall has a small “shipping container” sized dual fuel Diesel. They are popular here as quake backup, since if the gas delivery is intact, you get weeks of operation, if not, the Diesel lasts a day or two while more is arranged. (I was involved in the early awareness of fumigation of natural gas into a Diesel. In old 1980s sci.enegy archives you will find my experiments, cite of a paper I found at the U.C. Berkeley Engineering Library, and interaction with a guy from Caterpillar who now make a nice computerized package. It also works with alcohol as I ran my Volvo Penta Marine Diesel on methanol drizzle into the air intake (idle / ignition via Diesel injection as usual) but to the best of my knowledge no such commercial system has been built. Note: no idea what this would do to the current crop of computer controlled electronic nightmare Diesels… so get an old 1980s Mercedes if you want to play with it…

    At any rate, you can now get Diesel generators starting at about 5 kW and gas turbines at about 30 kW commercially, and many are multifuel for various fuels.

  5. Dave Ward says:

    “He raised concerns about the UK being “reliant on interconnectors from Europe and gas from the Baltic and Russia”

    Which, should they fail, would render his gas powered back-up of questionable value!

    @ EM Smith: “Note: no idea what this would do to the current crop of computer controlled electronic nightmare Diesels… so get an old 1980s Mercedes if you want to play with it…”

    I’m no fan of electronics in vehicles, but it does allow operation which would be very difficult with old style injection systems. I can’t find the link right now, but recently I saw some Cummins literature on their dual fuel light/medium truck engines, and this link explains how the principle is used in larger units:

    It appears that diesel is always required, but a large proportion of the total fuel used can be gas, when it’s available. It strikes me this would be the best solution for Sainsbury’s, and if they ran them in winter, the waste heat could be used, in lieu of direct gas heating

  6. E.M.Smith says:

    Oh, and for a bit long but fairly complete DIY power guide, I wrote up this:

    I briefly cover power basics and then start at small community size systems and work down to pocket sized.

    it has a link in it to my minimal power system that lives in my car. It is a 300 Watt inverter that plugs into the cigarette lighter, a power cord, and a small tough lightbulb. Then, it was a plastic coated CFL, now I use a sold state LED bulb. Enough to charge cell phone, laptop, radio, give light. Coupled with a camp stove, you are prepard for most midscale disasters that cut power. (I also have stove articles under “preparedness” category, if needed.) Occasionally running the car to charge the battery, I have a couple of weeks power just from that.

    If you are in the UK, prepare now. Our stupid experiment with the politics of power had rolling blackouts for a few years before we had (our only ever) recall of the governor and change of government. Even with that, a couple of decades of stable power later, we are headed back down that path of stupid. Do not expect a quick or lasting fix from your government or voters.

    The minimalist system costs less than $100 ( when I bought it, about $40 IIRC) so it isn’t exactly a big burden, and makes road trips much better anyway. No car? Live in a flat? One of those car jump starter battery packs with cigar lighter socket costs about $50 more and can be left plugged into the wall to stay charged. Often have a built in LED light too, and gives light for days. Add the inverter for cell and laptop… With just lights, radio, and phone the world is much better!

  7. Doonhamer says:

    And can they flog the spare electricity back to the grid when the price is right?

  8. Dave Ward says:

    “If you are in the UK, prepare now”

    Already have – see below.

    “Minimal power system that lives in my car”

    Mine has a custom modified dual output alternator, and a 75amp/hr second battery. This feeds a 1kw “modified sine wave” inverter, plus a small pure sinewave unit for things that don’t like the other one… I could connect the house up to the car if needed (a proper change-over switch is installed), but I also have a couple of generators, an assortment of batteries, chargers and lights, plus some portable gas heaters and stoves. Oh, and there’s a dedicated battery & inverter to run the central heating boiler for a few hours, rather than start the genny. I think that pretty much covers it!

    I’m actually more worried about having some low-life breaking in if we are the only house on the street with lights on…

  9. jim says:

    I like the bit about, to keep the store operational, in case of blackouts. I guess they fall back to powered telephone line for the debit card transactions? Or just handle cash? Power out, cable goes down at usually the same time here, but I’m in the States, where the phone companies are deleting wired accounts, announced recently.

  10. Graeme No.3 says:

    The biggest nightmare must be the food department. A power blackout would be followed by the mass dumping of food that had not been kept below the prescibed temperature (regardless of condition). A very costly problem.
    Lighting would be necessary to avoid initial panic, control subsequent attempts at looting and lastly to allow continued trading. That implies longer term operation of the alternate supply, hence gas fueled to avoid difficulties with diesel deliveries and storage (pilfering, looting worries). Co-generation of heat isn’t mentioned, but with lighting, various motors (e.g. refrigerators), ovens? the stores are unlikely to drop to outside temperatures.

    Quite why he is worried about the supply of russian gas puzzles me, firstly because its use in the UK is close to zero, and secondly because it would seem to be the more reliable source available when compared with the lunatic behaviour of the UK (French, German, Danish, Swedish etc.) electricity authorities.

  11. Rossshire Mannie says:

    Hmm, not knowing the EXACT details – however I believe, some Tesco stores already use gas-fired units replacing diesels; Large Gas IC engine or a turbine – not a problem as such BUT- big BUT – have they got their own “private” Gas supply? – have already noticed in recent Oh-so-sold winter that the local Gasometer was running at almost empty – so will JoePublic have sufficient Gas supply to cook & keep warm? Heh! of course they will – we have so little heavy industry consuming power – Of course we can!

  12. Margaret says:

    Could it also be that the subsidy for being willing to be cut in a crisis is also high? In other words, this is not just about security but also about what the Government is paying to cover up the fact that it has made bad choices.

  13. Doomhammer asks can they supply the grid. Yes, they could with the right connection. A hospital I visited in Adelaide South Australia had 6 cat diesels of 1 MW each powered by natural gas. They only needed 2 for the hospital and supplied peak power to the grid giving a good payback. They ran the units in rotation to make sure they always had a least two available for hospital use. Finally, if something went wrong in their generation room (eg a fire ) they were connected to the grid and could switch over in less than 10 secs. (they said they checked that once every quarter)

  14. E.M.Smith says:


    Long ago worked in hospital office… Yes, they regularly cut over to backup generators. It also rotates the fuel some. We’d schedule for when no surgeries were booked, announce on the loud speakers, check no emergency was arriving, then blink cut over… IF someone was being worked on, the schedule was slipped.

    More places have generators than most folks expect. The Adobe building in San Jose downtown has one in the parking garage to keep core functions going. The Sun campus in Newark was built out with a bunch of them; explicitly with “load shedding payments” in mind (I was in the project mgt. meetings as P.M. for networks), some others have nifty silent box fuel cells driving their campuses (don’t know the current status of that product, but it was being hyped as the new thing in the ’90s… efficient, silent, and with cogen very cost effective).

    As TPTB hike PUC rates, more private generation will happen. Heck, with nat gas dirt cheap and California PUC taking stupid pills (central valley TOD summer pricing pushing $/kW-hr!) it can actually make money for a guy to buy a Honda multi-fuel natgas gasoline generator and sell power to the grid… Not doing it though… moving to Florida instead, where power is about 1/2 Cal PUC even for base rate.

  15. Gerry, England says:

    Gasometers are no longer in use. They were phased out with the coming of natural gas. They are now fairly rare as most sites have been redeveloped. The ones by the line into Victoria station have been dismantled and flats are being built there. My local one still exists but the site is under discussion for what to build there.

  16. ren says:

    A strong geomagnetic storm. Will the earth tremble again?

  17. ren says:

    Still very strong geomagnetic disturbances. Again will be G2.

  18. ren says:

    The level of lava in Kilauea terms of the energy of magnetic oscillations in the vertical axis – 3 days.

  19. Oldmank says:

    Many years ago I cut my teeth on a Fairbanks Morse diesel emergency generator of 370 KW, which came as part of a Marshall Aid package. It was built some years before i was born (so both are now 70+). It survived beautifully my own steep learning curve. It was then already fitted for additional gas fuel. It was still fully serviceable when I retired.

    It is an ideal package for emergencies. The Woodward governor, one of the best (and remember for emergencies, code requires fully mechanical — no electronics anywhere.) No batteries for start either — all manual. With a little attention it never failed in the thirty odd years I’ve known that thing.

    In UK Ruston and Petters used to build reliable machines for standby equipment. Odd looking now but they always delivered. Could also run on rancid supermarket butter if required, no finicky machines.

    Re efficiency diesels are good, but anything above 40% must be running on snake oil. ( the makers of today’s modern 4wheel gizmos seem to be all admitting they have been fiddling or ‘massaging’ their stated effcy data).

    Secondly, the reliability of any equipment is as good as the understanding an operator has of the plant, beginning at design stage. (Question: why were Fukushima’s emergency generators the first to fail?)

  20. Brett Keane says:

    ren says:
    May 9, 2016 at 7:28 am: Thanks Ren. Please keep us posted on your observations of any muon/lava effects etc.. Brett

  21. A lot of large factories have their own power generators, it’s a standard practice. Supermarkets on the other hand…. I am not sure if it will be economically viable.

  22. ren says:

    Brett Keane
    Cámara Térmica Volcán Turrialba 12 5 2106