Africa, Gas & Oil Fired, General Electric, Middle East & Africa

Egypt’s fast-track mega project

Issue 9 and Volume 23.

Delivery of a major power project under severe time constraints is a huge undertaking, involving hundreds of people, massive amounts of technology and tremendous logistics. Tildy Bayar visited the GE Power & Water team as they carried out a 2.6 GW fast-track project for the Egyptian government – the business’s largest project in Egypt to date.

Undertaken under the auspices of the new Egyptian government’s Power Boost programme, GE’s 2.6 GW fast-track power project was designed to prepare the country for the heat of the upcoming summer months, as well as the increased energy use expected during the month of Ramadan, beginning in mid-June. Under a contract signed in mid-December 2014, GE was to provide, install and commission a total of 46 gas turbines – 34 aeroderivative turbines (14 LM6000 PCs, in the 43-50 MW range, and PFs, at 42-57 MW; and 20 TM2500+, at 25-30 MW), plus 12 E-class heavy duty turbines. These would be installed at multiple sites throughout Egypt, and would need to begin coming online in under six months.

One site went from flat ground to operational power plant in 11 weeks
One site went from flat ground to operational power plant in 11 weeks
Credit: GE Power & Water

For just the TM2500 sites, 500 MW would need to be installed in 11 weeks. In GE’s time-lapse video document, the customer selected 10 sites during week one. Week two involved site preparation procedures such as debris clearing and levelling and preparing surface areas. During week three, the units were delivered – after customs clearance, road assessments and transport logistics were worked out. The foundations were then poured during week four, and the units arranged on the foundations in week five. Balance of plant construction began in week seven with the installation of the transformers, fuel tanks, cables and so on, and in week nine the turbine assembly began. The units were synchronized to the customer’s grid in week 10, and first fire and commissioning took place during week 11, followed by the issuance of the construction completion certificate.

“The unique thing about the TM2500s,” noted James “Rusty” Bonnett, EPC and gas turbines project leader, “is their ability to move in fast. They are the workhorses of what we do.” And it wasn’t just the technology that moved in fast – the working teams did too. PEi visited several of GE’s sites in Egypt and spoke with the teams on the ground to find out what kinds of challenges they faced during the project, and how they dealt with them.

Working around the clock

According to GE, the first turbines were on their way to Egypt within hours of the contract’s signing. But even before the deal was finalized, Bonnett said his team had begun working around the clock to make it happen.

Gunnar Berg, LM6000 project director, noted that, in December 2014, “a bunch of teams – GE, [Spanish EPC contractor] TSK and our other partners – were virtually locked up in meeting rooms” working out detailed equipment breakdown and configuration plans, which were presented to the customer within days of the contract signing. “Of the LM6000 [turbines],” said Berg, “some were starting on liquid fuel, some on gas fuel, some with water and some without – quite a configuration to match up.” The key success factor in delivering the plans to the customer quickly was “the teamwork between our teams at GE and our partners,” he said.

The LM6000 units are modular and quick-connect
The LM6000 units are modular and quick-connect
Credit: GE Power & Water

“Projects like this get a lot of attention for their commercial and financial value,” he added, “but probably even tougher is the executional intensity required to pull this through.”

From the top-level project managers to the construction crews on the ground at each site, a significant aspect of their work seemed to be keeping in mind at all times that the clock was ticking. Bonnett, for example, set up a countdown clock for each project on his mobile devices, which he shared with everyone on his team.

“How do we get [a project of this scale] done?”, he asked, and answered his own question: “Everyone works 24/7.”

Progress updates on each Egyptian site were posted for the entire company. In April, Berg announced in a video update from one LM6000 site that “four units plus auxiliary subsystems were placed on foundations here just two months after breaking ground. Impressive progress!” The fact that the units were “modular and quick-connect,” he noted, “eliminated weeks of work.”

And it wasn’t just GE’s team that worked flat-out. Berg said GE’s Egyptian T&D EPC partner, El Sewedy Electric, had completed its work on a TM2500 site in the greater Cairo area in 1.5 months instead of the usual four to six. “The teams were competing to have their electrical stuff up first,” he said, with the winning group planting the Egyptian flag atop the installation.

Making it happen

According to Bonnett, the project schedule ran to some 24 pages, with 50 to 60 tasks listed on each page, broken down into individual components: systems, infrastructure, cable laying, and so on.

Making all of it happen involved an impressive amount of organization in a short time, and one of the key steps was finding the necessary equipment. Bonnett said that, with “multiple engine configurations with all different systems… we had to take stuff meant for other projects. You can’t deliver 14 complete units in 15 days.” But he noted that GE’s strategic inventory process allows for “borrowing” or allocating different parts for different projects. For the Egyptian project the equipment came from around the world: according to Bonnett, on one LM6000 site “the stacks were from Mexico, the units from Hungary and the transformers came from Canada”.

“We do pride ourselves on having a strong supply chain to make sure we have the right parts to do what we need to do,” he said, also noting that, in some cases such as the Egyptian project, “we can retrofit certain gas turbine units with different parts to meet customer needs. We also can leverage our experience across GE’s portfolio to understand how successful certain retrofits will be – if it worked on one turbine, it has a better chance of working on another.”

In one video update, Jimmy Simmons, a gas turbine operations specialist at one of the LM6000 sites, was shown in the midst of performing a retrofit on a LM6000 PF. While the engine had originally been “set up for standard dual-fuel,” he said, “several days is about how long this engine would be able to last with the current fuel system.” He added that “we developed this system recently for customers unable to sustain long periods of gas running.”

According to Simmons, customer representatives had recently toured the facility and were “very pleased with our ability to gather the material in a timely manner, get it out here and get it ready for them to produce power.”

Challenges included moving an entire plant 150 metres
Challenges included moving an entire plant 150 metres
Credit: GE Power & Water

Part of the challenge of large, fast-track projects involves developing a configuration of gas turbine generator packages that exactly matches the available local fuel, optimizes the balance of plant equipment design, and considers the local environment in which the units will operate. At one site, Berg noted that the required filtering equipment hadn’t been available in enough time due to the tight installation schedule, so the team had taken a mix-and-match approach in order to deliver the right technology and configurations on schedule. His team opted to use cooling water for all of the LM6000’s lube oil systems, providing three water-to-air cooled generators that otherwise would not have been available for the project. In addition, three LM6000 units at a six-unit site were equipped with self-cleaning pulse filter systems, while the other three units used static element air filter systems. The setup, Berg said, “will allow the operator to gain experience using both technologies.”

While most of the units were transported to Egypt via cargo ship, some of the larger equipment had to be air-freighted on an Antonov heavy cargo transport plane. The model used, the Antonov an-124 Ruslan, is “the biggest serial heavy lifter in the world,” according to the company. Berg noted that scheduling an Antonov delivery was not a small matter given that its hire is not hours-based like a normal aircraft, and that it requires more hours on the ground for maintenance. He explained that GE “needed the [Antonov] that was big enough, and needed to hire it for when it was needed,” often at short notice.

The challenges

In addition to being the company’s fastest, the Egypt project was “also the most technically complex in terms of engineering,” Bonnett noted, with all of the “systems to piece together” adding up to “one very large spreadsheet”. For an example of the complexity, the LM6000s “existed in two versions for this project, and the auxiliary systems were designed with different options”, he said.

According to Bonnett, equipment configurations needed to be detailed with GE’s suppliers so that the equipment arrived in Egypt “in the right order” to facilitate the necessary work – which “sometimes didn’t happen”, and work would be hung up as a result. Customs clearance was also sometimes challenging, even though the process had been “carefully planned” and the Armament Authority officials were “ready, thanks to efforts by the government”.

Units can be configured in a mix-and-match approach
Units can be configured in a mix-and-match approach
Credit: GE Power & Water

Sherif Abdel Moneim, construction co-ordinator for the LM6000 sites, said the biggest challenge for his team was “getting the equipment to the site in accordance with the schedule”. He noted that, at times, work was “hung up while you’re waiting for a piece of equipment you need”, and that the team eventually “had to air-freight most of it on the Antonovs”.

The number one issue and the “biggest lesson learned”, Bonnett said, involved “bringing in skilled people”. Although he said the Egyptian government was very helpful, entry clearance inevitably took additional time. Nevertheless, he noted that the most important aspect of any project is “investing in people who can fix things when they go wrong – because they will”.

Wade Cantwell, site manager for one of the LM6000 installations, identified an initial challenge as “all the equipment arriving within 10 days of each other and having to be unloaded”. But his biggest challenge, he said, was managing a team that included 19 nationalities on a single work site. “The language, and fitting 19 nationalities into a team, takes a little while,” he said.

The only accident Cantrell could recall at his site was a brake failure on a crane. “The driver drove it into a foundation to avoid hurting anyone, and bruised his knee,” he said.

The team on one work site included 19 nationalities
The team on one work site included 19 nationalities
Credit: GE Power & Water

The need to make sometimes significant adjustments to each site on the fly was another perennial issue. In general, Bonnett said, “customers make decisions very late in the process, so we’re always trying to set a speed record” – and he added that “any construction project is a bit of a push-pull”. Among the adjustments noted by Bonnett and Berg were moving the entire Cairo-area plant 150 metres at the customer’s request, resulting in additional workload and a quick rethinking of the site preparation. In addition, the team had to change one plant over from gas to liquid fuel because gas was unavailable – resulting in “three weeks of extra work,” Berg noted. Finally, restacking six 100,000-litre tanks at one site due to space restrictions was another unexpected change. “We adjusted everything the customer needed,” Berg said, noting that every TM2500 site was eventually changed from its original layout. “We listened to what the customer wanted, and made it happen,” he said.

Moving forward

Work was completed ahead of time on the TM2500 sites, in time to provide 440 MW for Ramadan. Work on the LM6000 sites was completed on schedule in July.

According to analysis firm the Oxford Business Group, Egypt’s power generation capacity needs to be scaled up to 50 GW by 2025, nearly double today’s capacity, to meet a demand growth of 10-12 per cent per year. In addition to GE’s contribution, Egypt has recently added or contracted power capacity using multiple technologies from a number of companies, including a $266 million deal signed in June with Ansaldo Energia to upgrade two gas-fired power plants with three 265 MW steam turbines; a $9 billion deal with Siemens, also signed in June, for 16.4 GW in gas-fired plants and wind power; a $30 million contract in July with APR Energy for a gas-fired power plant; a memorandum of understanding signed last year for the country’s first coal-fired power plant, to be built by an Abu Dhabi-based consortium; a preliminary agreement with Russia on building a nuclear power plant, signed in February; and in January Egypt picked 109 renewable energy projects for its inaugural feed-in tariff scheme.

Work on the LM6000 sites was completed in July
Work on the LM6000 sites was completed in July
Credit: GE Power & Water

With such large-scale infrastructure projects in the works and an immediate need for power, fast-track power is a logical first step. “Governments like the TM2500s,” says Bonnett, because they can come online quickly and “they are mobile – they can move further out as they’re replaced with permanent plants”. And it’s not only the technology which is mobile – GE’s team will now be on to other projects elsewhere.

Bonnett, for one, has worked on large-scale power projects in a number of countries including Algeria, Turkey and Mexico, and looks forward to finding out where his next assignment will take him.