ComAp, the generator controller specialists, have long adhered to a philosophy of being flexible to the needs of those consuming its products. Business Systems Manager, Ben Killoy, spoke to Decentralized Energy.
Now one of the leading companies for power generation controller equipment, ComAp (Computer Applications Company) was founded by Libor Mertl and Ales Prochazka, two electronic engineers, in Prague in 1991.
Today, it has offices in nine different countries, and presence in over 100 more in terms of distributors or direct sales. It has 340 employees globally, with over 100 people in R&D and 230 products and accessories in its portfolio.
According to Killoy, its founders emerged from post-Communist Eastern Europe with a Czech spirit intent on creating a successful company in the capitalist circumstance they now found themselves.
“They started with the speakers in the metro stations in Prague and then saw a gap in the controller market for basic generators and invented one of first controllers in the power industry and it morphed from there.”
“Right now, we a mix of five categories–we do marine, power generation, industrial – what we call rental OEM (Original Equipment Manufacturer) producing for the likes of Generac, Cummins, Kohler. Then we also have what we call generator switchgear complex systems.”
ComAp describes itself as highly flexible, intuitive and scalable, and that’s not just a hollow sequence of adjectives. The emphasis on flexibility is clear and in a very transformative age, what with the influx of decentralized energy, digitization and renewables, it’s an essential trait.
“One of our core fundamentals is flexibility. The product is always designed to be flexible in the eyes of the customer, not in the eyes of the manufacturer.”
“In many cases other manufacturers put the story before you and you are stuck with that story. Our design principles are based around the customer telling their own story and we create the proposal to tell that story.”
“That’s our philosophy. We want you to be who you are and we want to create an ecosystem for you to have that. Every customer has a unique take, and unique purpose so it’s not up to us to define what that is. The customers mind in dreaming up what the controller can do is normally the limiting factor. How creative they can be is the limitation of the platform, not necessarily the controller itself.”
The company has plentiful expertise in controller technology for combined heat and power plants. A case study description on the company website indicates the breadth of services available for a typical plant operator.
An InteliSys Gas control system integrates control functions of engine, alternator and CHP. Three different peripheral I/O modules measure signals from the engine like cylinder temperatures, oil pressure, water temperatures and communicate the values to the InteliSys Gas over communication line. A distributed control system allows local placement of the I/O modules hence easier wiring and shorter commissioning time.
Meanwhile the ECON-4 is used for speed and load control of the gas gen-set, while the InteliVision 12Touch is dedicated for easy overview of the whole system and its control by an operator. Then, there’s the InteliVision 17Touch, an optional 17-inch touch panel, which can be used for complete site monitoring from one place.
Its combined heat and power (CHP) offering is proving particularly suitable to European markets.
“CHP is one where we really are one of the leaders, if not the leader, basically because of that flexibility. Because system integrators that do CHP systems want something that is flexible and don’t want to have all those cabinets full of switchgear, our system has the built-in capability to integrate it all through the control.”
“We have integration and a dedicated controller just for the gas CHP market. Prague being so close to Germany, and Germany being such a powerhouse for CHP, the systems are perfectly aligned with all the EU regulations on CHP and help it to go forward.”
The integration with CHP often involves ignition modules, and fuel mixtures and some of ComAP’s customers operate fleets of CHP. Taking all that on board, the company’s remote monitoring technology can be a key benefit.
“We can facilitate localization, having the flexibility to go on-site, but we also have a remote capability for all of our products called Web Supervisor. We have, for example, a customer that operates 150 CHPS spread across the New York, Connecticut and Boston areas and they have a Command Center in Boston. They can command and control from there, they monitor problems, and can dispatch specific technicians for what they believe an issue might be.”
Extra: Case study on use of Web Supervisor
Another feature the company can bring to bear is its ability to simplify. This is most notable in its approach to switchgear. Gen-sets and generators in various power management scheme can be controlled in a variety of ways, from peak shaving and demand-side management, to complex technology control through internal programmable logic. Besides gen-set control, ComAp’s products open and close circuit breakers, but also do all this with no need for a master controller. ComAp’s products all communicate together to ensure a reliable and efficient site.
“Switchgear is a soup mess of complication – the simplicity the ComAp system offers is a key initiative. I’ve seen pictures of the before and after (of switchgear cabinets) and you wouldn’t even think they were the same cabinet. It makes everything integrated and more seamless and you only have to learn one platform. You don’t have to learn how do a PLC platform and other generation control platforms. That integration control is super important.”
With the proliferation of new forms of power generation, microgrids, CHP and distributed energy sources, and new regulations helping to back greater energy efficiency in the global power sector, does ComAp visualise growth in demand for its expertise?
“I would say yes, because if you’re not growing, you’re dying. The smart grid will explode soon because we’re learning how to power the world in a micro-way rather than through large power plants.”
“Especially in Europe, as these microgrids get running, you will find it won’t be one essential system controlling it all – it will be lots of different systems powering it and any type of ecosystem or control platform that can control or integrate those systems into the larger grid is going to be in the right position.”
The company is, unsurprisingly highly-experienced in deploying its products in the renewable energy space, with its most recent example being a project on Peter Island, one of the British Virgin Islands in the Caribbean.
“We integrated their wind turbine system to a diesel generation system to more efficiently manage their curtailing of the wind and diesel engine. That’s a private island resort and theoretically it’s a microgrid because that’s the only power source on the island. Our controllers directly integrate the wind turbine that they had outside because in many cases they had a surplus of power but the generators weren’t being managed to save fuel because of that surplus. “
Recent hurricanes in the US have been well documented and there appears to be a greater awareness of the need for alternative or rental power, when central grid is damaged. Killoy expects the company will see some demand for its services in that area when companies formulate their strategic investment plans for 2018.
But while global warming-induced superstorms are becoming a regular fixture, Killoy notes the drift towards a more decentralized energy system as being a more permanent trend.
“Decentralized energy is taking root so there is a certain amount of letting go of the solutions of the past. There is a different way of doing things now and people are thinking differently about how to solve the problems of the future. Were right at the turning point of recognition for that different way of doing things.”