Illinois-based Enercon has built its reputation in providing engineering technologies to some of the top players in the power market. Shawn Trent (New Business Development) and Dan Davis (Cogeneration specialist and Major Accounts) of Enercon spoke to Decentralized Energy about some of its latest product developments.

Enercon is involved in custom design and manufacturing of controls, switchgear, packaging, enclosures, power modules, and cogeneration units for customer provided engine generator sets. The 43-year old privately-held company is active in 140 countries and has three divisions, switchgear, military and packaging.
Enercon Engineering
Headquartered in East Peoria, Illinois, the company has a great deal of interest in positively impacting the cogeneration, biogas, landfill energy and standby power systems that are currently leading the trend towards more and more decentralized energy.

One of the most important relationships Enercon has built is with Caterpillar, and it goes back to the foundations of the company. Caterpillar has recently expanded its capabilities to deliver factory-tested custom enclosures and containerized solutions for diesel and gas electric generator sets produced in North America by purchasing Enercon’s intellectual property on the equipment.

“In the beginning when (founder) Ed Tangel started the company they had close ties with Caterpillar and that developed into Enercon Building Controls, Forecast and Switchgear for many years,” says Trent.

“Eventually that went in house. Enercon has many customers beyond the Caterpillar family. In fact, almost every engine manufacturer will have had our switchgear attached to it.”

But Caterpillar has long been Enercon’s best customer and in recent times one of the ways the depth of relationship has manifested itself is in how the company operates its research and development.

“Recently we have been operating as a kind of R&D function- Selling our products and services to Caterpillar and helping to develop products like switchgear. We produce all their switchgear that they sell to the dealers then they eventually start doing that in house. Then we developed another product in concert with Caterpillar, called power modules. It takes international shipping containers, and puts engines, generators, switchgear and fuelling systems inside a 40-foot container and commonly called power modules. Most engine manufactures do that now and that was developed at Enercon.”

“We’ve built all of Caterpillar’s containers for many years and they eventually took that in house like with the switchgear. More recently we were Caterpillar’s supplier for global solutions “

The power module is a suite of products aimed at enabling Caterpillar to meet the requests of major corporations wishing to buy complete packages direct -these are ISO sheet metal container enclosures integrating various Cat equipment.

Containers are very prevalent for all engine manufacturers and a very affordable way to bring a generator permanently to a site for standby. ISO containers are more cost effective per square foot than building a purpose-built enclosure. The wheels can simply be taken off a chassis and set on a concrete bed.

“Recently we sold the IP for the engineering and design that we were using for global solutions
to the product group for Caterpillar,” says Davis. “Our current arrangement with Caterpillar when cat bought the global solutions intellectual property is that we would not package engine generators for the US market, for a period of time.”

As mentioned, Caterpillar isn’t the company’s only client.

“Following the tsunami that hit Japan we built a lot of containers for MTU Corporation. We also provide for the likes of Cummins, and Kohler and put together turbine packages for Kawasaki Heavy Industries, so we are multifaceted in our ability to package,” says Trent.

In terms of what is going on right now with cogeneration, Davis believes the trend is towards more of it, and there is a niche the company can fulfil.

“We believe the market is going to take a shift – we are looking at a business model of using companies existing products that they already have a way to package – we believe there is room in the market  for us to package the heat recovery equipment in a separate enclosure or module and marry it to the existing factory package and we think we will be more cost effective because it’s not about reinventing the wheel. We’re using what they already have-  this could account for new business development.”

We are currently consulting on the design of one such package with a cogeneration facility – they are looking at the least-cost packaging option. Right now, they do all the heat recovery stuff in a separate or ISO container or enclosure and we can marry it to the existing unit and be cheaper.”

“When you look at cogeneration projects and the cost of energy consumption and what is the most cost effective, if there is a big heat load and if you give me the price of natural gas, I can give you the temperature they need for hot air or hot water, I can tell you pretty quick whether it will pay for itself.”

Regulations vary to jurisdiction and Trent acknowledges some places are easier to sell to than others. EPA rules in the US add some expense to the overall bill, but in other regions there are no such additions.

“Look at where we can provide hot water to a pharmacy or drug manufacturer, or sugar cane manufacturer, or Latin America generally, where there aren’t the same EPA challenges. It’s much more viable financially as you don’t have several hundred thousand dollars added to the project to satisfy emission laws.”

The US has been victim to some severe weather events in recent years so does Enercon’s offering facilitate taking the pressure off the grid during times of outages or unprecedented demand?

“At many times we work in concert with the local utility if we have what is known here as a coincident peak. This is where, for example, a hospital or manufacturer’s highest usage of the day is simultaneous with the utility demand. The utility might come in and request you run your engines during this time they will give you a break on the utility bill because you’re not contributing to high  peak so they are not having to buy more power on the open market.”

Projects specific to cogeneration in the company’s back catalogue include a grain elevator, where Enercon used the waste heat off the generator and exhaust back into the heat recovery system of the grain dryer, thereby reducing the cost of grain drying by a not insignificant 30 per cent.

“Similarly we had a large company that raises grain for planting- we had multiple gas-fired engines driving centrifugal blowing fans putting positive air pressure inside a large storage facility to dry the grain, helping the radiator cool temperature via heat exchanger.”

For now, the company will continue to develop its relationship with blue chip clients, a way of working that has served them well.