When I was informed I would be spending my fellowship at Tallahassee, Florida, it did not occur to me I would be spending time in a city with so many unexpected parallels with my home country, Brunei. Of course, there are its differences (it’s not exactly fair to compare a city to a country, even though my country is small in itself!) Just like home, a lot of trees, natural gas for power and good sun the whole year round! I guess I’m in the right place!
My first week here was spent with the City of Tallahassee’s Electric and Gas Utility, mostly with the Demand Side Management Administrator, Michael Ohlsen. Michael brought me to visit the city’s power plants – both natural gas power plants operating at approximately 40% efficiency. The Purdom Power Plant consists of combined cycle (gas and steam turbines) while the Hopkins Power Plant consists of gas and steam turbines, and very interesting RICE (reciprocating internal combustion engines) technology, which are essentially huge car engines that run on natural gas. I hadn’t heard of the technology before but I was fascinated to learn that there existed a technology with quick start up to full load (10 minutes) – good for peaking and flexible load.
I was also brought to visit the local solar power plant – 20 MW of clean energy by the airport. In fact it was actually the first thing I saw when I had arrived and was still in the plane. The city is also expanding its solar PV power plant with another 40 MW, which is currently under construction and is slated to be operational by the end of this year (with a 4 months’ construction time – something which surprised me pleasantly).
Lastly, I was brought on a tour to the utility’s control center, where the magic happens. Unfortunately no pictures allowed! I was really impressed and a little overwhelmed with what I saw in there – so much going on, and it was great to see all the different sides coming in together to keep the lights on.
It was shared with me that a grid study was carried out and concluded that the amount of solar PV that could be introduced into the grid without causing high impact was 60 MW, approximately 10% of the city’s total grid size of about 600 MW. This is a big deal for me as Brunei’s grid size is not too far off.
I definitely learnt a lot from my first week with the Electricity Utilities Department, though I may have just scratched the surface and I am hoping to be able to spend more time, specifically on their projects and policy development processes. More soon!