Micro Turbine technology makes once a year site maintenance visits a reality

Cost effective innovative solution has up to 8,000 hour service intervals, is cleaner, quieter and can use multiple fuels including diesel, kerosene or paraffin or a mixture to reduce costs and deter fuel theft by up to 60%

Read this article to learn:

  • Read this article to learn:
  • How Bladon harnessed the power of microturbines for telecom power solutions
  • The advantages of Micro Turbine Gensets (MTGs) over conventional DGs
  • How the product addresses the weakness in all hybrid genset solutions – reinventing the diesel genset
  • More about the ultra-low maintenance solution: no engine oil, no water, only one moving part
  • The importance of an energy efficient solution that compliments your existing supply chain – MTGs can run on almost any liquid or gas fuel
  • Time to breakeven/crossover in different scenarios, compared with traditional DGs
  • Details of the World’s only EURO V emissions standard compliant diesel genset (12kW)

It’s not often TowerXchange comes across a genuinely innovative alternative to a traditional diesel genset that provides primary or backup power to many emerging market cell towers, but when we heard about Bladon’s Micro Turbine gensets (MTG), we had to find out more! While the MTG is cleaner and quieter than a traditional DG what makes the MTG particularly interesting to towercos is the fact that they require as little as once a year maintenance. A key business requirement we continuously see from mobile operators and towercos is to reduce site visits to once a month or less.

TowerXchange: Where does Bladon Micro Turbine fit in the telecoms infrastructure ecosystem?

Stuart Kelly, VP Market Development, Bladon Micro Turbine:

We have invested considerably in R&D over the last 5 years and perfected the design and manufacture of a genset that has a microturbine technology at its core. A Micro Turbine Genset (MTG) is an evolutionary step in replacing conventional diesel gensets in a prime power, hybrid or standby power application. Without making any drastic changes in business process, supply chain or taking a risk on new technologies towercos can drastically reduce their daily fuel and maintenance costs and see those reductions immediately. The MTG’s superior reliability and performance along with its multifuel capabilities nicely positions it to be the ideal replacement of noisy, inflexible and high maintenance diesel generators. Bladon’s MTGs are ultra-quiet, cleaner and greener, which is critical for towercos and mobile network operators alike that have strong corporate social responsibility and environment friendly agendas.

Gas turbines aren’t new. This is a 70 year old technology, and is the method of choice for providing ultra-reliable power as a utility to millions of people and businesses globally. Bladon has innovated the application of turbines to telecom tower power by making a microturbine fit into the space where normally diesel gensets are situated. Our secret sauce is not so much a new technology as a manufacturing methodology that enables us to produce microturbines economically in volume. One of our most important manufacturing techniques is a process to cut turbine blades from a single piece of material. We’ve been able to manufacture to a price point such that our MTGs are commercially viable compared to reciprocating diesel gensets.

TowerXchange: How did your micro turbine engines evolve as a solution for cell sites?

Stuart Kelly, VP Market Development, Bladon Micro Turbine:

Bladon has been working on turbine and gas turbine technology for over 10 years now, with special projects for the automotive industry funding a large part of that work. Then realising that almost 20% of the 2,000,000 diesel gensets sold globally are purchased by the telecoms market we saw an opportunity. An opportunity to show off Bladon’s technology in a single vertical market and evolve the way distributed power is deployed on telecom tower sites. Realising that the lion’s share of opex incurred by telecom towers was in fuel and maintenance costs we knew immediately that Bladon could offer a compelling value proposition.

TowerXchange: Which telecom markets are you targeting and why?

Stuart Kelly, VP Market Development, Bladon Micro Turbine:

The amount of activity in rejuvenation, investment and growth in the telecom tower market is most impressive in Africa, especially sub-Saharan Africa. That’s why we are using the TowerXchange in Johannesburg to formally launch our 12kW Micro Turbine Genset (MTG). We have conducted field trials in Africa over the last year and learned valuable feedback from our partners there. Some of our field trial units have been running nonstop for 3000+ hours without ANY filter changes or servicing. Whether an MTG is deployed as a primary power or hybrid installation servicing the MTG will be maximum once a year. That’s a really compelling proposition to towercos that are crippled with genset maintenance costs.

We have attended TowerXchange Meetups around the world to share Bladon’s vision with MNOs and towercos. With so many assets changing ownership in Africa, there is a new focus and financial drive to leverage tower assets harder. When towers are bought, or being prepared for sale, audits often reveal the assets aren’t operating as efficiently as the owner might have thought. But the new owners don’t want to create too much turbulence in the supply chain, so it’s important that our solution complements the existing energy supply chain in developing markets. The Bladon MTG allows MNOs and towercos to evolve their energy strategy, take advantage of serious opex savings without drastically changing the business model or increasing their energy capex budgets.

TowerXchange: Tell us about your solution’s maintenance requirements.

Stuart Kelly, VP Market Development, Bladon Micro Turbine:

Microturbine engines are an ultra-low maintenance solution. Unlike a diesel reciprocating engine, there is no engine oil and no liquid coolant. The turbine itself consists of just one moving part, which runs on air bearings. Maintenance is a key issue at remote sites that might be many hours’ drive on a lousy road – the cost to get there can kill the TCO – so a technology with the potential to dramatically reduce site visits can be very compelling. There is a very low skill requirement to maintain our MTGs – in the highly unlikely event of a turbine failure, our strategy is remove and replace, not rebuild onsite. For lesser maintenance issues, such as filter changes, the O&M subcontractor can readily maintain a stock of fuel and air filters.

As well as reducing fuel and maintenance costs, thieves are less inclined to steal our MTGs as there are few, if any parts, they can recycle. Aspiring ESCOs that are currently in the business of maintaining traditional diesel gensets have an opportunity to profit handsomely by deploying a more reliable solution like ours – their goal of selling at a price per kWh rate becomes more achievable. Our MTG unit has robust telemetry built in, so you need fewer field engineers as many of the MTG settings can be changed remotely. From the NOC you can see if units are operating outside of their tolerances, enabling preventive maintenance rather than waiting for it to break. Also, and not insignificant for the tower operator, is the use of telemetry to know where the unit is, as well as having the inbuilt electronics to stop the unit operating if moved without permission – the same technology as a tracker system on a car. We have standardised also on the DeepSea Controller 7320 MKII to make it even easier for towercos and MNOs to fold the MTG into their estate and manage it through their NOC will minimal disruption.

TowerXchange: Okay, so what are the advantages of microturbines over other alternate energy solutions such as fuel cells or solar?

Stuart Kelly, VP Market Development, Bladon Micro Turbine:

There is no reliable or sustainable supply chain to support hydrogen or methane fuel in Africa yet. As a technology that is hostile to the current supply chain, the practical challenges of keeping fuel cells running are prohibitive to embracing that particular alternative energy solution in more than perhaps 20% of the estate. We don’t see our solution as an alternative to a 200sqm PV array but complementary to hybrid configurations using renewable technologies; our solution is so much more compact that the use cases differ significantly. Solar has to be a part of the future, but in the context of telecom towers it’s not a killer app, it’s a point solution. Our MTGs can be used to smooth power from solar as well as replacing a chugging tractor engine based generator. When renewables work the MTG can become a part core part backup, there are no start up issues even if it’s left idle for some considerable time between uses. The fuel will contaminate before the genset has a problem!

But the important thing is that this is an evolution not a revolution – the MTG can be adapted to any local fuel supply resource. Bladon gensets, in keeping with all turbine based solutions, run on a wide range of fuels, including green alternatives such as natural gas and biofuels as well as diesel and kerosene. Bladon MTGs will also tolerate a blend of fuels like diesel mixed with kerosene thus making the mix useless for thieves planning on using it for other diesel engines.

TowerXchange: How does the capital outlay for your MTGs compare to traditional DGs, and when does the Total Cost of Ownership (TCO) crossover?

Stuart Kelly, VP Market Development, Bladon Micro Turbine:

The capital outlay for an MTG is currently slightly higher than a quality diesel genset solution, but the price difference is a double not triple digit percentage. Running for 12 hours a day in SSA in 30° heat then within 15-19 months the TCO will crossover having recovered the difference in capital outlay through fuel and maintenance cost savings.

TowerXchange: How near are your MTGs for telecom to being a market-ready solution?

Stuart Kelly, VP Market Development, Bladon Micro Turbine:

We go into production this year (2018). The first run of MTGs have already been ordered, and we’ve signed distribution agreements already with partners in Africa and Australia. Our production factory headquarters is also where our R&D team is based; in Coventry, UK.

We go into production later this year. The first run of MTGs have already been ordered, and we’ve signed distribution agreements already with partners in Africa and Australia

TowerXchange: What is the sweet spot in terms of the load your solutions can support?

Stuart Kelly, VP Market Development, Bladon Micro Turbine:

Our Bladon MTG12 MTG delivers up to 12kW, with 230V AC output. Most telecom sites need somewhere between 3kW and 6kW for constant power, maybe 9kW if there is a hybrid arrangement requiring battery bank charging. Since the MTG runs at variable speed to match the load, our efficiencies are much better at partial loads compared to conventional DGs.

TowerXchange: How do you ensure modularity as power requirements increase with the addition of multiple tenants?

Stuart Kelly, VP Market Development, Bladon Micro Turbine:

Given that operators are trying to drive power consumption down, a new BTS might need 1kW when the last model needed 2kW. At the moment the applications we see don’t consume more the 3kW in total, so it should be possible to add a second tenant without upgrading the MTG. Because our unit doesn’t de-rate over time, its ability to deliver continuous power is stronger. The MTG is a more reliable means of delivery of consistent power than a conventional DG for a multi-tenant site. If additional tenants are added beyond what one MTG can provide, the answer is to add a second unit in a daisy chain. And if the power requirement reduces again, our units are relatively easy to relocate to another tower.

Sample – Telecom tower 3 year OPEX savings

TowerXchange: How do you bring Bladon Micro Turbine to market – do you sell direct or through channel partners?

Stuart Kelly, VP Market Development, Bladon Micro Turbine:

Our model is to sell through partners. Towercos and MNOs need the credibility of boots on the ground to provide after sales service, even with a low maintenance solution such as ours. We are targeting key managed service providers on the front lines of tower builds, upgrades and maintenance, with the objective of creating a pipeline for thousands of unit sales.

TowerXchange: Finally, please sum up how you would differentiate Bladon Micro Turbine from other cell site energy solution providers.

Stuart Kelly, VP Market Development, Bladon Micro Turbine:

We’ve taken a well-known form of power generation in the reciprocating engine, turned it on its head and married it with another established technology in gas turbines, then developed a manufacturing process to bring to market an innovative solution with a lower TCO business case for telecom tower operators. Micro jet engines are ultra-reliable, super durable, low maintenance, and generally have a TCO runway in Africa and India from 9 to 19 months. The MTG is designed to support the current supply chain, which means our solutions can be easily introduced with an expectation of a short term payback. The fact that it’s an exciting jet engine is only so interesting – what matters is reducing fuel bills, and the ability to deploy it into the field easier and cheaper than a regular diesel genset.

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