Flexing the Power Muscles

Flex Energy Solutions
Written by Paul Hutchings

Increased power consumption in the twenty-first century requires energy consumers to look far and wide for energy sources and ways to increase efficiency and reduce costs. Creating power solutions that help customers wherever and whenever they need it is where Flex Energy Solutions shines.

Since the late 1990s, Flex Energy Solutions has been manufacturing gas turbine generators for the oil and gas, biogas, and combined heat and power (CHP) markets in virtually every part of the globe. The company offers power solutions that help reduce costs and improve energy resiliency while reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

The company has turbines and heat exchangers on the job all over the world, including North and South America, Asia, Australia, Europe, and Canada. Its power generators can run on “virtually any fuel that comes out of the ground, and even synthetic fuel,” according to Chief Executive Officer Mark Schnepel, and Flex Energy Solutions staff are proud to be part of an industry that powers society.

Power for industrial or commercial operations is often required in extremely remote locations. The company offers a number of solutions for grid-connected and grid-isolated power as well as options for CHP and biogas applications.

Cogeneration, or CHP, is a process in which turbines generate electrical power while using the turbine exhaust for heat. In traditional grid electricity generation, the resulting heat is usually lost into the atmosphere. Flex Turbines®, however, use the resulting heat for heating, cooling, dehumidification, and other processes, which in turn maximizes efficiency.

Grid-isolated (off-grid) power means any location can be powered by the company’s turbines. Because Flex Turbines can run on virtually any fuel, Flex’s customers enjoy best-in-class fuel flexibility. The Flex Turbine is one of the cleanest technologies available and can even help reduce emissions from the site.

Flex Turbines can also operate parallel to the utility grid (grid-parallel) and excel in areas with unpredictable power. The turbine runs at base power while connected to the electrical grid until a utility interruption occurs. Upon interruption, the Flex Turbine will automatically disconnect from the grid and keep the customer’s site operational until the utility source is restored.

Biogas applications run on fuels that would otherwise be flared or vented. The Flex Turbine is the most fuel flexible technology on the market, able to run on natural gas, propane, biogas, associated gas, and tank vapors. It can even use landfill gasses and digester gasses. This type of fuel flexibility makes Flex Turbines one of the go-to power generators for many industries.

Flex Turbines provide more than just energy savings. “Our turbines only require one scheduled eight-hour maintenance per year, which is a big improvement over other, more traditional types of power sources, such as reciprocating or diesel engines,” said Schnepel. “Additionally, other technologies require much more extensive fuel conditioning and cleanup, so we’re one of the most practical and fuel flexible pieces of equipment available.”

Schnepel said the leasing of equipment has become a huge part of Flex Energy Solutions’ business model, and the company strives for excellence in that area as well. “Leasing goes hand in hand with service,” he said. “Our sales team and our Applications Engineering team work together with customers to ensure that they receive the correct equipment for their application. Then we monitor it 24/7 to ensure it’s operating as designed and expected.”

Schnepel is proud of the quality Flex Energy Solutions provides. “We just had a major cold snap on a site in Alberta where we have equipment operating, and there were no issues at all. Everything just kept working as it should,” he said. “Meanwhile, the same turbines can also operate in places like Texas, where there is not only extreme heat but excessive amounts of dust as well. You don’t get that level of service from reciprocating engines or diesel generators or any of the older technology, and we’re really pleased to offer that level of quality and reliability.”

Every project teaches the company something new that it can apply to improve future systems. Each unique environment teaches Flex Energy Solutions about how its products can best serve parts of the world that experience extreme weather, heat, cold, salt, or dust. Even sound can be an issue, as the company found in Pennsylvania.

Near an area designated as national forest, a Flex Energy Solutions customer needed a pipeline compressor that had to operate at a very low decibel level to meet the requirements of working in the vicinity of a national forest.

“We had to engineer a low-sound package that met that goal,” said Schnepel. “It was a big challenge at first, but we solved it, and now we have that in our options list. Every opportunity presents a learning experience, and it was rewarding to be able to solve that issue and make it available for other customers.”

He said evolving products over time has served Flex Energy Solutions well. Each generation of equipment gets better – more efficient, stronger, and with better performance for customers.

Flex is even developing power systems for the cannabis industry. It helped create a mobile hemp drying unit to be used by commercial hemp growers.

Last year Flex Energy Solutions received a significant repeat order for multiple turbine units in California. The purchase will give that customer the capability to generate a combined 4.3 megawatts of power. The turbines will provide a baseload to the smart grid systems at three of the customer’s facilities and will reduce operating costs with CHP solutions.

The future is looking bright for Flex Energy Solutions. Schnepel said more and more people are adopting this technology as a way of cutting greenhouse gas emissions for their businesses. Flex Turbines are now becoming part of bigger solutions, whether in the form of micro-grids fed by solar and/or wind power, or along with existing larger grids.

“As major storms and wildfires become more prevalent, people will be relying more and more on self-generating their own grids. The small gas turbine will play a critical role in that evolution from centralized power grids to less centralized power locations.”

Flex Turbines are modular and considered ‘plug and play.’ It is not unusual to see multiple turbines connected on some job sites, depending on the customer’s needs. A wastewater authority celebrated the grand opening of a recently upgraded resource recovery plant in Bellaire, Ohio. The facility is fully powered by a Flex Turbine that converts gasses from their digesters into electricity, making the plant energy neutral. Flex Energy Solutions also helped an Australian company create an innovative thermal energy storage solution for converting biogas into storable heat that can be used to generate high-quality, reliable electric power.

Twenty-year company veteran Schnepel said he is also excited about some new technology Flex will be introducing later this year that he said will set a new high watermark for the turbine industry. “I’m proud of our company on so many levels,” said Schnepel. “Every time we build something, whenever we send something out, it makes me smile.”



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