Interview with Mr. Todor Spasov, Industrial Equipment Manager, Eltrak Bulgaria
Mr. Spasov, your company provides delivery, installation and servicing of diesel and gas generators used in installations for production of bio, landfill, coke and process gas. Some information has been released regarding Caterpillar's cooperating with First Solar and Fluidic Energy in an operation intended to supply hybrid systems for autonomous power supply. Could you provide some more detail about your activities in this direction?
Over the period 2014-2016, Eltrak Bulgaria Ltd. successfully installed and commissioned several cogeneration plants with a total installed capacity of 6 eMW, operating on both natural and biogas. The efficiency level of these facilities depends on the season and the need for heating, varying within 82-87%, which guarantees a good return on investment for our customers. As for autonomous power supply systems, Caterpillar has been supplying those for years in the form of autonomous diesel generators for application in telecom operations or cogeneration plants with gas piston engines.
Considering the energy efficiency requirements and the requirements for reduction of the levels of harmful substances in the exhaust gases of internal combustion engines, the combination of a main power supply and a renewable power source gives very good results. As sun power harnessing technology is still developing in terms of efficiency, adding a reliable source of electric power, i.e. a power grid, or in the case of an autonomous system, a diesel generator, is still unavoidable. All the said power supply methods combine into hybrid systems with both conventional and renewable energy sources.
Even though energy storage cells are still too expensive, they will continue to shed price figures and they will continue to balance supply in systems for generation of electric power from RES, which is cyclic, like solar panels for example. The new batteries developed by Fluidic Energy, which are to be launched on the market, will be much more favorably priced and will provide much better performance at high and low ambient temperatures. This in turn will further rationalize the use of solar power. Certainly diesel and gas generators as backup power sources can hardly be replaced in the near future.
Would you tell us about a recently completed project of your company?
In early 2016 we commissioned a CHP plant with a capacity of 2 MW, operating on biogas. Also, in early 2016, the 1.5MW CHP installation we'd delivered in 2015 to a Plovdiv-based customer, started operating at full power. This year we delivered two generators with an output power of 1 MVA each to a dairy operation in the area of Sliven.
Caterpillar is a global brand. What helps your products getting established on global basis?
A number of factors. For a start, Caterpillar has 100 years of history and is clearly distinguished as a brand. Secondly, we have a very extensive product range where most of the components are manufactured by companies owned by Caterpillar or by joint venture companies of Caterpillar, which provides for superb quality control.
And the main reason for the solid global market share of Caterpillar equipment is the worldwide dealer network where every dealer is required to comply with strict standards regarding company structure, stock of spare parts, availability of qualified personnel and territory coverage. I can proudly state that despite a series of difficult years through which we had to navigate, Eltrak Bulgaria Ltd. is a well recognized brand in the industry and holds a leading position in terms of customer loyalty in Bulgaria. This is judging by customer satisfaction surveys we regularly perform among our customers.
Our customers not only invest in a strong brand, but receive strong partnership and many companies we've worked with, are aware that we fulfill commitments no matter what. Perhaps this is how we've managed to establish ourselves on the Bulgarian market.
You supply diesel and gas generators with the Caterpillar brand. What are the advantages of these products compared to their competitors? Which of them find wider application?
Our diesel generators offer capacities from 7kW up to 5000kW. They are useful in sites where supply from the grid is unavailable. They are compact, easy to install and easy to control. The downsides would be the high cost of fuel and the relatively short service life before overhaul, compared to generators running on natural gas. Caterpillar diesel generators are massively used in Bulgaria for the purpose of emergency power supply. They are used in all sectors where load must be switched within seconds of main supply failure. These generators do not require heavy investment and are often required by local regulations. The advantages of diesel generators include high starting capacity and the steady supply without large fluctuations of voltage or frequency. These features make diesel generators the mass product of choice.
Gas piston generators are more capital intensive as an investment, but in contrast are more efficient and have lower operating costs because of the cheaper fuel used and the longer service life of the system. Furthermore the emissions control is simplified via the regulation of the combustion process in the engine itself. That is why gas piston generators are used in combined heat and power generation where efficiency can reach up to 90%. Additionally gas piston generators can be produced for use with alternative fuels which provides an additional advantage in applications where waste methane is available. This is useful not only in terms of diversifying the energy sources, but also for making use of any free methane released into the atmosphere. In Bulgaria gas piston generators are considered by contractors for sewage plant construction projects. This is a specific product, requiring extensive design and and solid budgeting of investment, which is why gas piston generator projects are rare.
European legislation encourages construction of highly efficient power plants, which reduce the levels of harmful emissions into the atmosphere, thus making cogeneration a preferred alternative. What is the current situation in this specific market in Bulgaria and what are your expectations for its future development?
European legislation really encourages the reduction of adverse emissions and the increase of energy efficiency, which allowed for a huge number of CHP plants to be installed in Europe in the period from 2007 till 2015. This trend has had an impact in Bulgaria too, as the number of cogeneration power plants running on natural gas has reached 30, while plants running on biogas have become 16 in the period 2013–2016.
The incentive for this boom in the installation of new facilities was of course the preferential pricing of electric power. Since last year, the preferential conditions for power plants running on biogas have been limited or discontinued, leading to a decline in investors' interest. However, the Bulgarian government has been looking for ways to diversify energy sources and reduce dependence on external energy supplies. I believe this sector still has potential. The only thing needed is the set-up of an economically viable regulatory framework, which would allow for utilizing the amounts of methane generated by landfills, livestock farms, sewage plants, as well as a generally reasonable policy regarding the management of organic waste generating methane gas. The benefits are proven and undeniable in terms environment protection and power source diversification, and even if preferential prices are set for this type of electric power, they will not change dramatically the total cost of electricity produced for the industry and consumers, since the power generated would only account for an insignificant percentage of the total production of power.
As for the combined production of heat and electric power from natural gas, it is a workable solution even now as several heating companies are about to replace existing facilities while others seek to expand in this field.
Which industries are your current customers mostly involved in, and in which sectors would you like to expand your activity?
We supply generators producing electric power and heat, but the comprehensive answer to your question would probably be: all consumers of electric power are potential customers.
We also supply industrial engines for integration into machines. These products are intended for the mechanical engineering and shipbuilding industries. Caterpillar engines are well known worldwide and are used in some of the finest machines out there. Machine manufacturers in Bulgaria are few, but a substantial portion of them would be using CAT engines. Obviously they have been satisfied with the results so far. Our goal is to always provide the best of terms for Bulgarian manufacturers so that they will be competitive not only in terms of pricing but also in terms of quality and the level of warranty coverage. This is particularly important for export to international markets.