Clarke Energy is a global gas-to power generator and power plant business with hubs across Africa and Asia, but it is in Europe where its innovative and market-leading model first made a name for itself
Writer: Matthew Staff
Project Manager: Donovan Smith
Clarke Energy prides itself on an almost unrivalled capacity to utilise gas for power generation on an international scale, but on no other continent has this been more prevalent than in Europe, with the Company having initiated in the UK 27 years ago.
Renowned for its work in embedded power generation - incorporating the installation and after-sales support for gas-fuelled generating sets - the UK-based entity had already affirmed its position as a market-leading innovator over the course of its long history; but this influence is about to be taken to all-new powerful levels from 2017 onwards, virtue of its acquisition at the hands of US heavyweight, Kohler Co.
“The family-owned business has been servicing gas engine gensets across the world for more than 25 years, our typical projects ranging from half a megawatt to 100 megawatts. Over the years, we have worked in conjunction with gas engine manufacturer, designer and producer, Jenbacher - who were acquired in the mid-2000s by GE - and we have grown both organically and through acquisition,” introduces the Company’s Group Marketing and Compliance Director, Alex Marshall. “However, in February of this year, we ourselves were acquired and we are now part of the Kohler Company, one of the US’s largest private organisations.”
With permanent operations in the UK, France and Ireland - employing more than 400 people in the region - Clarke Energy’s European operations are set to strengthen as a result of the acquisition; compounding its existing role as the largest distributor and service provider of GE’s Jenbacher gas engines in the world.
“Our European operations directly support our African operations, with the UK office supporting Anglophone Africa and the French operations supporting Francophone Africa,” Marshall notes. “We cross-fertilise knowledge gained across all our global teams; however the European teams have been at the cutting-edge of the gas-to-power market. In the UK we have secured around 80 percent of the market share for power generation from landfill gas, and that knowledge gained on challenging gas to power applications has transferred to other biogases such as biogas from waste, agriculture and sewage.
“Other applications that had an early start in the UK include greenhouse-based cogeneration systems and closed coal mine power generation.”
Inevitably, there are nuances between Clarke Energy’s different regional operations, but across all domains the core model remains the same: to supply generators, and achieve high levels of running time/availability for the generator courtesy of quality installations and superior after-sales support.
Clarke Energy’s core approach has revolved around a customer and project-focused notion since day one and in Europe - more so than anywhere else - its can truly flex its muscles through the adoption and distribution of globally acclaimed technologies and solutions.
“In France the market focuses primarily around balancing the heavy reliance on nuclear-fuelled power generation,” Marshall explains. “Nuclear power is relatively inflexible and our power generation systems provide heat as well as electricity in the winter months.
“More recently in the UK we are seeing the world’s first large-scale Capacity Market. Here, gas-fuelled engines are deployed in circa 20MW blocks to provide power quickly, balancing demand and supply from intermittent sources such as renewables.”
Country after country, the business has migrated over the years, being awarded distribution rights in each nation in turn, and subsequently striving to build - often from the ground up - power infrastructures conducive to the installation of generators. However, while it could be assumed that Europe might be ahead of regions like Africa in terms of modern processes, the latter actually has an advantage in being able to skip outdated plants and solutions to the most advanced technologies when developing its infrastructure; and this is one of the many challenges that Clarke Energy is striving to combat domestically through diversifying its outlook.
“As discussed the Capacity Market is a major new development for us and we have a number of sites in development across the country with confidential clients,” Marshall continues. “These projects add up to hundreds of MWs of new power generation.
“There is a degree of uncertainty in the market which has resulted from the UK Government’s removal of embedded benefits for power generation; however we see there to be continued potential for our technology in this sector.
“In France we have delivered many hundreds of MWs of natural gas-fuelled CHP units. The legislation there is moving towards smaller units in the coming years and there is a new growth in opportunities for using biogas from anaerobic digesters in France.”
On a general note, Clarke Energy’s ability and willingness to adapt according to market and regional trends has been an earmark of its success. Complementing its natural gas capabilities, the Company’s foray into renewables is a recent indictment of this ethos; all the while ensuring that levels of quality and sustainability aren’t compromised.
The Company’s subsequent investment strategy gives as good-an indication as any as to how this then transpires operationally.
“Our model of delivering high quality installations and after-sales support derives from us being a primarily service-based organisation, and our focus on investments is linked to this,” Marshall affirms. “We are deploying GE’s MyPlant asset management software widely now across generators that we service.
“This will enable us to continue to give industry-leading levels of after-sales support by being able to remotely understand the performance of generators in the field, and respond quickly to any site-based needs.”
Clarke Energy also continues to invest in stock to support service contracts, helping to back-up the availability of assets in the field.
Marshall adds: “We have also opened a cutting-edge training facility at our Knowsley-based headquarters. Here we can simulate engine faults and problems, off-line, developing the diagnostic skills of our service engineers. Likewise, the same facility is being regularly used to train our customers’ service teams to the highest OEM-approved standards.”
Quality and reliability
Another common philosophy shared group-wide is Clarke Energy’s dedication to localisation; not just capitalising on or addressing local industry trends, but also through sustainability efforts and human resource initiatives.
Inevitably in Africa, the development of the Company’s talent pool in each new country is critical, but the same core approach is adopted in Europe too where it trains nationals of all countries to the highest standards out of the UK and in GE’s Austria factory.
“This level playing field helps to ensure that employees feel valued wherever in the world they are deployed for us,” Marshall emphasises.
Of course though, enjoying the likes of GE as partners does add a certain international edge when it comes to the smooth cross-fertilisation of skills and processes.
Marshall continues: “The biggest supplier to us is the core engine supplier, GE, which remains consistent wherever we are in the world. Our primary focus though remains on delivering high quality installations backed up by reliable localised support.
“That said, we procure a significant amount of ‘balance of plant’ and in some installations the core engine may be as little as 15 percent of the value of the project. The additional items, such as boilers, exhaust gas heat exchangers, absorption chillers, piping, wiring and instrumentation, must match the performance standards of the core engine. How we procure these and what partners we work with will vary from territory to territory with an understanding of what the levels of local quality are along with after-sales support.”
In marrying these facets together, Clarke Energy is able to better realise its aforementioned mission and vision, and as the affiliation with the Kohler organisation strengthens in the future, the Company’s ability to integrate even more effectively will become apparent.
“It’s all virtue of our model. Our differentiator lies in our ability to develop high quality installations, to have a balance of plants so that the machinery around the core generator matches the high performance of the engine, and then in having a structure and team in place to make sure the generator is running successfully for the long-term,” Marshall concludes. “Our reputation for quality and reliability is core to our business and we anticipate seeing further investment in the regional service teams and growth into other countries in the future.