The Purveyors of Power

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-By Andrew Kade

Power is perhaps one of the most evocative words in the English language. Since the dawn of humanity, the concept of power, and the pursuit of it, has been intrinsic in forging the human condition. A condition driven by the most base instinct of all: survive.

It would be fair to say that in theory, through accumulation of power, one can endeavour to shape and control one’s surroundings. This is especially relevant when your surroundings are as hostile as the wilderness that our ancestors once roamed. From the relative comfort and safety afforded by our modern lifestyles it is hard to comprehend just how subservient to their surroundings our not-too-distant relatives truly were – the fickle and often cruel moods of Mother Nature once threatened whole civilisations on a daily basis. Now we barely care beyond inconveniences to our recreational plans and choice of attire.

For better or worse humanity has come a long way very quickly and this ascension is largely due to a single technological advancement that gave us more individual control than we dared to dream. I am referring to none other than electricity, and, it is no small coincidence that we commonly refer to it as power.

Outside the boundaries of our modern metropolises, brave men and women still face the raw challenge of the untamed wilds for the betterment of humanity and few people in Australia are closer to the frontlines of this battle than the team at the aptly named company, MPower.

Mpower is one of the leading providers of power solutions to the Australian, New Zealand and South Pacific markets. With a diverse customer base in the green energy, solar, commercial, oil and gas, industrial, utilities, defence and mining sectors, MPower is a genuine purveyor of power.

MPower’s Marketing Executive, Kirsti Ellison Kubecka, spoke proudly of the firm’s capabilities: “We provide full turnkey solutions; once we have designed, manufactured and installed our projects we have an asset management team who looks after the maintenance of them.” With a base in every state of Australia, MPower is geared to service what it sells and this is a point of difference that provides an edge over its competitors.

One of MPower’s specialities in the project side of its business is the delivery of electricity to the remote frontiers of civilisation where conditions are at their most challenging. “By focussing our energies, we have been able to develop high-spec technology to work within the harsh kinds of environments that Australia’s industries operate in,” said Kirsti. Providing the hardware and ongoing maintenance to offshore oil and gas extraction facilities is just one of the seriously onerous tasks that MPower undertakes. If power fails out on the cruel seas, lives and big money are at stake.

One such project in MPower’s folio is the construction and installation of a Black Start Generator (BSG) and Essential Diesel Generator (EDG) aboard Woodside’s North Rankin 2 platform. Located 135 km north-west of Karratha WA, the North Rankin 2 platform is one of the largest capacity gas production platforms in the world. The generators constructed had to be reliable and highly corrosion resistant as well as being able to withstand harsh environmental conditions including category five cyclones. That is no small order.

But this was not unbroken ground, according to Managing Director of the MPower Projects business, Anthony Csillag. “The North Rankin 2 project builds on MPower’s Bayu Undan project undertaken in the late 90’s which was a similar project with the provision of black start generators and continuous well head generators. The North Rankin 2 project was designed with the latest components and technologies; more importantly though, was MPower’s adoption of new development tools such as SolidWorks® 3D modelling. As with all our projects there were lessons learned and these are applied to future projects with our continuous improvement mindset. Our success can be measured by international companies now seeking our expertise for international projects.”

Still on the theme of high stakes, what about making hardware for the military? The implications of failure in that realm makes for sobering thought. MPower is far from daunted by this kind of challenge and as a testament to the company’s unflinching resolve, it has been the sole supplier of portable power generation systems to the Australian Defence Force (ADF) since 1994. Contrary to popular belief, the ADF cannot see in the dark – this disappointing revelation led the ADF to contract MPower to design and manufacture its Mobile Floodlight Trailer (FLT).

The FLT is an “internationally unique” product that allows the Australian Defence Force to conduct missions in rugged terrain and supply electrical power and light to remote hospitals and field camps. Anyone who has ever had experience with defence contracts will attest to the fact that they are a tough gig. The technical requirements and standards expected are enough to exclude most suppliers from even tendering at all. So within the industry, a contract with the ADF is a badge of honour and MPower wears its proudly.

Anthony had this to about the firm’s military credentials: “No doubt the range of MPower MilSpec portable power products currently in use by the ADF has proven extremely successful over the last 8 years. These technologies have migrated through to our other projects and products. The site of our products in tow by military convoys or in news reels in action in Iraq, Afghanistan, East Timor or wherever our forces are serving, never ceases to generate a sense of pride.”

These types of projects take nerve and MPower commits to them with supreme confidence in its equipment and expertise. What’s the secret behind its bravado? Experience, first and foremost, over fifty combined years of it. “MPower actually came about in 2009 when M+H Power Systems Pty Ltd and Advanced Power Pty Ltd merged under the brand name of MPower. Both companies prior to that had been around in excess of 25 years, so there it a bit of history there,” says Kirsti.

If you also throw Solaris Technology Pty Ltd, a leading edge solar power innovator, into the mix you have a very diverse and capable outfit. It is this dynamism that allowed MPower to develop the ground breaking Grid Stability System (GSS) for implementation in remote communities located in the Northern Territories.

In Australia’s far north, residential communities, commercial activities, and civil infrastructure works operate in such isolation that they are not able to be connected to the main electricity grids. Instead, they are powered by diesel generator plants that must receive regular refuels by land. This method is costly and also unreliable during the rainy season when heavy rainfall can cut off access for up to two months.

The Northern Territory Government selected three remote communities to receive grant monies to assist in the development and deployment of renewable power generation to alleviate the costliness and associated logistical problems. Solar power generation was identified as the ideal source of renewable power to cover the daily power consumption of these communities. This was not to say that diesel power could be phased out completely, and herein lies the real challenge. Integrating the solar generated power into the local grid is a process fraught with difficulty due to the variations in the output of the solar array. The diesel engines require several minutes to adjust to significant changes in power, changes which are commonplace with photo-voltaic power generation. This is where the marvel of the Grid Stability System comes in, by managing the fluctuations to prevent spikes in voltage and frequency, or even station outages due to protection devices tripping.

Anthony Csillag said, “This application is unique in Australia and potentially the world. MPower has invested significant sums in the research and development of these energy efficiency projects. The concept and technology are not new or unknown and indeed there are trial sites operating utilising various technologies. Our approach as systems integrators was to integrate proven technology into a unique application to minimise risk. The application of this technology is not limited to remote area diesel power stations but compensation for wind farm power variability and Single Wire Earth Return (SWER) applications with power fluctuations.”

These frontier projects are not the whole MPower story. MPower has a huge range of high end commercial products that are filling the voids in Australia’s mainstream electricity needs: batteries and chargers, portable and black start generators, emergency lighting, UPS systems, power electronics and solar panels. MPower is a rare breed of supplier that actually succeeds in hitting the mark with quality and service. General Manager of Sales & Marketing, Brian O’Malley had this to say: “With the natural disasters that we have seen in Australia in recent times we have seen a flow back to quality products rather than cheaper stuff that hasn’t worked for people in an emergency. We can provide national support across Australia and New Zealand to quality products and this sets us apart from competitors. We are in a strong position.”

So it’s fair to say that MPower is a complete power broker. With a strong presence in the residential, commercial and industrial power generation markets, MPower’s eyes are firmly fixed on staying ahead of the curve. Considering the dynamic brain trust that is guiding MPower’s path, the company will surely continue to serve as a leader and pioneer in its industry.

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February 27, 2020, 2:33 AM AEDT

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