Articles & Case Studies

Drinking water kept at safe levels on remote Isle of Lewis

Posted: Thursday 24th October 2013

Scottish Water turned to Fuel Cell Systems for advice on an alternative source of portable power to ensure the islanders of Lewis were provided with a constant supply of drinking water.

The remote Isle of Lewis is located in the northern part of Lewis and Harris, the largest island of the Outer Hebrides of Scotland. Ensuring the population of around 18,500 is supplied with a reliable source of fresh drinking water is one of the challenges faced by Scottish Water.

Telemetry equipment provides accurate data for recording the levels of drinking water contained in 50m3 storage tanks located on the side of mountains at Meavaig and Marivaig. Extreme weather conditions have prevented alternative sources of renewable energy, such as solar PV and wind turbines, from being used successfully in order to provide power for this vital monitoring equipment.

The requirement

Scottish Water required a reliable source of power to ensure its telemetry equipment remained fully functional at all times. Extremely high winds had displaced solar PV panels and caused wind turbines to burn out or seize up due to excessive wind speeds. The remote location of each water storage tank meant that connecting to the National Grid for electrical power was not financially viable.

Diesel generators were unsuitable due to the noise they produce and also the logistical problems and costs involved in sending people to the remote sites to refuel them.

With the help of renewable energy integrators ID Systems UK, Scottish Water turned to fuel cell specialists – Fuel Cell Systems.

The solution

Fuel Cell Systems provided ID Systems UK with six EFOY Pro 600 fuel cells, which essentially act as a self-contained battery charger for a single 12-volt battery used to power the telemetry equipment. Deployed by Scottish Water, the fuel cells are housed in weather-proof kiosks. Methanol fuel, contained in 28-litre canisters, power the fuel cells, which are used to monitor the batteries’ voltage. When a battery is discharged below 11.5 volts, the fuel cells automatically start up and re-charge it to its optimum floating voltage of 12.5 volts. This ensures the batteries are always kept at full capacity.

The benefits

Each fuel cell is supplied with its own self-contained methanol fuel supply. This allows the system to be left for well over 15 months before an engineer is required to visit the site to refuel the units, making it a cost-effective solution.

Scottish Water is provided with 24-hour, real-time data from each of its remote telemetry outstations. A shortage of drinking water would have a dramatic impact on the local community. A sudden drop in water levels could be a sign of a damaged tank or burst outlet pipe. If such an event occurred then engineers would be alerted in order to fix the problem and prevent the tanks from running dry.

Scottish Water doesn’t need to worry about power failure experienced by the National Grid, or intermittent power from renewable energy sources. EFOY Pro 600 fuel cells are guaranteed to offer reliable power whatever the weather.

Unlike generators, fuel cells give off very little noise when operating. The only noise produced is a gentle hum. This means the systems are less likely to affect the surrounding environment or disturb the rich abundance of wildlife on the island.

The client’s perspective

Jason Rowe, ID Systems UK Telemetry Delivery Manager said: “The biggest challenge we had was supplying a low-maintenance source of reliable power to ensure the telemetry equipment remained operational at all times. Access to the water tanks is difficult due to their remote location. We wanted to minimise the number of site visits necessary to keep the equipment working and the batteries charged.

“Other sources of renewable energy such as solar and wind had proved unreliable due to damage caused by the extreme weather conditions on the island. The technical team at Fuel Cell Systems was more than helpful. It provided us with comprehensive power consumption calculations, which determined the fuel cell requirements necessary for this project. This enabled us to advise Scottish Water that methanol fuel cells would provide a cost-effective, reliable and environmentally friendly solution.

We expect to deliver a further eight fuel cells for remote telemetry monitoring applications for Scottish Water.”

Ivor Martin, Scottish Water Capital Liaison Engineer said: “It is important for Scottish Water to have a reliable telemetry system which can continuously monitor tank levels and flows at our service reservoirs in order that we can address potential problems quickly before they affect our customers. The high costs of installing mains power to remote sites and the unreliability of small wind power and solar cells led us to approach ID Systems for a solution. They came up with the idea of using an EFOY fuel cell to power our telemetry and instrumentation via a 12 volt battery. We initially installed fuel cells at two of our remote sites at Meavaig and Marivaig service reservoirs on the Isle of Lewis. Since their installation, 15 months ago, they have been very reliable and we’ve had no issues with power supplies at these sites. We have not even had to change the methanol fuel cartridges. The EFOYs have proved so effective that we are now in the process of installing an additional four units at remote sites on the island.”

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