Realizing the full potential of e-houses

With low oil prices driving the need to cut capital and operating costs, reduce risks and accelerate project execution, the e-house market is undergoing a resurgence from companies seeking faster returns.
E-houses are well-established ways of bringing the electrical distribution needs for offshore facilities to site in pre-fabricated, self-contained metal enclosures. Other descriptions for the concept include local equipment rooms, modularized electrical substations or modular solutions.

Optimizing limited space
E-houses made their breakthrough some 10 years ago when they were the favored solution for floating production units (FPUs).

Originally, fixed platforms were designed and constructed with all instrumentation, control and electrical equipment constructed within the fabric of the platform. FPUs, on the other hand, needed to optimize very limited space. Building everything within a self-contained metal box proved to be highly cost-effective here.

In several FPU projects, ABB successfully de­livered topside e-house solutions, pre-installed with all electrical systems (process power man­agement system; high, medium and low voltage switchgear; motor control centers; and trans­formers); integrated control and safety systems (process control system, process shutdown sys­tem, emergency shutdown system, fire and gas system), and telecommunication systems. In addition, ven­dor-supplied third-party packages were also in­stalled and integrated by ABB within the module before shipment to yard.

Expanding demand and changing designs challenging traditional approaches
Much smaller versions of these 1,000 tonne FPU structures, have proven suitable for onshore and offshore, upstream, midstream and downstream situations. Interest is emerging from liquefied natural gas (LNG) receiving terminals’ regasification units, booster stations and smaller modular solutions for power generators and non-conventional power such as wind and solar farms.

Among onshore installation challenges is the need to ensure e-houses are compact enough to allow shipping to remote locations, yet large enough to power the site and applications.

It is this expanding use of the e-house which is changing the way in which they are designed and built. Traditionally, companies purchase switchgear, drives, periphery distribution equipment and automation systems from multiple electrical equipment suppliers and obtain the e-house from a fabricator. Integrating these is then done by the client or third-party system integrator.

As many perceive e-houses as simply metal boxes, steel fabricators are sometimes tasked with the job of building them. However, it’s what goes inside that ultimately matters. Using in-house staff and/or system integrators and a mix of equipment suppliers can be recipe for problems.

Sole integration
The trend now is towards delivering an integrated, installed and pre-commissioned electrical and automation system together with the complete e-house. All switchgear, motor control centers, instrumentation, telecommunications, heating, ventilation and air conditioning systems are neatly integrated into one self-contained unit. The unit is designed, built and tested away from the customer’s site and can be shipped in as late, or as early, as required.

As an OEM, ABB has the market’s best and most diverse technology mix since no other major supplier offers electrical, control, instrumentation AND telecommunications. It also has two other critical ingredients. First, a front-end engineering and design team gifted in bringing all the technology together within a modular space. Second, a global footprint of engineers that can install, commission, operate and maintain the e-house throughout its entire life cycle.

Other benefits of this approach are many and include:

    · Risk mitigation: ABB coordinates the design and interface of the entire package providing single-source accountability
    · Reduced client resources: Since ABB takes responsibility for the scope of works, less client manpower is needed to engineer and manage the project
    · Predictable delivery and cost: Most of the works are performed offsite, insulating clients from local labor shortages, environmental and industrial relations factors
    · Reduced site resources: Comprehensive factory acceptance testing (FAT) can be performed before delivery, reducing site commissioning requirements
    · Simplified commercial agreement: One contract to oversee
    · Single project manager: Clear point of contact to execute the whole project

Enter digitalization
However, there is another transformation taking place that will make the e-house even more attractive going forward: digitalization. Through the ABB AbilityTM platform, it is now not only possible to link separate e-houses worldwide, but also to gather data and conduct detailed, performance-enhancing analytics. Self-sustaining e-houses that are remotely tracked, monitored and analyzed enhances profitability and productivity while mitigating skill shortages.

Furthermore, electrical installations and control systems have traditionally been designed as fit-for-purpose and standalone, with little integration or communication with other equipment or applications. The growth in smart devices and platforms which can interact, however, provides scope for better predictive maintenance as well as production improvement. Data can now more easily be aggregated and turned into insightful information which strengthens the bottom line.