A Houston company has completed construction of a pair of power-generation barges that, when installed later this year in Venezuela, will become the world’s largest floating power-generation facility.

Floating powerplants will move from Signal International Shipyard in Orange, Texas, to Venezuela in September.
Photo: Courtesy Walker Marine Inc.
Floating powerplants will move from Signal International Shipyard in Orange, Texas, to Venezuela in September.

Waller Marine Inc. completed work on the two $125-million vessels, Margarita I and Josefa Rufina I, earlier this month at the Signal International Shipyard in Orange, Texas.

Each barge boasts a single GE 7FA turbine generator and is capable of producing 171-MW. When installed in a prepared basin at Tacoa, Venezuela, near the country’s capital, the 342-MW combined generation capacity of the barges will outstrip a 220-MW floating unit the firm built in 2001 for India.

The GE turbines function on both natural gas and diesel. According to Venezuelan officials, for the first years of their expected 40-year lifespan, the units will run on diesel fuel and then switch to natural gas as connection facilities are completed, said Anthony Waller, the company’s marketing director.

The facility includes a floating fuel-storage barge with a capacity of 360,000 barrels as well as an 800-gallon-per-minute reverse-osmosis plant, which will provide demineralized water for the powerplant. Waller officials say they have begun work on the project’s second phase, which will include a steam-cycle generator capable of increasing the floating facility’s output to 600 MW.

Waller Marine has been constructing the floating power facilities since the late 1980s. The company has built a total of eight of the vessels—including a 115-MW barge for Ecuador— and demand has increased noticeably in recent years, Waller said.

“We can control the cost and schedule to build the plants while avoiding many of the complications of on-site construction,” he said.

Climate change has created a market in South America for the floating powerplants. A severe drought across the northern portion of the continent has led to plummeting reservoir levels, which has created severe problems for Venezuela and other countries that depend on hydropower to meet electricity demand. The country’s 10,200-MW Guri Dam provides almost three-fourths of the country’s power.

Floating powerplants have been gaining in popularity because of their portability and relatively low cost. The most ambitious effort has been by Russia’s state nuclear corporation Rosatom, which launched the first of a planned seven floating nuclear powerplants in July.

The Akademik Lomonosov, a $220-million vessel constructed over a two-year period at the Baltic Shipyard in St. Petersburg, uses two modified KLT-40 naval propulsion reactors capable of producing 70 MW of power. The plants are planned for service along the Russian Arctic coast.