Internal combustion engines (ICEs) are a promising technology for supporting wind and solar energy, a new report by the International Energy Agency (IEA) finds. Comparing different sources of flexibility for power systems, IEA says gas-fired ICE power plants are ”very mature technology” and ”cost-competitive to OCGTs” (Open Cycle Gas Turbines). Commenting on the alternative technologies, IEA notes that “growth in ICE plants actually exceeds that of turbine-based technologies”. The findings were published in IEA’s Energy Technology Perspectives 2014.
According to IEA, the key asset of engine-based generation is fast starting and ramping capability. Quick reaction time is key to follow the output of wind and solar as closely as possible.
International Energy Agency also mentions high efficiency at part-load. The part-loading efficiency penalty at 30 per cent load is zero for combustion engines and about 32 per cent for turbine-based plants. Furthermore, one of the advantages is fuel compatibility. Combustion engines provide additional fuel security, because they can operate on any liquid or gaseous fuel, including biofuels.
Wärtsilä’s power plants have a long track record of supporting renewables.
”There are other technologies out there but what led us to the decision to pick the Wärtsilä’s was that they start very quickly and are efficient units,” says Mark W. Schwirtz, President of the consumer-owned utility Golden Spread Electric Cooperative in Texas, USA. This 170 MW unit is used to wind-balancing and shaving peaks in electricity demand. The capability of starting in 30 seconds and ramping to full power in just 5 minutes is needed for both tasks.
The system-level value of agile generation is demonstrated in a recent white paper by Wärtsilä and Energy Exemplar. Replacing 5.6 GW of planned turbine capacity with combustion engine plants in California would result in 4–6 per cent savings in electricity bills and annual reductions of 450 000 metric tons of carbon emissions. Savings add up from avoiding inefficient part-loading of gas turbine plants.
Wärtsilä Power Plants in brief
Wärtsilä Power Plants is a leading global supplier of flexible baseload power plants of up to 600 MW operating on various gaseous and liquid fuels. Our portfolio includes unique solutions for peaking, reserve and load-following power generation, as well as for balancing intermittent power production. Wärtsilä Power Plants also provides LNG terminals and distribution systems. As of 2014, Wärtsilä has 56 GW of installed power plant capacity in 169 countries around the world.
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Wärtsilä in brief
Wärtsilä is a global leader in complete lifecycle power solutions for the marine and energy markets. By emphasising technological innovation and total efficiency, Wärtsilä maximizes the environmental and economic performance of the vessels and power plants of its customers.
In 2013, Wärtsilä's net sales totalled EUR 4.7 billion with approximately 18,700 employees. The company has operations in more than 200 locations in nearly 70 countries around the world. Wärtsilä is listed on the NASDAQ OMX Helsinki, Finland.