Chile trailblazes path to a 100% renewable energy system

Chile trailblazes path to a 100% renewable energy system

A new Wärtsilä white paper reveals how Chile can be a frontrunner in decarbonisation.

About 40% of Chile’s electricity currently comes from coal power plants. Yet it is possible to wean Chile from coal in eight short years and to be completely free from fossil fuels by 2050. This conclusion comes from Chile: Leading the world to a 100% zero carbon power system, a new white paper from Wärtsilä.

The study used advanced Plexos modelling to examine a variety of scenarios for Chile to affordably transition to a reliable and sustainable energy system. To make the best use of renewable energy sources Chile needs to plan how to add flexibility.

“Some countries tried to decarbonise as quickly as possible by adding more and more renewables to the existing grid. There was no plan to adapt the power system to fully utilise the renewables, so they were left with an inflexible power system, renewable curtailment and higher electricity prices,” says the report’s main author, Alejandro McDonough, Business Development Manager, Region South, Americas, at Wärtsilä Energy.

Flexibility from storage and engines

The challenge with renewables is that they produce power according to variable conditions. An energy system can be created to deal with these changing conditions – and even thrive on them – but that takes planning.

“Chile’s energy system is completely in private hands. The advances we have made are largely due to clever government regulations and the power of the free market,” says McDonough. “Now we need new regulations to support the addition of flexibility to the system.”

The study determines that to retire coal and diesel by 2030 Chile needs to add approximately 15 GW of solar, 5 GW of wind, 7 GW of batteries and 2-3 GW of grid balancing engine capacity. This will allow them to achieve their goal in the most efficient and economical fashion. Flexibility can come from two main sources: energy storage and grid balancing engines.

Chilean power system path to 100-expansion 2021-2050

Chilean power system path to 100-expansion 2021-2050

“The problem with combined cycle gas turbines is that they take one or two hours to start and a long time to stop. They are not flexible,” McDonough says. “However, an engine can go from 0 to 100% capacity in five minutes and stop in one minute. The flexibility provided from engines allows us to get maximum participation from renewables.”

100% renewable by 2050

To make the leap from 90% renewable in 2030 to 100% renewable in 2050 Chile needs to take advantage of long-term energy storage. Energy can be stored for a short period of time with batteries. They are excellent at providing energy over a few hours, but can’t economically store power for months. Long-term energy storage instead will come from sustainable fuels.

“We can produce green hydrogen, methanol or ammonia from excess renewable energy in the Power-to-X process,” McDonough says. “These clean gases can then be stored for a long time before they are used in the existing engines.”

Now we need new regulations to support the addition of flexibility to the system.

Alejandro McDonough

The white paper shows that by 2050 Chile can demonstrate to the world an optimal clean power system. It will consist of renewables, short-term energy storage and long-term energy storage.

“It is very feasible for Chile to decarbonise with existing technology,” says McDonough. “But we need to start now.”

If you want to see Chile’s route to decarbonise and consider how it could apply to other countries, you can read the full report here

Written by
David J. Cord