Jan Andersson, Market Development Manager for Wärtsilä Energy, has always believed in renewable energies and feels lucky to be witnessing their rapid development all around Europe. In this story, Andersson provides us with an intriguing viewpoint from the frontlines while discussing the future of the global energy system – what happens next in the energy industry?
“I joined the sales support team at Wärtsilä Energy in 2008 and started working on thermodynamic calculations and simulations of how to best recover waste heat from power plants. The idea was to turn that waste heat into usable heat for district heating purposes, so that no energy was wasted. I supported sales with calculations on how waste could be recovered. It turned out that I joined the ranks just in time to witness a unique development taking place in the energy industry.
The following years, while I and my colleagues kept working on heat recovery for our engine plants, we realised that something was changing. There was a slow, but steady development from oil to gas with regards to our engines. And it was not just our engines that were experiencing a shift: centralised coal, oil, and gas plants were becoming less and less popular.
The plants were becoming too slow, too inflexible, too environmentally difficult: it took several hours, sometimes even days, to start or shut them down, while their emissions were quite high, sometimes even critically high. They were not suitable for a world that was getting faster – and also becoming increasingly aware of the negative environmental impact of these traditional power plants.”
“We soon realised that instead of those traditional power plants, there was something new that was starting to replace them: renewable energy sources were becoming more widely accepted. They were just a much better fit for what was needed: they were environmentally sound, and cost-efficient. We analysed their impact on the energy market and were soon convinced that they could be the future of our whole energy system.
At the same time, quite a few countries were realising that they needed more renewable energy: For instance, Germany worked on the ‘Klimaschutzprogramm 2030’, which outlined how the Federal Republic wanted to reach its climate goals – key among them, a reduction of carbon dioxide emissions by 55%.
Klimaschutzprogramm stated, yet again, the German government’s intent to rely heavily on renewable energy. Other countries are following suit and the European Union has worked out the so-called Green Deal in 2020, which promises to invest one billion euros by 2030 to make Europe the first climate-neutral continent worldwide. Ursula von der Leyen, President of the European Commission, has even characterised the Green Deal as Europe’s “man-on-the-moon moment”.
Renewable energy, from different sources, is, indeed, crucial for preventing further climate change. This is what we at Wärtsilä believe in as well and focus on making renewable energy systems more flexible, more efficient and more reliable.”
“The current problem with energy from renewable sources is that it depends on circumstances that are out of our hands. After all, the sun doesn’t always shine, nor the wind blow. The solution? - We need sector coupling and energy storage systems – and this is what we are currently working on.
Sector coupling could transform excess electricity into heat, and it could then be used for other purposes than originally intended; it does not need to go to waste. It can also be transformed into gas or liquids – thanks to the Power-to-X technologies – and can be stored easily and cost-efficiently for use at a later point, i.e. when there is not enough energy.
All of this leads to a genuinely optimised energy system – with much more flexibility. Only when this flexibility is truly present, can the renewable energy be a reliable source. If one can switch between several sources of energy, not relying on one only, there is much more grid reliability and the dangers of technical failures such as blackouts are minimised. The technology to reach that goal already exists – and we are working very hard to not only use it, but to develop it further.”
“Fortunately, our engines can be started quickly, thereby providing flexibility – and they can be used whenever there is not enough renewable energy available. We have been working constantly on making them even faster and more flexible, as this is what makes all the difference. A good example of how we accomplish that is the new combined heat and power plant (CHP) in Bremen.
Having worked as Market Development Manager in Germany, I know the origins of this plant – that is currently being built – quite well. The plant will include the latest Wärtsilä technology and run on nine Wärtsilä 31SG gas engine generating sets.
Due to their cutting-edge technology, those engines run on different gaseous fuels, depending on what is most easily and most cost-effectively available. And while the new Bremen CHP power plant will be mostly fueled by natural gas, it still offers the possibility to combust natural gas and switch to hydrogen blends – with up to 25% of hydrogen when need arises, making it very flexible.
Additionally, the Wärtsilä 31SG engines have the highest fuel efficiency that is currently available on the market. This saves a great amount of resources and makes the new Bremen CHP power plant not only very cost-efficient, but also environmentally sustainable: CO2 emissions can be cut down around 550,000 tonnes annually, which is a reduction of 70%.
The Bremen CHP power plant will be used for flexible baseload, district heating and heat storage during the heating period (October to April) and for heat storage and flexible peak load in the summer months. The plant’s flexibility gives the operator an economic advantage and more freedom of action on the energy market.”
“The Bremen CHP plant is set for delivery in mid-2022 and it will have a total output of 105 MW electricity and of 93 MW district heating. It will be the third CHP power plant producing around 100 MW that is delivered to Germany by Wärtsilä – there is another one in Dresden-Reick and one in Mainz as well.
All three power plants – Bremen, Dresden and Mainz – demonstrate quite well what our current technology is capable of. Due to this new technology, our energy system can become more flexible, more cost-effective, more efficient in general and also much more environmentally sound.
Therefore, this trio of power plants provides an insight into how we can manage the transition to a more sustainable energy system of the future. They are proof that it can be done – now it just needs to be transferred to a larger scale.”