Wärtsilä has cooperation agreements with a number of universities, but its long-standing partnership with LUT University (Lappeenranta-Lahti University of Technology LUT) has been especially close in recent years, resulting in a number of successful projects.
A tie-up between LUT University, one of Finland’s leading universities, and Wärtsilä has set a new standard for collaboration between academia and business. Together, the partners are driving forward the use of data in long-term strategic planning and thinking about how to meet the challenges of a 100% renewable energy future.
“LUT University is one of the major universities in Finland. They are one of the leading players in modelling and understanding what 100% renewable energy systems will look like,” says Saara Kujala, General Manager for Business Development at Wärtsilä Energy Business.
Through the partnership, Wärtsilä receives access to academic expertise and insight and the university gains knowledge into industry transformation. The mutually beneficial arrangement could be a model for businesses and universities across the world.
A framework agreement between Wärtsilä and LUT University was signed in 2007, resulting in regular knowledge exchange, but the cooperation deepened substantially after a 2019 deal. The idea for embarking on a new phase of collaboration came from Wärtsilä.
In the middle of 2018, Wärtsilä was looking seriously at its long-term strategy and realised the future was not just renewables, but 100% renewables, according to Kujala.
“We were thinking about the long term, how we see the world, and our future vision,” says Kujala. In the process, the company realised that renewable sources would form the core of future energy production. “There are more renewables coming into power systems everywhere,” Kujala notes.
In a bid to proactively adapt to this new reality, Wärtsilä turned to LUT University, and the two began discussing a more comprehensive collaboration. An agreement was signed in March 2019. Since then, staff on Wärtsilä’s business development and strategy teams have been in regular contact with half a dozen experts at the university.
Wärtsilä has several collaborations with other universities on R&D topics, but the set-up with LUT is different. “It’s unique in scope and context,” says Kujala.
Petteri Laaksonen, Research Director of Energy Systems at LUT University, says the collaboration is broad in its range. “We are working on multiple levels varying from long-term scope to today’s business-related technical issues,” he says.
LUT University and Wärtsilä have focused a wide range of issues, including strategic system modelling for countries across the globe looking at demand response, peak power and sector coupling in the electricity market. The partners have also examined the various aspects of Power-to-X, vessel power system hybridization, and waste heat recovery systems.
One of the most game-changing aspects of the partnership has been the collaborative work on system modelling and data. Since 2014, experts from the university have been collecting data on power systems in 145 countries and regions, and this data has been at the heart of the joint work. “The database we licenced is a unique source about global energy systems,” says Laaksonen. With LUT University’s assistance, Wärtsilä has been able to tailor this information to create its own database.
Wärtsilä has used the university’s expertise to create modelling systems for India and many Africa countries. And in May 2020, Wärtsilä launched the Atlas of 100% Renewable Energy, an interactive map that uses some of the data to explore what an optimal 100% renewable future could look like. The resource is a “really good way of spreading know-how, knowledge and interest,” according to Kujala.
As part of the partnership, LUT University receives funding from Wärtsilä, but the cooperation is not just about the money. “For a technology university, it’s of the utmost importance to have close contact with leading global industry companies. Wärtsilä is such a company. We transfer information both ways,” says Laaksonen, who adds that the collaboration “provides our university with special insight into industry transformation.”
LUT University benefits from Wärtsilä’s commitment to achieving a renewable energy future, according to Kujala. “It’s useful for their research to cooperate with a big industry player that’s willing to walk the talk,” she says.
Laaksonen says that one of the highlights of the partnership has been a project with Nebraska Public Power District (NPPD), the largest electricity utility in the U.S. state of Nebraska.
The program, which is developing a business case for the use of alternative fuels, is just one of many collaborative projects taking place. And there are more to come: the partners have just signed an extension that extends the collaboration until March 2021.
A major focus of upcoming work will be examining energy sector coupling — the increased integration of different energy carriers for appliances, heating and industry. “Our societies’ energy needs are being more and more coupled,” explains Kujala.
As with the other areas where LUT University and Wärtsilä have worked together, using the university’s expertise will benefit the university and give Wärtsilä a competitive edge. “LUT University has the latest know-how on what’s going to happen around the world so we can be frontrunners,” says Kujala.