Twentyfour7. was In Conversation with Sushil Purohit, the new head of Wärtsilä Energy, to find out what would be key to transition to renewables.
You’ve taken the helm of Wärtsilä’s Energy Business at a challenging time. What do you consider your most important priorities as you step into this new role?
At this point in time, when we are coping with the global pandemic and the looming economic crisis, it is really important for us to bring the focus back to our employees. We are operating globally in various locations, and right now countries are at different stages of the pandemic, so our top priority is taking care of our employees’ physical and mental wellbeing.
Our customers’ business is obviously impacted, but we have a very robust strategy that is valid during the pandemic and in the future: We will continue leading the way towards a 100% renewable energy future. We see that the energy transition gives us an enormous opportunity, and with our technology in flexible gas engine-based power plants and energy storage, we see a great potential for growth. We need to continue working closely with our customers every step of the way and to keep learning every day.
What do you see as the most effective steps we can take right now to transition towards a 100% renewable future?
We have to talk about the transition. Right now, we have maybe maximum 20% renewable capacity in the power system. We can’t just wish that tomorrow we wake up to a 100% renewable power system. It’s a transition, and right now we need to prepare. We have the technology. We need to stop investing in inflexible power capacity and start investing in flexible generation, while continuing to invest in renewables.
We have created the Atlas of 100% Renewable Energy, which shows the path to a 100% renewable future for 145 countries. This demonstrates how the transition can be done. All kinds of technology including gas engine technology and energy storage will play a part in an optimised path towards a 100% renewable energy future.
What kind of technologies have the most potential to transform the energy sector in the near term?
We believe both energy storage and gas engine-based flexible generation will play key roles for transforming the power systems towards a 100 % renewable future. While energy storage solutions will provide balancing and storage, flexible generation based on gas engine technology can ramp up and ramp down fast to accommodate the variation in renewable generation. Wärtsilä happens to be a leader in both of these technologies, which is why we think we have the opportunity to be the leading balancing solution provider moving forward. We are also looking at future fuels like green hydrogen and Power-to-X which are going to be crucial in achieving 100% renewable energy based power systems in the future.
You’ve already had a long career with the company. What skills and experience do you bring to the role?
I have been with the company for 22 years, and during that time I have seen the market and how it has changed and how Wärtsilä as a company together with my extremely talented colleagues has adapted and taken a lead in every stage to grow in this market. Working in various geographies, I have also developed a global view of the energy market. I have been involved in business in the Middle East and Asia, I’ve worked in Africa, and to some extent Europe, and for the last eight months in the Americas.
I also understand how Wärtsilä has looked at the path to 100% renewable energy not only from an academic point of view, but also how it can be implemented on the ground. It’s always interesting to set a vision and create a strategy, but you need a lot of work to make sure that the strategy is implemented. I spend a lot of time talking to our people, having a dialogue about current issues. This is very important for me. We are doing this together, as a global team. It is also the best way for me to learn.
Given that you’ve worked in so many different markets, where geographically do you see the most growth in the renewable sector in the near-term?
All countries have their own priorities, but we see a general trend towards increasing the share of renewables in their power system. Asia is pushing hard on renewables; China is installing renewable capacity; India has a very ambitious plan. We are seeing some big investments in the Middle East. Countries in that region are now taking advantage of having pretty good sunshine, and they might be able to export renewable energy in the future. Countries in Africa are leapfrogging to a more sustainable power system with solar power. The United States is a must-win for us regarding storage – there is huge potential there.
But what is important here is to plan. We have also seen cases where a lot of renewables come to the power system and then there is curtailment of capacity. I think it’s important that you invest actively in flexible capacity so you can use all the power that you generate from wind and solar sources. So, my message is: investing in renewables as stand-alone resources is not the right way to go. People need to take a holistic view of decarbonising their power systems and create that path toward making it happen.
Incorporating renewables is no longer just a discussion about sustainability. It makes a tremendous amount of economic sense. I believe when people see that using renewables sources really benefits their wallet, they will be happy to use them. Using renewables doesn’t mean using less energy. Using renewables means using the right type of energy at the right cost.
Wärtsilä is a 186-year-old company. Where do you think legacy companies fit in this still-young renewables market?
Already back in the mid-2000s we started to see the role renewables could play and prepared our solutions towards that. We have been talking about the use of gas engine-based power plants to incorporate renewables for the past 15 years, and now they are an important element in providing flexibility to integrate renewables. I think a company like ours that has seen different power systems, has been working in various markets for a long time, and has been adapting to various situation brings a lot of experience. And in a very uncertain situation, we can bring clarity.
We are problem-solvers at heart. There’s a lot of noise out there, and for customers, it’s very easy to get confused and not take action because they don’t know what will happen in 5-10 years’ time. It’s important for a company like ours to go to our customers with fact-based positions. That’s where things like the Energy Transition Lab or the Atlas of 100% Renewable Energy come in.
Sustainability is going to continue to be an important part of the conversation in the energy sector. How can Wärtsilä play a leadership role in driving this discussion forward?
We have been promoting a vision towards a 100% renewable future for quite some time now and we have created a pretty good space for ourselves in the conversation for a sustainable world. The message we would like to give here is that we need to think about the path. It’s not something you can just wish into being. It’s a transition. We are doing a lot with our partners to create fact-based proposals that utilities and our customers can benefit from and use in their own planning.
At the same time, at different places, we are directly engaging with stakeholders, whether that’s utilities or regulators, to tell them our view and help them bring clarity to their own planning processes. We don’t want to make them rush in one direction, but give them an opportunity to make the right decisions, and that is what we will continue to do. Of course, we are engaging with various others in the media and other similar platforms, but clearly our way to engage is to bring the facts to the table for the decision makers to get to the right decisions.