Wanted: Greener Future

With an eye on renewables, Wärtsilä Energy Transition Lab helps to optimise entire energy systems in EU countries and the UK.

Our current energy system is being transformed. Driven by the emergence of renewables and new technological innovations, the new global energy system will require more power and more finesse while balancing supply and demand. According to Wärtsilä, flexibility is the key to unlocking higher levels of renewables in the next 10 years – thus enabling a pathway to a net-zero energy system.

With this goal in mind, Wärtsilä developed Wärtsilä Energy Transition Lab (WETL) – an industry-first – open-data test environment for the European energy industry. Björn Ullbro, Vice President, Africa & Europe, for Wärtsilä Energy, says that the push and inspiration to create the Energy Transition Lab actually came from Covid-19.

“We needed to understand the impact of Covid-19, since manufacturing levels dropped considerably at the time in Europe – bringing energy demand down in a way we had never seen before.”

With a decrease of about 10% in energy demand, and renewable generation continuing at pre-pandemic levels, the door was opened for renewables to become, essentially, baseload generation: wind and solar power suddenly became the biggest energy sources amidst the pandemic.

Biggest drop in 70 years

While a 10% reduction in energy demand may not seem that much, this actually marked the biggest relative drop in the demand of energy since the Second World War.  

“This was really jaw-dropping news. Suddenly we could get a glimpse into the future of green energy, in a sense,” Ullbro looks back at the events of spring 2020.  

Previously, there had been industry estimates that renewable energy sources could cover, at best, 70-80% of the energy demand in Europe – since the systems weren’t designed with the renewables in mind.

“It turned out that the system does work. For example, in Germany renewables covered well above 70% of the demand with definite potential to go all the way to 100%.”

Go for hundred!

With this eye-opening experience, it is clear that pursuing 100% renewable energy systems is the winning strategy in the fight against climate change.

This means, in essence, three things: supporting faster renewable energy deployment to achieve 80% renewable generation by 2030; increasing investment in flexibility to enable renewable energy and deliver a cost-optimal transition for consumers; and future-proofing today’s decisions to invest in future technologies and enable 100% renewable energy before 2050.

“Combining renewables with advanced energy storage solutions and flexible thermal capacity is the formula for the future. Engines and storage will provide the needed flexibility to balance renewables and secure reliability,” says Ullbro.   

Do the math

Wärtsilä Energy Transition Lab has a key role in making the must-needed transition take place. Using the tool, you can model how systems could operate in the future with higher renewables and pinpoint potential problem areas – as well as highlight where to focus policy and investment in the energy market. As the system keeps crunching those numbers, new, greener horizons will appear, believes Ullbro.

“Wärtsilä wants to lead and help accelerate the energy transition and provides tools such as WETL to make it happen.”

Wärtsilä Energy Transition Lab tool is updated weekly, providing detailed data on electricity generation, demand and pricing for European Union countries and the UK as well as bringing in data from ENTSO-E, the European Network of Transmission System Operators for Electricity.

“With these transparent data sets, you can understand energy systems, both technically and commercially, and learn how to optimise both your current operations, and how to build out new capacity in the best way” Ullbro explains.

How fast can you go?

To demonstrate the “firepower” of WETL, Wärtsilä composed a report about how the United Kingdom could optimise its transition to a renewable powered economy. The November 2020 report, Optimising the UK’s shift to a renewable-powered economy, shows what is possible to achieve by 2030, based on current policy ambitions, technical constraints and market structures that govern the UK energy system today.

“We discovered that the UK can, indeed, go further and faster,” says Ullbro.

According to the report, investing in flexible energy technologies, such as energy storage and advanced flexible gas, can rapidly increase the share of renewable generation in the UK by 2030 – and at a lower overall cost to consumers.

Flex the future

The report models the impact of current UK ambitions for renewable energy and shows that adding 7GW flexibility to the UK power system by 2030 can deliver a higher share of renewable generation (62%) than could be possible by adding wind and solar without flexibility.

This flexible scenario could power more than 710,000 more households with renewable energy, cut 2 million tonnes of CO2 emissions and cost the UK GBP 270 million less every year by 2030.

Aiming high

It could also save the UK economy GPB 660 million a year when compared with installing another new nuclear plant alongside renewable generation. This is due to the high upfront costs and substantial market interventions required for more nuclear.

Wärtsilä’s analysis is based on the current energy system and rather conservative assumptions about the future. With the emergence of electrification, one should, however, aim high:

 “The UK can drive towards 80% renewable generation already by 2030,” encourages Ullbro. 

Written by
Sami Anteroinen