The POWER Interview: The Importance of AI and Machine Learning

At-a-Glance:

Artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) are becoming synonymous with the operation of power generation facilities. The increased digitization of power plants, from equipment to software, involves both thermal generation and renewable energy installations. To learn more, read “The POWER Interview: The Importance of AI and Machine Learning.”

Key Takeaways:

  • AI and ML will be key elements for the design of future energy systems, supporting the growth of smart grids and improving the efficiency of power generation, along with the interaction among electricity customers and utilities.
  • Centralized power systems enable equal access to clean power at the lowest cost, reducing economic inequality. Regardless of whether the path forward is more or less centralized, AI brings value to all parties.
  • “AI is very important to smart grids,” Wärtsilä General Manager of Data Science, Energy Storage & Optimization, Luke Witmer said. “AI is extremely important to the integration of smart charging of electric vehicles, and leveraging those mobile batteries for grid services when they are plugged into the grid.”
  • The more AI is used in the dispatch of power plants, the more it will be needed in the design and creation process for new power plants or aggregations of power generation equipment.

Path to 100% Perspective:

Wärtsilä uses AI and equipment expertise to enhance the safety, reliability, and efficiency of power equipment and systems. AI and machine learning will play increasingly important roles in future power generation, especially as more communities and organizations come to rely on smart grids and renewable fuels for their electricity needs.

 

Photo by Michael Dziedzic on Unsplash

Without Carbon Capture And Storage, The World Can’t Meet Its Climate Target

At-a-Glance:

When the global community was focused on the U.S. presidential election last fall, a huge story was developing in Norway: Its parliament was preparing to finance “the greatest” carbon capture project in the world that would cut emissions and jumpstart the technology. It would first be implemented at a cement factory. It is the type of thinking that Prince Charles of Wales said is critical if the international community is to meet its obligations under the Paris climate agreement and to keep temperatures in check. To learn more, read “Without Carbon Capture And Storage, The World Can’t Meet Its Climate Target.” Reading this article may require a subscription. 

Key Takeaways:

  • Prince Charles specifically endorsed Net Power, which is working with Toshiba Corporation to burn natural gas in oxygen to create pure CO2 – much of which is captured, heated and used to create electricity. The remaining CO2 is captured and either sequestered underground or used to enhance oil recovery.
  • Carbon capture and sequestration is feasible, but expensive. However, a tax credit is now given to coal, natural gas and oil companies that can capture or reuse their CO2 releases. Known as Q45, it gives a credit of $50 per ton for CO2 that is buried and $35 per ton for CO2 that is re-utilized.
  • Exxon Mobil Corp. wants to catapult the concept further by using carbonated fuel cells that concentrate and capture the CO2 from power plants, while substantially reducing costs. 
  • Net Power’s Bill Brown says that instead of choosing specific fuels, the United States needs to choose a future – one that is set on becoming carbon neutral by 2050.

Path to 100% Perspective:

Free-market forces are pushing companies, large and small, to address climate change. The innovative technologies being developed and deployed by companies like Net Power, Exxon, and Norway’s Gassnova will go a long way to make carbon capture and storage both affordable and accessible for the entire world. While much more will need to be accomplished before achieving a 100% renewable energy future, these efforts are charting a productive course to meet the Paris climate agreement’s goal of net-zero carbon releases by 2050.

 

 

Photo by Matteo Catanese on Unsplash

Texas Power Crisis Moves Into Fourth Day With Millions in Dark

At-a-Glance:

Economic fallout from the extreme winter weather that caused widespread blackouts is continuing to have a ripple effect even as power is restored. “The current energy crisis is much bigger than most people realize. This is a global crisis,” Paul Sankey, an oil analyst at Sankey Research, wrote in a note. “The largest energy outage in U.S. history.” To learn more, read Texas Power Crisis Moves Into Fourth Day With Millions in Dark.” Reading this article may require a subscription.

Key Takeaways:

  • While Texas’s grid operator was able to restore power to 1.8 million homes by Wednesday February 17, 1.2 million homes remained without electricity.
  • Generation capacity on the grid reached 52 gigawatts Wednesday evening, the highest level since Monday morning. Electricity load climbed to 49 gigawatts, indicating that power had been restored to some customers.
  • As of February 17, 43 gigawatts of the state’s generation capacity remained offline, including 26.5 gigawatts of thermal generation that shut due to frozen instruments, limited gas supplies, and low gas pressure.
  • Frozen turbines and icy solar panels shut down nearly 17 gigawatts of renewable energy.
  • Gas production has plummeted to the lowest level since 2017.

Path to 100% Perspective:

The recent Texas power crisis impacted millions of people in Texas and neighboring states. One reason these blackouts occurred is that many power plants are not designed to handle extreme ambient temperatures. Limited natural gas supply and low gas pressure also posed a challenge for power plants across the state. Winterizing gas supply and power plants is a must to avoid similar situations in the future. Although it is more expensive to winterize the gas supply and power plants, this is required to ensure reliability when extreme weather occurs.

 

 

Photo by Nishanth K on Unsplash

California’s Big 2021 Decision on Grid Reliability: Expand Supply or Manage Demand?

At-a-Glance:

California is facing a major decision under a tight deadline — whether it should push for large-scale power plants and batteries to prevent a repeat of its August 2020 rolling blackouts this coming summer or turn to behind-the-meter resources such as batteries and demand response. To learn more, read California’s Big 2021 Decision on Grid Reliability: Expand Supply or Manage Demand?” 

Key Takeaways:

  • The California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) issued a ruling in late December asking the state’s three big investor-owned utilities to find ways to expand supply-side capacity before August 2021.
  • Demand-side solutions – behind-the-meter batteries, smart thermostats, and commercial and industrial demand response – may be a more realistic set of options to meet CPUC’s August 2021 deadline.
  • The joint California agency root-cause analysis into last summer’s grid emergency highlighted “demand response and flexibility” as the resources most likely to be able to be added by mid-2021.
  • Existing rules may be dampening the potential for capturing California’s nation-leading roster of behind-the-meter resources, which adds up to gigawatts’ worth of latent capacity.
  • Barriers aren’t stopping companies from enlisting new demand-response and behind-the-meter-battery customers in California. Oakland-based startup, OhmConnect raised $100 million in December 2020 from Google-affiliated Sidewalk Infrastructure Partners to build out 550 MW of residential load flexibility via smart thermostats and Wi-Fi-connected smart plugs.

Path to 100% Perspective:

Opening up greater demand-response flexibility in California will not only help prevent grid emergencies like those experienced during the rolling blackouts last summer; it will also help advance California’s efforts on the Path to 100% clean electricity. California should pursue an approach that includes adding new innovative demand response systems and more thermal generation flexibility.

 

Photo by Kai Gradert on Unsplash

Texas Storms, California Heat Waves and ‘Vulnerable’ Utilities

At-a-Glance:

In California, wildfires and heat waves in recent years forced utilities to shut off power to millions of homes and businesses. Now, Texas is learning that deadly winter storms and intense cold can do the same. To learn more, read Texas Storms, California Heat Waves and ‘Vulnerable’ Utilities.” Reading this article may require a subscription.

Key Takeaways:

  • Blackouts in Texas and California have revealed that power plants can be strained and knocked offline by the kind of extreme cold and hot weather that climate scientists have said will become more common as greenhouse gases build up in the atmosphere.
  • The electricity industry typically looks at average annual temperatures rather than seasonal ones. Changing the distribution of power sources based on the seasonal temperatures could help avoid electricity shortages.
  • The Electric Reliability Council of Texas could take a cue from states in colder climates and winterize its power plants and other equipment to prevent future weather-related power failures.
  • That Texas and California have been hardest hit makes clear that simplistic ideological explanations are often wrong. Texas, for example, has relied on market forces to balance its electric grid.

Path to 100% Perspective:

The impacts of climate change and extreme weather are not limited to Texas and California. All states can take steps to ensure their power and natural gas systems can handle the full range of temperatures that climate analysts forecast; winterization is just one example. States should also explore long-term energy storage solutions, such as thermal generation.

 

Photo by Alexander Popov on Unsplash

How to Build a Green Hydrogen Economy for the US West

At-a-Glance:

Out in Utah, a coal-fired power plant supplying electricity to Los Angeles is being outfitted to eventually be able to run on hydrogen, created via electrolysis with wind and solar power and stored in massive underground caverns for use when that clean energy isn’t available for the grid. This billion-dollar-plus project could eventually expand to more renewable-powered electrolyzers, storage and generators to supply dispatchable power for the greater Western U.S. grid. It could also grow to include hydrogen pipelines to augment and replace the natural gas used for heating and industry or supply hydrogen fuel-cell vehicle fleets across the region. To learn more, read “How to Build a Green Hydrogen Economy for the US West.”

Key Takeaways:

  • The Western Green Hydrogen Initiative (WGHI) is a group representing 11 Western states, two Canadian provinces and key green hydrogen industry partners. WGHI launched in November to align state and federal efforts to create a regional green hydrogen strategy including a large-scale, long-duration renewable energy storage regional reserve.
  • At the heart of this effort are two projects in central Utah. The first is the Intermountain Power Project, a coal-fired power plant operated by the state-owned Intermountain Power Agency, which supplies municipal utilities in Utah and California, including the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power. By 2025, Intermountain will be converted to turbines to supply 840 megawatts of power using natural gas blended with 30 percent hydrogen, a proportion that will rise to 100 percent hydrogen over the coming decades.
  • The second project is the Advanced Clean Energy Storage (ACES) project, which will invest roughly $1 billion to develop a nearby underground salt dome to store compressed hydrogen. ACES will provide up to 150,000 megawatt-hours of energy storage capacity, a scale that dwarfs the lithium-ion battery capacity being installed in California and across the Intermountain West.

Path to 100% Perspective:

Whether green hydrogen can cost-effectively replace natural gas for its myriad current uses will depend largely on the carbon-reduction drivers involved. But it will also require a redefinition of what it’s doing for the broader electrical system, said Jussi Heikkinen, Director of Growth and Development for the Americas division of Wärtsilä Energy Business. Wärtsilä’s engines power about one-third of the world’s cargo ships and a good deal of electricity generation, he said. It’s been making strides in converting its engines to run on 100 percent hydrogen and is developing hydrogen generation projects in the U.S. and Europe. In a study focused on California, Wärtsilä showed that zero-carbon hydrogen, or methane generated with carbon-capture technologies, to fuel power plants is a much less expensive alternative to building the battery capacity needed to cover the final 5 percent to 10 percent of grid power needed to reach its 100 percent carbon-free energy goals. “When there are huge load peaks, cloud cover or unusual weather, these plants kick in, and allow you to build a much smaller battery storage fleet,” he said.

 

Photo by Peter De Lucia on Unsplash