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.

 

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California wastes its extra solar, wind energy. Could hydrogen be the storage key?

At-a-Glance:

No amount of solar panels and wind turbines alone will be enough for California to reach its goal of a clean electrical grid unless the state can solve its energy storage problem. The state already generates an abundance of energy from wind and solar farms, particularly during the sunny and blustery spring and early summer months. But it loses much of that energy because it has nowhere to store it, and unlike fossil fuels, the sun and wind are not dispatchable, and therefore are unable to be called on to generate power 24 hours a day. Utilities must rely on gas-fired power plants to keep up with California’s energy demands during peak demand periods. To learn more, read California wastes its extra solar, wind energy. Could hydrogen be the storage key? Reading this article may require a subscription.

Key Takeaways:

  • Some experts and legislators say the missing puzzle piece could be hydrogen, the most abundant element in the universe, which can be used as a zero-emission fuel for power plants, vehicles and machinery.
  • “I would say it’s almost the missing piece of the puzzle,” said Jussi Heikkinen, Director of Growth and Development at Wärtsilä Energy, a Finnish technology company that has built battery storage systems in California. “We don’t need to get rid of the power plants, but we need to get rid of fossil fuels.”
  • State Senator Nancy Skinner, D-Berkeley, is carrying a bill, SB18, that specifies the state’s climate and electrical grid plans include “green hydrogen,” or hydrogen gas that is produced using electricity from renewable sources.
  • According to Jack Brouwer, director of the National Fuel Cell Research Center, hydrogen is more effective for longer storage than batteries because it doesn’t lose energy over time and can be stored underground easily and cheaply.
  • Hydrogen advocates say that California ultimately needs a mix of hydrogen and batteries to reduce carbon emissions.

Path to 100% Perspective:

Investing in green hydrogen will be important as California looks to decarbonize its energy system. The state can turn this into a win-win by harnessing the excess power generated by existing wind and solar farms to produce hydrogen. The hydrogen can be stored and turned back into electricity using flexible thermal assets. Policies that enable rapid reductions in fossil fuel use and rapid increases in renewable generation in the electricity sector are a valuable piece to accelerating the decarbonization process. Legislation should steer electricity-sector decisions about investments, infrastructure and technology toward decisions that quickly reduce greenhouse gas emissions and pave the way for a 100% renewable energy future

 

 

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Mexico’s Path to 100%

At-a-Glance:

Considered a global initiative, the Path to 100% movement seeks to find reliable, quick and cost-effective ways to fully decarbonize electricity. To achieve this, there are a variety of paths available to every country. What would Mexico’s roadmap look like? Wärtsilä’s Business Development Executive for Mexico, Central America and the Caribbean, Raúl Carral, sheds light on where to start. To learn more, read Mexico’s Path to 100%.”

Key Takeaways:

  • A look at SENER’s latest 2019 figures reveal that Mexico had around 80 GW of installed energy capacity. Fossil fuels accounted for 66 percent of that capacity, of which 56 percent came from natural gas.
  • Renewables and hydroelectricity combined made up 17 percent of installed energy, although many MWs of wind and solar were installed in 2020.
  • Carral argues that Mexican utility CFE should consider competitive, future-proof assets like renewable power and flexible power generation and make plans based on a vision that will lead to more profitability, sustainability and reliability for CFE’s power generation and Mexico’s power grid.
  • Carral highlighted that several hydrogen projects are underway, which will help lower costs associated with this fuel. Existing gas-based power plants could be adapted to run on hydrogen and Wartsila announced they will be ready to burn this fuel with their equipment, too.

Path to 100% Perspective:

Mexico’s path to 100% is beginning to unfold. As the country increases its reliance on renewables, investing in infrastructure, like flexible thermal generation, will be critical to make up for times of intermittent wind and solar power. Path to 100% formed  a community of subject matter experts in Mexico to explore the best way to 100% renewable energy penetration.

 

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6 Out-of-the-Ordinary Energy Concepts From 2020

At-a-Glance

It’s been a “business-as-usual” year for renewables, despite the societal upheaval wrought by the coronavirus pandemic. Most 2020 headlines continue to highlight conventional renewable segments such as solar and energy storage. On the margins, virtual power plants have gone mainstream and green hydrogen has emerged as the energy carrier of choice for tomorrow’s fuel systems. But COVID-19 did little to dampen enthusiasm for more obscure energy concepts. To learn more, read “6 Out-of-the-Ordinary Energy Concepts From 2020.” 

Key Takeaways

  1. Filipino engineering student, Carvey Ehren Maigue has developed Aurora Renewable Energy and UV Sequestration or AuREUS, which uses vegetable-based panels as tinted films that can be applied to existing surfaces, such as walls and windows.
    • AuREUS’ ability to capture diffused ultraviolet rays is said to deliver a capacity factor of up to 50 percent, compared to a maximum of around 25 percent for photovoltaic (PV) solar energy.
  2. Salient Energy emerged from Shell’s GameChanger program with a zinc-ion battery chemistry believed to be cheaper, safer and longer-lasting than anything else on the market.
    • Salient claims its proprietary cathode materials store energy in zinc in a way that has never been commercialized before.
  3. Puerto Rican startup ReSynth specializes in “fuel enhancement” to reduce greenhouse gas concentrations from diesel and marine oils.
    • The fuel emulsion cuts sulfur and nitrous oxide emissions as well as carbon. Plus it has been approved by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the Department of Energy and the U.S. Coast Guard. It works with engines from major manufacturers such as Wärtsilä.
  4. Spanish firm Vortex Bladeless was founded in 2014, but 2020 was a year for notable milestones for the innovators. Vortex launched a small-scale product, less than three feet tall, to compete with low-power off-grid PV.
  5. The Ocean Grazer concept, based at the University of Groningen in the Netherlands has developed the Ocean Battery which stores energy by pumping fresh water into flexible bladders that are deflated by the pressure of the seawater column when power is needed.
  6. Alberta-based Eavor Technologies believes one of its Eavor-Loop systems can pull energy from the center of the earth to heat 16,000 homes or produce industrial-scale electricity via heat-to-power engines.

Path to 100% Perspective

The path to 100% has not already been paved, therefore, commitments to innovation and creativity are essential to developing solutions for different communities, regions and utilities. However, grid operators also navigate balance between obscure energy concepts and sustainability for power systems that energize communities around the world. The possibilities are endless as entrepreneurs and energy experts continue to collaborate towards flexibility and sustainability in order to reach a renewable energy future.

 

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Leveraging Coronavirus Stimulus to Take a Giant Leap Toward Decarbonization

At-a-Glance

While electricity demand has faltered during the global pandemic, the share of wind and solar generation has continued to increase. Wind and solar produced 10 percent of global electricity between January and June in 2020. In the European Union, renewables accounted for 33 percent of all power generation. According to the International Energy Agency, the EU’s renewable energy production was higher than its fossil fuel generation between February and early July of this year. The increased role of renewables has highlighted the investments necessary to make the transition to a 100 percent renewable power system faster and more economically efficient. To learn more, read “Leveraging Coronavirus Stimulus to Take a Giant Leap Toward Decarbonization.” 

Key Takeaways

  • While there are nuances depending on local circumstances, one significant takeaway is that the power system as a whole can handle a more rapid shift to renewables than grid operators have long assumed. 
    • “What we found was the energy system can cope really well with much more renewable power and that it’s possible to raise the ambitions around adding more clean energy,” said Sushil Purohit, president of Wärtsilä Energy.
  • Charting a more rapid and financially efficient transition to a 100 percent renewables future was a primary objective of Wärtsilä’s recent report, Aligning Stimulus With Energy Transformation, based on its Atlas modeling. 
    • The report demonstrates how using energy-related stimulus investments to support clean energy could speed decarbonization in five key countries: the U.S., the United Kingdom, Brazil, Germany and Australia.
  • According to the report, 54 percent of the $400 billion pledged has been targeted to benefit fossil-fuel-based energy, while 36 percent has been devoted to clean energy. 
    • In the U.S., more than 70 percent of the current $100 billion allocated for energy stimulus was pledged to fossil fuels, compared to less than 30 percent for clean energy.

Path to 100% Perspective

Beyond the issue of decarbonization, this is a missed opportunity to spark near-term job creation. According to a report by McKinsey & Company, every $10 million of government spending on renewables creates 75 jobs, while the same amount invested in fossil fuels creates 27 jobs. For the U.S., reallocating the $72 million of the COVID-19 energy stimulus currently earmarked for fossil fuels to clean energy would result in 544,000 new jobs, 175 percent more than would be produced in the traditional energy sector. In addition, these investments would result in 107 gigawatts of new renewable energy capacity and a 6.5 percent increase in renewable electricity generation, from 17.5 percent to 24 percent.

Ditch Nuclear And Save $860 Million With Grid Flexibility, U.K. Told 

At-a-Glance

According to the report from Finnish energy tech firm Wärtsilä, the U.K. would stand to save $860 million per year if, instead of new nuclear power, the government backed grid flexibility measures, such as battery storage and thermal generation. That equates to a saving of about $33 dollars per British household per year. Crucially, the analysis revealed that even if energy generation was to remain the same as it is today, Britain could increase renewables’ share of that generation to 62% simply by adding more flexibility. To learn more, read Ditch Nuclear And Save $860 Million With Grid Flexibility, U.K. Told.” Reading this article could require a subscription.

Key Takeaways

  • According to the Wärtsilä report, Germany at one point paid almost $1.1 million per hour to export 10.5 gigawatts of electricity. Such inefficiencies, Ville Rimali, growth and development director at Wärtsilä Energy said, were indicative of inflexible electricity systems—while countries that had built flexibility into their power grids had no such issues.
  • On the other hand, investing in nuclear power could, according to Wärtsilä, entrench an inflexible grid while making renewables such as solar and wind less cost-effective.
  • Wärtsilä’s recommendations appear to align closely with those of the International Energy Agency (IEA), which has stated that, as economies move away from fossil fuels, “power system flexibility has become a global priority.” Subsequently, according to a report released by the agency last month, much faster deployment of grid flexibility will be required if countries are to achieve their decarbonization targets.

Path to 100% Perspective

In the “Optimising the UK’s Shift to a Renewable-Powered Economy, Wärtsilä recommends a three phase strategy to accelerate a cost-optimal shift to 100% renewable energy and economic decarbonisation. 

  1. Support faster renewable energy deployment to achieve 80% renewable generation by 2030. 
  2. Increase investment in flexibility to unlock renewable energy and deliver a cost-optimal transition for consumers. 
  3. Future-proof today’s decisions to enable future technologies – such as Power-to-X – to achieve 100% renewable energy before 2050

 

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Sempra utilities pitch demonstration program as first step to California hydrogen injection standard

At-a-Glance:

Sempra Energy subsidiaries Southern California Gas (SoCalGas) and San Diego Gas & Electric (SDG&E) plan to launch California’s first hydrogen blending demonstration program as a first step toward creating a hydrogen injection standard for the state. The first proposed project would begin with a 1% hydrogen blend in an isolated section of primarily polyethylene plastic distribution system and eventually could increase to as much as 20% hydrogen. The location of the project will be selected in early 2021 and the utilities plan to implement more such blending demonstrations in their service territories. To learn more, read “Sempra utilities pitch demonstration program as first step to California hydrogen injection standard.”

Key Takeaways:

  • Adding hydrogen to California’s resource mix could allow the state to build a much more efficient power system, and reduce the need to overbuild solar and battery storage capacity, according to Jussi Heikkinen, Director of Growth and Development, Americas at Wärtsilä Energy Business.
  • Blending hydrogen with natural gas is part of SDG&E and SoCalGas’ strategies to decarbonize their natural gas systems, according to Sempra — the utilities envision using excess renewable energy to produce green hydrogen, which can then be injected into the natural gas grid.
  • SoCalGas and SDG&E briefed regulators on the safety precautions they intend to take with the program, including ensuring that the blend is compatible with behind-the-meter appliances, implementing leak surveys, and creating a specific customer protocol and emergency response for hydrogen.
  • The proposed blending projects are an important first step in the right direction, Heikkinen said — but to reach a high level of decarbonization, it is necessary to blend fairly high shares of hydrogen into natural gas because of its lower density. In a 25% hydrogen, 75% natural gas blend by volume, for example, less than 10% of the resulting energy comes from hydrogen, he explained.”When we start blending, then we should go for higher blends as fast as possible. When you start to go beyond 50%, then you start to make a difference,” Heikkinen added.

Path to 100% Perspective:

There are some safety risks. Hydrogen is extremely flammable and burns very fast. Special caution needs to be taken when engineering a product using more than 25% hydrogen.

Special safety regulations for its use need to be in place before it becomes widely available. In some locations, these regulations are still under development. A bigger issue is that there is no infrastructure globally to produce, store, and distribute hydrogen at scale. It all needs to be built. This infrastructure will be expensive and will also take some time. Additionally, there is the risk that hydrogen will not be the fuel of choice, so there is some hesitation to invest in the necessary infrastructure. This in turn limits the attractiveness of hydrogen, so it’s a difficult challenge to solve.

 

Photo: Sempra

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.

 

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Missing Pieces of Decarbonization Puzzle Realized

Jussi Heikkinen, Director of Growth & Development, Americas
Wärtsilä Energy Business

These are exciting times as the renewable energy future is a focus for so many organizations and governments around the world, as indicated by attendance of the Wärtsilä sponsored webcast hosted by GreenBiz on November 19, 2020, Missing Pieces of Decarbonization Puzzle Realized. Emerging technologies are moving closer to reality, which makes ambitious energy goals more realistic and the path to 100 percent renewable energy is now within reach.

A place where the transition to renewables has progressed quite far already is California. The lessons learned along the way have been plentiful, but powerful nonetheless. The record-breaking heat wave that swept across the western part of the country and caused a series of blackouts in the Golden State, offered additional modelling opportunities to demonstrate the most effective mix of energy to accommodate any extreme weather situation during the transition, and to meet clean power mandates.

The big challenge facing California and the rest of the world is how to integrate renewables into the grid while building security of supply and a sustainable power system with an affordable plan for everyone involved.

That’s why Wärtsilä launched its Path to 100% initiative. We believe a 100% renewable energy future is possible, practical and financially viable so we assembled a community of experts to produce solutions based on science and engineering. This fall, we published a white paper that describes the Optimal Path to decarbonization for California using new hourly load data provided by this summer’s extreme heatwave.

In the whitepaper, Path to 100% Renewables for California, we modelled an approach for  California to reach its climate and clean power goals faster, at a lower cost to ratepayers, all while maintaining system reliability.

The “Optimal Path“ includes renewable carbon neutral fuels – hydrogen and synthetic methane. Curtailed renewable electricity is used in the process with water to produce hydrogen, and carbon is captured from air to produce synthetic methane with hydrogen. These fuels are used in power plants to provide a long term energy storage for seasonal and weather management needs. In the Optimal Path scenario, Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS) commitments would actually be reached by 2040, five years ahead of schedule.

Generation costs in the “Optimal Path” scenarios are between 50 and 54 dollars per megawatt hour in 2045, while these costs would be almost 3 times higher if California opted to use only solar, wind and storage to build the power system. This cost difference is excessive and not beneficial for industries or households to pay. Additionally, carbon emissions are at net zero in 2045 in both scenarios.

How can California get on the Optimal Path to a renewable energy future? One recommendation is to recognize carbon neutral fuels – as presented above – to be counted as renewable for RPS purposes. This would enable the utilities to start looking for ways to invest and use such fuels to the benefit of California.

Another state aggressively pursuing renewable energy goals is Texas. Co-presenter and Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT) Principal of Market Design and Development, Kenneth Ragsdale shared the Lone Star State’s progress on integrating renewables into the power system.

Climate Imperative’s Executive Director, Bruce Nilles offered a big picture perspective on electricity generation capacity and the commitments needed to accelerate decarbonization.

To watch the recorded presentations from Wärtsilä, ERCOT as well as Climate Imperative and download presentation materials, register today for the Missing Pieces of Decarbonization Puzzle Realized webcast.