Wärtsilä Is Bringing Battery Storage And Backup Power to Market

by | Apr 26, 2023

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Origin Energy and Wärtsilä are teaming up to deliver one of Australia’s most significant energy storage projects — 460 megawatts and 920 megawatt hours, which could expand to 700 megawatts-2,800 megawatt hours. 

Indeed, Wärtsilä provides backup power. Besides battery storage, it builds and deploys fast-starting natural gas units. As for Australia, Eraring battery will connect to its National Electricity Market. The aim is to provide energy security — the go-to sources when the wind is not blowing, or the sun is not shining. 

“Battery storage is growing rapidly in the United States, Australia, and Asia. It provides shorter support — between four to eight hours. We use lithium-ion batteries. They provide real value: if this power is available, it can be sold to other buyers with high demand. The combustion engines used as backup are for the long-term swings,” says Håkan Agnevall, chief executive of Wärtsilä, in an interview with this writer. 

Wärtsilä has more than 110 system deployments globally, integrated with wind, hydro, solar, and thermal generation. For example, it has nearly completed a battery storage system in Calexico, California, for REV Renewables. It is 125 megawatts and 250-megawatt hours. It will stabilize and decarbonize the grid — and especially helpful during heatwaves and wildfires.

The California Public Utilities Commission approved the LeConte system in early 2022 to build 15,000 MW of new energy storage and demand response resources by 2032 to ensure long-term reliability and meet the state’s Renewables Portfolio Standard. The California Independent System Operator (CAISO) confirmed in its Summer Performance Report for September 2022 that 2,000 MW of energy storage was dispatched during a heatwave in September 2022, helping the state avoid widespread power outages. 

It also inked a deal with EDF Renewables UK and Ireland to deliver a 50 MW-100 MWh project — necessary for the United Kingdom to hit its net-zero goals. Construction will start soon, storing enough electricity to fuel 100,000 homes for two hours. It will also support electric vehicle charging and public transport electrification. The project will enable increased renewable energy integration and intermittency management, strengthening the electricity system’s resiliency and automatically charging and discharging to balance supply and demand.

“A renewable energy future is only made possible with a smart, flexible energy grid,” says Matthew Boulton, director of storage and Private Wire for EDF Renewables. “We know the challenge ahead of us – we need more renewable energy and energy storage to back it up.”

Are fast-reacting natural gas plants viable? 

Everyone already knows that wind and solar energy are intermittent fuels, firmed up using energy storage or fast-starting, ideally carbon-free generation. Natural gas is now prominent. But the makers of electric power generators are now creating multi-purpose engines and turbines that are future-proofed and can also run, for example, on hydrogen.

“To build a sustainable future, we need to decarbonize step-by-step,” says Agnevall. “Some of the major solutions will be wind and solar. But they have challenges. So you then need ‘balancing power.’ “There are different technologies: pistons and battery storage are two major solutions. The great thing is that they are flexible and can quickly ramp up and down. They perfectly fit with intermittent sources and can also be flexible in terms of what fuels they use. In two minutes, you can ramp up 10 megawatts. This is fast.” 

For example, Wärtsilä’s engines can incorporate as much as 25% hydrogen blended with natural gas. But the company is working hard to ensure that those engines can operate entirely on hydrogen — ideally, “green hydrogen” produced from clean energy sources. The engines will be “future-proofed,” meaning utilities will not have stranded assets a decade from now.

It works with Omaha Public Power District to provide backup generation — a 156-megawatt multi-fuel engine power plant. It will grow that facility with 400-600 megawatts of utility-scale solar generation that connects to the grid. Already, Wärtsilä has installed a total of 74,000 megawatts of power plant capacity in 180 countries. It has also installed 80 energy storage systems around the globe.

How big is the market for flexible power — fuels that can firm up intermittent sources? Across the most developed countries in the world, known as the G20, more than 3,500,000 megawatts of such flexibility is needed to get to 100% renewable energy, says Wärtsilä’s Atlas of 100% Renewable Energy. That includes 933,000 megawatts of flexible natural gas power capacity. 

The Biden administration is pushing its Energy Earthshots Initiative to accelerate innovation and bring life-changing products to market. That involves “long-term energy storage,” which could radically alter how electricity is produced and consumed by tipping the scales toward green energy. The problem is that most storage assets can kick in for a few hours but can’t discharge for weeks.

The goal is to provide cost-effective long-term energy — on par with the short-term lithium-ION batteries that are prominent today. Those batteries can charge and discharge multiple times, but eventually, they wear down.

In point of fact, manufacturers like Wärtsilä, General Electric, and Siemens are on the case. The technologies may vary, but the goals are the same — to help the corporate world become carbon neutral and comply with the Paris climate agreement. 

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