- In Africa, just like elsewhere, energy-intensive businesses are under great pressure to decrease CO2 emissions.
- Wärtsilä Energy knows more about this than most: many of our mining and industrial partners in Africa operate their microgrids, either from choice or necessity.
- While wind and solar power can offer emission-free energy at lower costs than fossil fuels, their intermittent nature adds uncertainty to the system.
In African countries, particularly those with a well-developed industrial sector, a significant portion of energy production may come from the industry’s own power plants.
This is especially true in countries with low grid reliability, and industries rely on self-generated power to ensure a stable energy supply.
In this article, we offer insights into Wärtsilä Energy’s approach to supporting energy-intensive industries to optimise the use of renewable energy and reach their decarbonisation objectives.
In Africa, just like elsewhere, energy-intensive businesses are under great pressure to decrease CO2 emissions as they compete in the global marketplace.
Wärtsilä knows more about this than most: many of our mining and industrial partners in Africa operate their own microgrids, either from choice or necessity.
They want to deploy renewables but need to do it efficiently and economically. Managing power intermittency and dispatchability is not a simple task, and most businesses struggle to make the most of hybrid power configurations.
We will demonstrate how renewable balancing can reduce the CO2 emissions of operations, ensure overall system reliability, and lower the cost of electricity going forward.
Energy costs: Making the most of your assets
Each industrial site is unique, there is no such thing as one size fits all when it comes to decarbonisation. There are various constraints, conditions and variables specific to each operation, site, and facility.
And yet, everyone must answer one central question to solve the decarbonisation challenge: how can I maximise the integration of renewable energy whilst ensuring reliability of supply and competitive energy costs?
When adding renewables and intermittency into grids, managing the increased complexity that inevitably ensues in a smart way becomes critical. Avoiding curtailment, managing reserves, and optimising the fuel consumption of thermal assets are the key elements that will get you further along the decarbonisation process.
At an early stage, advanced power system modelling will help understand the impact of different operational profiles, determine the optimal power generation strategies and leverage the benefits of dispatch optimisation.
Optimising your energy generation strategy
The optimal power generation strategy must reconcile three key objectives that are often considered contradictory. The first goal is to maximise renewable energy generation to lower CO2 emissions. The second is to guarantee that the power supply is steady and reliable.
Thirdly, to ensure that the total system cost remains competitive. Failure to achieve any of these goals will tumble your entire plan.
This is why smart decarbonisation strategies involve a holistic view over the entire microgrid, optimising the mix of renewable energy for baseload power, backed by energy storage and balancing engine technologies for dispatchable power.
While wind and solar power can offer emission-free energy at lower costs than fossil fuels, their intermittent nature adds uncertainty to the system.
Adding renewables to your asset fleet will therefore require changing the way power balance is managed to ensure reliability, minimise the curtailment of renewables, and reduce the fuel consumption of thermal assets.
Flexible power must be available to ramp production up or down at the same rate that wind or solar production fluctuates, but also to match the fluctuating energy demand in real-time.
Flexible engine power plants and energy storage systems (ESS) can work together to support renewables integration. Both energy assets can react quickly and efficiently to cope with multiple daily starts and stops.
ESS ramp extremely quickly, while engine power plants generate flexible, reliable power also during periods with low renewable generation and offer the advantage of being able to run on different fuels, from natural gas and liquid fuels or biofuels today, to locally produced hydrogen and its derivatives tomorrow as they become competitive and broadly available.
Thanks to this multi-fuel capability, engine power plants provide a great hedge against fuel supply risk and are the ultimate “future-proof” technology for decarbonisation.
Gas engines can already run with a 25 per cent hydrogen blend without major modifications. We anticipate that a few years from now engines will be capable of running entirely on green fuels like hydrogen to reach 100 per cent renewables and net zero.
An intelligent energy management system (EMS) enables seamless operation of any mix of power assets. Wärtsilä’s state-of-the-art GEMS Digital Energy Platform utilises real-time data, renewable forecasts as well as machine learning algorithms, to optimise the dispatch of dynamic generation assets with speed, instead of applying a rigid rule-based model.
GEMS’ optimisation and control capabilities enable reliability, minimise emissions, and reduce costs.
Decarbonisation is a journey, not a destination
For companies to remain competitive, their decarbonisation process must be based on emission reduction, competitive cost, and reliability. To get this done, the journey to net zero for mining and industrial businesses in Africa cannot rely on a single solution. It is a long-term, future-proof plan involving a data-driven energy asset management.
The author, Ella Teperi, is the General Manager of market & Financial Analysis and decarbonisation Services at Wärtsilä Energy.