The share of renewable power is rising slowly but steadily in energy systems around the world. Generally speaking, this is a positive trend: after all, the pressure to dramatically lower our CO2 emissions is one of the biggest challenges ever faced by mankind.
However, the transition from a traditional, fossil fuel-based energy system to one where green energy plays a more pivotal role is far from simple. That is because wind and solar energy, currently the top candidates of green power, are intermittent by nature: it is not always windy, nor does the sun always shine.
“In other words, wind and solar will reduce the need for the production based on fossil fuels, but will achieve it in a problematic way,” says Mr Teemu Sipilä, Proposal Manager at Wärtsilä Finland.
Ideally, a power system today should be a combination of three principal factors: reliability, sustainability, and affordability.
Renewable energy will make a power system more sustainable, that’s for sure. But what about the two other aspects? When there’s plenty of production, wind and solar can be quite affordable, too, but their intermittent nature brings about challenges to the rest of the power generation fleet, both in terms of costs and reliability.
“Turning traditional power plants on and off and altering their load is usually costly and offers little flexibility,” says Sipilä. “And yet balance and flexibility are exactly what are needed to enable the growth of renewable energy.”
To address this issue, Wärtsilä wants to showcase how its fast-starting capacity, Smart Power Generation (SPG), can contribute to the optimization of national-scale power systems. And to make the above-mentioned points clear to an increasing number of people, the company has launched an application called the Dispatch Simulator. Guiding the user towards the optimization of an entire power generation fleet, it is a perfect tool for illustrating energy challenges as well as the benefits offered by SPG.
As the picture shows, an energy system is a combination of various different kinds of power sources. If the player makes it through the 24-hour day without a crash, the Dispatch Simulator will sum up the day, offering information such as the amount of CO2 emissions produced per megawatt, as well as the cost of each megawatt. Will you have what it takes to reach the ideal result?
Searching for the Ideal Combination
Industrial PRIME met with Mr Sipilä and was invited to have a go at Wärtsilä’s Dispatch Simulator.
The simulator experience takes place over the course of an average day in a large power system, corresponding to that of an entire country. First, the player is asked to design their own large-scale generation fleet.
As usual, the energy mix is varied. Baseload capacity is provided by a combination of traditional generation: nuclear power, coal, CCGT, and hydro power. We can add to the mix wind and solar capacity – plus gas-powered SPG capacity by Wärtsilä.
We choose to maximize the amount of wind and solar in our mix. But since we are first-timers, we completely forget about SPG. Luckily Mr Sipilä is looking over our shoulder, making sure we won’t do anything stupid. He suggests we add some of Wärtsilä’s capacity into our fleet.
Once the preparations have been made, the simulation begins. It is time to see whether the fleet will manage to take the country through the day without a complete disaster. We’re feeling confident…
What makes SPG so special is its ability to handle varying load challenges, allowing the conventional plants to operate as baseload. This is exactly what the Dispatch Simulator shows us. The game begins at 2 AM when energy demand is at its lowest. All is well. But when people start waking up and using their appliances, the load quickly begins to increase.
We begin to worry, but then the simulator begins to deploy SPG blocks one by one in rapid succession. This enables us to maintain the balance of the power system and make sure everyone will get their morning cup of coffee and finish up charging their phones.
When the demand rises, SPG units can be turned on in just two minutes and with very low start-up costs. This makes it both flexible and affordable: to make a comparison, the start-up of a coal-powered plant takes roughly four hours and may cost as much as €250,000.
This flexibility also means that SPG will allow the growth of renewable energy in the energy system. Meanwhile, the SPG plants themselves run on natural gas, meaning that handling peak loads and balancing intermittent renewables will result in lower CO2 and other emission levels in comparison to the (slow and expensive) start-up of a coal-powered plant.
In short, the best possible option for any ambitious energy system is to support additions to renewable power with SPG capacity by Wärtsilä. To quote an example, Wärtsilä recently signed a contract to supply a 225 MW gas-fired power plant in the city of Denton in Texas, USA. The power plant will enable the city to switch to a smart, cost-efficient power system where up to 70% of energy is produced from renewables.
Thanks to the Dispatch Simulator, we now totally get the idea. We are not surprised to hear that Wärtsilä’s simulator has turned out quite popular, especially during various trade fairs and conferences.
“It’s a fun way to get the message across, and that’s why it’s been embraced by students and professionals alike,” Sipilä points out. “Recently, one energy lobbyist even suggested that it would be a perfect tool for teaching politicians about the complexity of energy production.”
Text and main image by Industrial PRIME
tel. +358 45136 3532