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UK needs almost 50GW of flexibility to reach 100% renewables at lowest cost

Wärtsilä's new grid balancing solution. Image: Wärtsilä.

Wärtsilä's new grid balancing solution. Image: Wärtsilä.

If the UK is to reach 100% renewables at the lowest cost, it will need 49.5GW of flexibility from both storage and gas, according to research from Wärtsilä.

To manage the intermittent renewable generation, 7.3GW of energy storage will be needed and over 42.2GW of flexible gas capacity, running on "future fuels" such as green hydrogen. The company found that the UK has the 13th greatest need for agile flexible solutions in the G20, in large part because of its high potential to meet demand with wind energy, generating over 67% of the UK's demand.

Indeed, 2020 was the greenest year ever for the UK’s energy system, with renewables outstripping fossil fuels for the first time. Wind power in particular broke numerous records, a trend which has continued into 2021, with Drax Electric Insights reporting that it had once again broke records on 28 March, hitting 18.23GW. This beat the high of 17.5GW set in February, which itself smashed a record set just the December before.

Pekka Tolonen, energy business director at Wärtsilä Energy, explained that what was clear in the over 145 countries and regions in the company’s Atlas of 100% Renewable Energy report is that “power systems with high levels of renewables need a significant amount of flexibility, through energy storage and gas balancing technology, to achieve the transition to 100% renewable energy future".

“By building high shares of renewables, we can create the conditions to produce carbon-neutral Future Fuels that can decarbonise all energy intensive sectors, from power to mobility. To solve this final piece of the net zero puzzle, the answer once again is to urgently build more renewables, supported by future-proof flexibility solutions.”

A significant degree of overcapacity of renewables will be needed the company added, with excess electricity utilised to create these future fuels with Power-to-X technology. By using renewable energy as such, and combining flexible gas and energy storage, G20 countries could benefit from a system that is 38% cheaper than those relying on energy storage alone.

Wärtsilä’s new grid balancing offering

Wärtsilä has announced a new grid balancing technology, capable of ramping up to 10MW+ in two minutes, alongside the research today. This, it said, will help to bridge utilities to a low cost, 100% renewable energy future.

It is based on the company’s 34SG Balancer engine, a fast-starting gas engine that can get up to 10.8MW in two minutes, helping to integrate renewables by providing agile balancing. The engine can be equipped with unmanned standby, remote control capabilities, 24/7 data streaming and dynamic power management. These engines can be optimised by Wärtsilä Lifecycle solutions.

The upgraded solution can run on natural gas, biogas, synthetic methane or hydrogen blends currently, with the company adding that it is actively developing a combustion process for 100% hydrogen and future fuels.

Wärtsilä will pair this plant solution with its fully integrated GridSolv energy storage technology, which uses its GEMS Digital Energy Platform to optimise deployment.

Jukka Lehtonen, vice president for technology & product management at Wärtsilä Energy, said “the industry is in a challenging situation” currently.

“Investments need to be made today even if visibility of the future is not fully clear. We have developed, in an agile manner, a solution based on existing, proven technology which is future-proof and flexible. The solution can be adapted to different operational profiles and running hours, along with evolving needs of the system. Using our solution, renewables can be integrated seamlessly into different energy mixes as they become available.”

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