Wärtsilä: All about flex to 2030, then power-to-gas

Melle Kruisdijk

The next decade is all about flexibility, according to power systems firm Wärtsilä. After that, from around 2030 onwards, power-to-gas technologies will rise to the fore, predicts Melle Kruisdijk, vice president, Europe, Wärtsilä Energy Business. Cracking power-to-gas could then enable the power system to decarbonise the gas system.

100 per cent renewable economy

Kruisdijk believes it is possible to deliver a 100 per cent renewables-powered economy by 2050, but says natural gas and flexible peaking plant (peakers) are increasingly required in the medium term to balance a power system that will become dominated by intermittent sources.

“Then, once you hit the point where you have excess electricity [from renewables], you can utilise it in power-to-gas technologies, because it will be low cost and green,” he told The Energyst. “But that will only take off when you hit that point [of excess] – and then you can have the final push to a 100 per cent renewables system.”

When might that tipping point arrive?

“Our view is that it can go pretty fast, depending on the uptake of renewables. I guess the next ten years is about flexibility – getting it into the system to enable [more] renewables – and the next ten years after that is about power-to-gas.”

Synthetic methane

Wärtsilä is working with a start-up in Germany to understand the potential for cost reductions in power-to-gas technologies. Kruisdijk thinks the green gas transition will be “stepped”, initially blending hydrogen and natural gas, as well as synthetic methane (SNG). He suggests SNG is a better bet, as it can be used without changes to existing infrastructure. Moreover, as synthetic methane uses CO2 in the production process when produced via renewable electricity, there are some interesting potential implications for carbon capture and storage.

“Maybe carbon capture will need to be bigger but I don’t think storage will happen, because you want to utilise carbon [to produce] synthetic methane,” says Kruisdijk.

Batteries and gas engines

For the decade ahead, Kruisdijk says batteries and gas peakers will underpin system flexibility, with batteries potentially delivering the lion’s share.

Wärtsilä is “seeing huge interest from the market for storage”. While UK market hype has cooled, “we don’t see reduced appetite for storage in the UK,” says Kruisdijk, with buyers specifying ever larger systems.

“The trend is bigger,” says Kruisdijk. “First were 5-10MW systems, now it is moving to 50MW or even larger.”

While Wärtsilä is mainly selling to utilities, “it is also new companies entering this field, relatively young companies,” says Kruisdijk, “because they see the opportunities”.

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