Wärtsilä Looks to Storage for Its 100% Renewable Energy Ambitions

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Source: Greensmith Energy Management Systems

Wärtsilä, the Finnish power plant and marine equipment giant, is shifting away from its fossil-fuel heritage and toward a future that is 100 percent dominated by renewables.

Wärtsilä will be “leading the way to the power industry’s transformation toward a future that utilizes 100 percent renewable energy,” according to the company.

Under the strategy, Wärtsilä will adapt its thermal plants to run on synthetic biofuels and increase its focus on other renewable energies. The plan builds on Wärtsilä’s growing profile in the power generation business. 

The company’s energy-sector market share has jumped from 8 percent to 21 percent in the last three years, fighting off competition from the likes of GE and Siemens. 

Wärtsilä’s Energy Solutions sales have increased by close to 80 percent, said Javier Cavada Camino, the outgoing president of the division and executive vice president of Wärtsilä Corporation. Choosing to abandon the fossil-fuel business was not easy, he conceded. 

In the run-up to the change, “we were going through the denial phase,” he said. “It was a big ‘Are you crazy, man?’ process. Now we understand our role.” 

One challenge: The company still has a relatively low profile in the renewables sector. However, it sees energy storage as a big part of its push for dominance in the industry.

Last year Wärtsilä bought Greensmith, the battery optimization and integration software developer, and the company is continuing to support the development of storage technologies.

Cavada claimed Wärtsilä has installed 20 times more storage than Tesla, a figure that presumably includes the 180 megawatts of energy storage being managed by Greensmith at the time of its purchase in May 2017.

And this month, Wärtsilä announced a partnership between Greensmith and Hyundai, the South Korean auto manufacturer.

As reported by GTM, the partnership aims to help Hyundai develop second-life battery products and build a continuous, global supply chain spanning battery manufacturing, electric-vehicle sales, stationary storage deployment and end-of-life recycling.

Cavada himself will be looking to strengthen his ties with the energy storage sector, but not within Wärtsilä.

Instead, in September, and after 17 years at Wärtsilä, Cavada will be taking the helm at Highview Power, a company commercializing a long-duration bulk liquid air energy storage (LAES) concept intended to have capacities in the hundreds of megawatt-hours per plant.

While most energy storage efforts today are focused on lithium-ion batteries, which can only serve relatively low-capacity, short-duration applications, “Highview is sitting on the missing piece of technology to make the grid run toward 100 percent renewables,” Cavada said.

Highview Power’s technology is attractive because it is not dependent on exotic minerals or complex mechanics, Cavada noted. LAES employs components that are already in use across a range of industrial processes.

At the same time, LAES does not require large civil engineering efforts like those needed for pumped hydro or compressed air energy storage plants, said Highview’s current CEO Gareth Brett, who will become vice chairman in September.

As CEO and president, Cavada will be tasked with taking Highview, which has been working on LAES for the last 10 years, from a precommercial concept developer to a mainstream technology provider, Brett said. 

Highview officially opened its first grid-scale demonstration plant, with a capacity of 5 megawatts and 15 megawatt-hours, in Pilsworth, near Manchester in the U.K., at the beginning of this month.

Speaking at this month’s Electrify Europe conference in Vienna, Highview’s director of operations, Emma Gibson, claimed the LAES plant had a round-trip efficiency of up to 70 percent and a response time of less than 8 minutes.

With planned improvements to the technology, the response time could drop to 30 seconds, she said. Highview is now seeking opportunities in the U.S. and has a global licensing agreement in place with Baker Hughes, the former GE oil and gas division.

Cavada said he saw the move as the opportunity of a lifetime. “I hunger for challenges, and I know that this is a no-brainer,” he said. “This is what the market needs.”

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