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Wärtsilä to supply 50 MW balancing power plant in Hawaii

Wärtsilä Power Plants, a division within Finland-headed marine, oil, and gas technology major Wärtsilä Corporation has announced that it will supply a 50 MW Smart Power Generation power plant to Hawaiian Electric Company on the island of Oahu. The plant will help enable the integration of more solar photovoltaic (PV) generation on the island. Subject to approval by the Hawaii Public Utilities Commission, the power plant is scheduled to be operational in 2017.

There are more than 40,000 rooftop solar installations in Hawaii, most of them on the main island of Oahu. Their fluctuating generation presents a challenge for grid operators (photo courtesy Wärtsilä).

According to a statement, the plant will consist of six Wärtsilä 34DF engines with a combined output of 50 MWe. The power plant will be located on Schofield Barracks Army base, about 40 km from Honolulu. The power station will run on a biofuel blend, which will include liquid fuels and natural gas when liquefied natural gas (LNG) becomes available on the island, and it is part of the plan to reduce the island’s reliance on oil and coal-based generation.

We need to transform our generation portfolio to be more flexible and quick-starting in order to integrate more renewable energy, especially solar power. This project is an important step in that direction. Internal combustion engines (ICE) provide a solution to our requirements since they are fast-reacting, efficient and capable of running on multiple fuels, said Jack Shriver, Hawaiian Electric senior engineer.

ICEs to balance growth in intermittent renewable capacity

Solar PV capacity is growing exponentially in Hawaii. According to the Interstate Renewable Energy Council, Hawaii has the highest per capita installed capacity of PV systems in the United States, 255 watts per person. The US average is 37.9 watts per person. About 12 percent of all single-family residential dwellings have solar panels in Hawaii.

The official goal for Hawaii is to grow the share of renewable electricity from 15 percent in 2015 to 25 percent in 2020, and 40 percent in 2030. However, Hawaiian Electric is already over 18 percent, exceeding the 2015 goal, and the company recently filed a plan that would exceed 65 percent by 2030.

In order to succeed in this, we need fast-reacting capacity. ICEs are a key aspect to that. We can start them up multiple times daily, reach full load in less than 10 minutes, and shut them off whenever we don’t need them. As the amount of solar power on the island continues to increase, we will reach the point where during sunny days, we will need to ramp down our existing steam units more than they were designed to do, Shriver said.

Wärtsilä says it has a long track record of balancing the output of wind farms with power plants in the Continental US with a total installed power generation capacity in the US currently at some 2.4 GW. In Hawaii, the company has previously supplied two power plants to the islands of Kauai and Maui with a combined capacity of 38 MW.

Solar energy comes and goes. You need something fast to fill the gaps. We are thrilled to see, once again, that our Smart Power Generation technology is a perfect companion to variable renewable energy. Fast backup capacity not only supports but enables much more wind and solar. This is key to sustainable power systems, said Wayne Elmore Regional Director at Wärtsilä.

Solar PV capacity in Hawaii has grown 80-fold in seven years. Without proper backup capacity, the intermittent generation is difficult to absorb in the grid. Source: Interstate Renewable Energy Council: US Solar Market Trends 2007–2013.

According to the recent “Energy Technology Perspectives 2014” report by the International Energy Agency (IEA), ICEs are a promising technology for supporting wind and solar energy. Comparing different flexibility resources for power systems, the IEA report says that gas-fired ICE power plants are a ”very mature technology” and ”cost-competitive to OCGTs” (Open Cycle Gas Turbines).

The IEA notes that “growth in ICE plants actually exceeds that of turbine-based technologies”. According to the IEA, the key asset of engine-based generation is its fast starting and ramping capability. Quick reaction time is essential in order to follow the output of wind and solar as closely as possible.

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