Wärtsilä supplies 50 MW power plant to help integration of solar energy in Hawaii

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.

Wärtsilä will supply a 50 MW Smart Power Generation power plant, consisting of six Wärtsilä 34DF engines, to Hawaiian Electric Company on the island of Oahu. The power plant will help enable the integration of more solar photovoltaic generation on the island. The power plant will run on a biofuel blend, which will include liquid fuels and natural gas when liquefied natural gas becomes available on the island, and it is part of the plan to reduce the island’s reliance on oil and coal-based generation.
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The power plant will be located on Schofield Barracks Army base, about 40 kilometres from Honolulu. It requires approval by the Hawaii Public Utilities Commission. If approved, the power plant is scheduled to be operational in 2017.

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 integrate more renewable energy, especially solar power, we need to transform our generation portfolio to be more flexible and quick-starting, fast-reacting capacity” said Jack Shriver, Hawaiian Electric senior engineer. He added “Internal combustion engines (ICEs) are a key aspect to that, they provide a solution to our requirements, since they are fast-reacting, efficient and capable of running on multiple fuels”. “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.

According to a recent 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. The findings were published in the IEA’s Energy Technology Perspectives 2014.

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