Nearly 41 percent of global carbon dioxide emissions today are due to the energy sector. As 1 billion people around the world still lack access to reliable energy, demand for electricity is expected to continue to grow, including here in the Asia Pacific region, where population and rapid urbanization is feeding energy hunger.
At the same time, the world is transitioning towards a lower carbon energy mix at a brisk pace. The global value of energy transition investment – including spend on new renewable energy capacity, electric vehicles and associated charging infrastructure, energy storage technologies – has reached over US$500 billion for the first time in 2020. Though renewables are accelerating, in places like Europe, they are only set to provide about 50% of electricity supply by 2040.
As this transition plays out, the accelerated and strategic deployment of renewable and gas power together can deliver a no-regrets path to make substantive reductions in emissions quickly, while delivering dependable, affordable power. A recent white paper by GE titled ‘Accelerated Growth of Renewables and Gas Power Can Rapidly Change the Trajectory on Climate Change’ outlines how gas power collaborating with renewables offers a solid path to decarbonization.
These solutions were discussed at a virtual media roundtable organized by GE Gas Power under the theme ‘Pathways to Faster Decarbonization with Gas and Renewables’ during which Jeff Goldmeer, Emergent Technologies Director, GE presented a global overview of the topic. Following the thought leadership presentation, I had the opportunity to sit on a regional panel discussion together with Ramesh Singaram, President & CEO GE Gas Power, Asia as well as Andrew Bedford, Director – Advisory & Energy Transition, KBR to share our perspectives on the state of affairs in the AsiaPacific region.
THE COMPLEMENTARY ATTRIBUTES OF RENEWABLES AND GAS POWER
In ASEAN countries, the power sector is driven by infrastructure growth; in North Asia the landscape is dominated by replacements and a push in renewables; while in Australia and New Zealand, there is a significant focus on grid firming. The bigger goal is for gas to compliment renewables growth and decarbonize economies.
The energy mix based on current installed capacity for Asia Pacific in 2019 is 898GW and is expected to grow by 410GW in additional capacity over the next decade. Gas makes up 300GW of the fuel mix in 2019 and is expected to grow by 95GW in additional capacity over the next decade. On the other hand, renewables makes up 258GW of the fuel mix in 2019.
Gas power offers distinct advantages in supporting this growth of renewable energy throughout the region. It is abundant, available, and affordable, and will become even more so in future. It offers the cleanest means of power production among all traditional fossil fuels. Additionally, gas offers pathways to future conversion to low or near-zero carbon with hydrogen and carbon capture, utilization, and sequestration (CCUS) technologies.
Gas is also dependable, and dispatchable in times of extreme weather events or energy instability. Today´s available battery technology suffers long gaps of supply when bad weather hammers the grid. The latter can usually be used for short-term (typically <8 hours) storage of renewable energy, while gas is economical for longer duration peaking needs. Furthermore, gas power plants are flexible, meaning they have the agility to ramp up power or notch it down to meet demand volatility.
Because they can be situated on small land areas, gas power plants have a significantly smaller physical footprint than wind and solar power plants. The decreased cost of power transmission infrastructure is good for energy consumers.
UNLOCKING THE POTENTIAL OF GAS POWER TECHNOLOGIES
Gas power solutions are already available today to nudge Asia Pacific towards reducing emissions. For now, upgrade solutions can be deployed to increase efficiency of already available gas turbines, while cutting emissions. For example in Malaysia, we see significant upgrades opportunities, particularly for our current installed base of 6B & 9E units. We are currently working with local stakeholders to explore upgrades of their standard combustion system to Dry Low NOx (DLN) combustion system. This fits government´s targets to reduce CO2 emission by 45% in 2030 as outlined by the Malaysia Intended Nationally Determined Contribution Plan.
In the past, gas plants provided base load efficient power, but today, they are asked to complement weather-dependent solar and wind capacity, and more importantly, firm the grid in case renewables are disrupted by weather. Dry Low NOx combustor systems not only provide this flexibility but also help meet the needs of increasing emissions regulations.
Many power plants in Asia Pacific still use gas turbines that were installed in the 1980s and continue to operate in simple cycle mode at efficiency levels below 30 percent. Converting them to combined cycle – something that can be accomplished in as little as 16 months - can enable them to produce up to 50 percent more electricity using the same amount of fuel.
Gas power plants are versatile, can often operate for over thirty years and hence, adopting higher efficiency technologies, such as GE’s H-class turbines, which have already set two world records for combined cycle efficiency, can help power plant owners lower the emissions per megawatt of power generated for decades to come. In Malaysia, GE recently announced the start of commercial operations for Track 4A combined cycle power plant in Johor, powered by GE’s 9HA.02 gas turbine, the first in operation globally.
On the pre combustion side, there are multiple approaches for low-carbon or carbon-free fuels, including the use of hydrogen for power generation. Today, GE has the largest fleet experience in using alternative low heating value fuels including hydrogen for power generation. A world leader in gas turbine fuel flexibility, GE has more than 75 turbines operating on low heating value fuels, including blends of hydrogen and natural gas, accumulating over 6 million operating hours. Here in the region, GE recently announced the latest customer pilot project utilizing GE’s F-class turbine technology to power Australia’s first duel-fuel capable natural gas/hydrogen power plant. EnergyAustralia had ordered GE’s 9F.05 gas turbine technology to power Tallawarra B power station to help enhance the reliability of the energy grid and help ensure New South Wales energy consumers have continued access to affordable and reliable power. The power plant will operate with great operational flexibility as a "peaker" plant, firing up rapidly when needed to stabilize the power grid during demand peaks, and it will utilize partial loads of hydrogen to decrease its emissions footprint. The Tallawarra project will be the first dispatchable power station built in NSW in more than twelve years and the first project to use GE’s advanced 9F.05 gas turbine in Asia, its most advanced F-class technology for 50 Hz applications. GE’s F-Class gas turbine portfolio has the capability to burn hydrogen levels from 5% (by volume) up to 100%.
Across Asia Pacific, countries have tremendous potential to generate low-cost renewable power, and are already devising ways to produce green and blue hydrogen. This economical fuel holds a lot of promise to diversify the region´s power pool. Australia, Singapore, and Japan are registering strong commitment and working closely with industry players to make hydrogen affordable, reliable, and sustainable.
Reliability and security issues continue to crop up in markets where renewables play a significant role. In Vietnam, under the latest Power Development Plan 8, there is powergen capacity of about 54GW, with projects being lined up with an evident shift towards gas (local/imported) and renewable power.
Renewables still face teething problems, not less the shortage of battery power to store harvested energy on a large scale. Transmission which gobbles up of land is still a thorny issue along with policy inconsistences that make long-term pricing a bit challenging.
However, under PDP 8, GE sees opportunities to collaborate with renewables and firm the grid for the ultimate benefit of energy consumers.
There are many pathways that can be adopted to power a cleaner energy future with gas and we need to adopt these solutions to take decisive actions to address the global climate crisis today – not years from now.
There is no one-size fits all when it comes to achieving decarbonization. The way forward would be for gas and renewables to work together.