Uniper Energy Services – bringing a century of experience to the energy transition
/ If the energy transition is teaching us anything, it’s that companies must be willing to embrace change, demonstrate flexibility and crucially, respond to the evolving needs of customers. /
Uniper: 100 years of experience delivering optimised solutions.
“The skills, expertise and high standards we’ve developed over the decades mean we are ideally placed to support customers as they adapt to new market realities whilst managing the associated risks and costs of the energy transition,” explains Doug Waters, Uniper Director Energy Services Global.
“The engineering solutions we deliver around the world are built on a foundation of more than 100 years of expertise in energy – so we identify with the challenges plant operators face.
He adds: “We understand the issues and because we’ve also got experience in working in more than 40 countries, we understand the differing needs in terms of market structure and regulatory requirements.”
So what are the particular challenges that the energy transition poses to existing operators?
“There are many variables at work here,” says Doug. “The rate of change varies from country to country, as does the adoption of new technologies such as wind, solar and batteries as well as demand-side transitions such as EVs.
“In much of the world, the electrical system is based on a national or regional grid basis, with power generated away from centres of population at large-scale sites, and transported to where the demand is located. Some countries generate heat, desalinate water and provide other services on top of pure power production using the same large-scale model.
“Many of these markets are seeing the decentralisation of energy production, with the growth of smaller embedded renewable technologies. This presents challenges to the grid operator both in terms of managing supply/demand and electrical quality with large-scale renewable penetration.
A number of reforms have been implemented in these markets to address these issues such as capacity markets and contracts for specific services such as synchronous compensation and enhanced response. Longer-term, there are plans for hydrogen and carbon capture utilisation and storage, which will also provide opportunities for some assets. Of course, this will not apply to all markets and success is linked to each country’s policy and resources.
In markets where there is not a fully functioning national grid there is the opportunity to move straight to the decentralised model. Challenges here include how such infrastructure is planned, financed and built to allow reliable power access for the whole population at a reasonable price.
A third group is the captive, off-grid power producers such as those at smelters, steelworks, mines and other energy intensive facilities. Often located remotely and with huge renewable potential, they have complex requirements: how to decarbonise cost-effectively; how to deal with by-products and how to manage load swings and process changes.
Enerlytics: the digital solution
It’s clear that there’s no one solution that will fit the needs of every market, situation or country.
“That’s where Energy Services comes into its own,” says Doug. “We bring all our experience and know-how to the table and work with each individual customer to assess their needs, look at what can be achieved and a create a road map to get there.
In areas currently dominated by low-cost local coal generation, the first goal is to move from baseload coal generation to flexible operation. This will make way for increased renewable penetration, for example by reducing minimum load (as low as 11% in some cases) and then starting and stopping on a daily or more frequent basis. Such changes require an approach that considers the unique situation of the plant, people and process. Changes to the plant need to be low cost, people need to be trained and the process must be optimised, whilst all the time ensuring safe and compliant operation.
“For gas-fired CCGT plant a similar approach may be taken. While GT OEMs may often deliver gas turbine upgrades, it is the steam and water cycle impacts where site-specific solutions are often required. As the gas turbine ramps up more quickly or minimum load is reduced, the effect on the HRSG and steam turbine need to be carefully evaluated. Again a plant, people and process approach is taken to evaluate and mitigate risks.
“The use of digital solutions, such as Uniper’s Enerlytics, is perfect for such instances as it enables a tailored response to be developed. The platform centres around five core modules, focused on condition, performance, risk, planning and market optimisation.
“We also help customers deliver other operations strategies, such as extending plant life, providing outage support, improving biomass feedstocks performance, applying ‘clean cooling’ technology or upgrading furnace performance. At the core of it all is our fellow owner and operator approach
“We’d like to think that whatever the question, when it comes to energy optimisation and services, we have the answer!”
Playing catch-up in the US
“In Europe, offshore wind has been there for a number of years, but I think in the United States we're a little bit behind that,” said Karustis.
Should it be successful, Halo’s approach could lead to a surge in US onshore wind, which has historically lagged behind other regions in terms of wind installation and production. Since 2016, according to the International Energy Agency, the US has installed just 22.6GW of new onshore wind capacity, compared to 30.7GW in the EU, and 50.3GW in China, struggles that Karustis hopes to address.
Last December, the Chinese Government approved a number of new offshore wind projects, totalling 13GW of production and costing around $13.3bn, as the country continues to invest in utility-scale power. Karustis hopes projects like Halo’s distributed turbine can contribute to a more balanced wind sector in the US, with both large- and small-scale operations expanding renewable power.
“The large-scale wind turbines wouldn't be phased out, it's kind of an ‘all of the above’ thing,” he said. “The large wind farms play a very important role for us in reducing the carbon footprint globally, and hopefully the micro wind market is going to augment that by producing energy where energy is being used. It's a good two-pronged approach.”
This two-pronged approach also includes other renewable power sources, including solar and utility-scale wind; Halo is not trying to replace all clean energy with its turbines, but offer another option for people eager to engage in renewable power, who may have been historically sidelined due to the high costs of building utility-scale facilities or the unsuitable geographical characteristics of the places they live.
“When you look at that market we're very excited because just as megawatt-scale wind is a large market, I think distributed wind can be as big of a market or bigger over time,” said Karustis.
“When you have incentives and improvements in the technology, the costs go down, so you can be more competitive and compete, and that's certainly the case with megawatt-scale wind,” he continued. “Just 15/20 years ago, it wasn't competitive with natural gas [and] coal, but it is now. So those government policies have helped and they've driven the technology improvements, so it's all bundled together.”