A PUSH FOR GREEN ENERGY


CHEAP OIL OR NO CHEAP OIL, THE MOVE TOWARD CLEAN, RENEWABLE ENERGY SOURCES IS PICKING UP PACE IN THE US, ESPECIALLY IN THE WINDSWEPT MIDWEST AND SUNSHINE STATES LIKE HAWAII.

A-Push-for-Green-Energy

The US has plenty of wind and sun. The headache for electricity producers comes from trying to integrate these intermittent, weather-dependent inputs into their systems. To solve the problem, operators are turning to internal combustion engines (ICEs).

The past decade has seen the rise of the first ICE built on a scale large enough to be used on a power grid, and it just so happens that these quick-starting engines are amazingly good at doing what the traditional turbine generators can’t: smoothing out the input peaks and troughs created by wind and solar power.

It’s no coincidence that the windiest part of the continental US – the corridor stretching from Minnesota in the north to Texas in the south  is where the interest in these engines has started to mushroom.

When the Stillwater Utilities Authority, which serves a city of 46,000 in Oklahoma, was looking to update its power generation setup, balancing the fluctuating power coming in from wind plants had to be part of the equation. What they needed was a generator that could start quickly, run efficiently, and ramp up and down whenever needed.

The solution that Stillwater settled on was a 56 MW power station that will consist of three 18.7 MW ICEs running on natural gas. Last September the company signed a contract with Wärtsilä to provide the plant. Gary Groninger, Business Development Manager for Energy Solutions Sales at Wärtsilä North America, explains why Stillwater chose this technology over the more traditional combustion turbines.

“Number one is that these engine generators start fast. They start in as little as five minutes and you can shut them down and start them up again in as little as five minutes. There’s just nothing that compares to that in the industry,” he said. “If you have a big combustion turbine or a coal plant, that’s 500 or 1000 MW, a big lump that you can’t start and stop easily or efficiently.”

Other utilities in the region are turning to Wärtsilä for the same reason. In December, for instance, the company was contracted by Midwest Energy Inc. to supply an extension to its Goodman Energy Center in Kansas, specifically to handle increased input from wind farms.




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