How African industry can decarbonize and reduce energy costs while improving reliability

In African countries, especially those with developed industrial sectors, a significant portion of energy production can come from industry’s own power plants.

This is especially true in countries where grid reliability is low and industry relies on self-generation to ensure a stable energy supply. In this article, we take a closer look at ways to help energy-intensive industries optimize their use of renewable energy and achieve their decarbonization goals.

As in other regions, energy-intensive companies in Africa face intense pressure to reduce carbon emissions while continuing to compete in global markets. Wärtsilä understands this better than most: many of our mining and industrial partners in Africa run their own microgrids, either by choice or out of necessity. You want to use renewable energy, but you have to do it efficiently and cost-effectively. Managing power intermittency and schedulability is no easy task, and most organizations struggle to get the most out of hybrid power configurations. We will show how offsetting renewable energy can not only reduce operational CO2 emissions, but also ensure overall system reliability and reduce future electricity costs.

Make the most of your assets

Every industrial site is unique and there is no one-size-fits-all solution when it comes to decarbonizing. Each operation, location and facility has many specific restrictions, conditions and variables. However, to solve the decarbonization challenge, everyone must answer a core question: How to maximize renewable energy integration while ensuring supply security and competitive energy costs?
As renewable and intermittent energy sources are integrated into the grid, intelligent management of the inevitable increased complexity is critical. Avoiding throttling, managing reserves and optimizing fuel consumption in your thermal system are key elements to help you further decarbonise. At an early stage, advanced power system modeling will help understand the impact of different operating conditions, identify optimal generation strategies and reap the benefits of dispatch optimization.

Optimize your energy production strategy

Optimal energy production strategies must balance three key objectives that are often seen as contradictory. The first goal is to maximize renewable energy production to reduce carbon emissions. The second is to ensure stable and reliable power supply. Third, it aims to ensure that overall system costs remain competitive. If you fail to achieve any of these goals, your entire plan will fail.
Therefore, smart decarbonization strategies require a holistic consideration of the entire microgrid, optimizing the renewable energy mix for baseload power, and enabling dispatchable power with the support of energy storage and balanced motor technology.

While wind and solar can provide emission-free energy at a lower cost than fossil fuels, their intermittency creates uncertainty in the system. Therefore, adding renewable energy to the power plant fleet requires changes in the way the energy balance is managed to ensure reliability, minimize renewable energy curtailment, and reduce fuel consumption at thermal power plants. Flexible power must be provided to increase or decrease production as wind or solar production fluctuates, while also being able to adapt in real time to fluctuating energy demand.

Flexible engine power plants and energy storage systems (ESS) can work together to support renewable energy integration. Both energy systems react quickly and efficiently handle the many daily starts and stops. ESS is growing at a very fast pace, while power plants can produce flexible and reliable power even during periods of lower renewable energy generation, and have the advantage of being able to run on a variety of fuels, from natural gas and liquids to today’s biofuels , when locally produced hydrogen and similar derivatives in the future become competitive and widely available.
With this multi-fuel capability, automotive power plants not only provide excellent protection against fuel supply risks but are also the ultimate “future-proof” decarbonisation technology. Gas engines can already run on a 25% hydrogen mixture without major modifications. We expect that in a few years, engines will be able to run entirely on green fuels such as hydrogen, achieving 100% renewable energy and net-zero emissions.

Smart Energy Management Systems (EMS) keep any energy system running smoothly. Wärtsilä’s most advanced digital energy platform, GEMS, uses real-time data, renewable energy forecasts and machine learning algorithms to quickly optimize the deployment of dynamic generation assets, rather than applying strict rules-based models. GEMS’ optimization and control capabilities enable reliability, minimize emissions and reduce costs.

Decarbonization is a journey, not a destination

To remain competitive, companies’ decarbonization processes must be based on three pillars: emissions reduction, competitive costs and reliability. To achieve this, African mining and industrial companies’ path to net-zero emissions cannot rely on a single solution. This is a long-term plan for the future, including data-driven energy asset management.

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