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2022-10-28 16:08

Flexible electrification in Vietnam's net zero emission roadmap

With the energy transition in the field of power generation and in line with Vietnam's commitment to achieve net zero emission by 2050, gas gradually replacing coal is considered as one of the initial steps.

With the energy transition in the field of power generation and in line with Vietnam's commitment to achieve net zero emission by 2050, gas gradually replacing coal is considered as one of the initial steps. However, given the upcoming power system balance, gas power sources will decrease significantly and affect the economy of this type of source. One of the solutions proposed in the Power Plan VIII is to supplement a flexible source, in which the ICE (Internal Combustion Engine) generator set is considered an appropriate option.

Vietnam has committed to achieving its net zero (Net-zero) emission target at the 26th United Nations Climate Change Summit (COP26) in November 2021.

Subsequently, in the latest draft of Power Plan VIII in April 2022, there were significant adjustments compared to the previous version (October 2021). The total installed capacity increase of the system mainly comes from renewable energy sources (solar and wind) reaching 23 GW by 2030. The capacity of traditional thermal power sources from coal and gas has decreased significantly compared to that in the old version. These changes have shown the Government's obvious intention to reduce carbon emissions from the power sector to 42 million tons of CO2 by 2050, contributing to the net zero emission target for the entire economy in the same year.


Natural gas-powered internal combustion engine (ICE) units

With the current global crisis in gas supplies, there have been concerns in many countries about the viability of liquefied natural gas (LNG) projects. Vietnam is no exception. The latest Power Plan VIII proposes 23.9 GW of electricity from LNG using combined cycle gas turbine (CCGT) technology by 2030 and 31.4 GW by 2045. This gas power project has a scale of 1,500 MW to 2,400 MW, is expected to consume 14-18 billion cubic meters of LNG in 2030 and 13-16 billion cubic meters in 2045.

Today, we are witnessing a crisis in prices and rising global demand for gas and LNG, triggering challenges in fuel supply and increasing competition for short and long-term LNG sales contracts. This will continue to put pressure in the way conventional gas power sources operate.

In addition, traditional electrification technologies such as combined cycle gas turbines (CCGT) work best when operating at high loads, with stable operating modes for a long time without interruption. However, the actual operation of gas-fired power plants in the coming years will change much as the energy transition is happening rapidly.

According to several annual reports, Bloomberg New Energy Outlook has forecast that the power factor of gas-fired power sources will decrease significantly and will be below the threshold for this combined cycle gas turbine technology to operate optimally. Globally, the capacity factor of CCGT gas power generation will decrease from an average of 40% today to nearly 25% by 2030 and even further as the role of electrification will shift towards the purpose of balancing renewable energy sources. This is something we can clearly see in the COVID-19 pandemic period and the closure of energy markets in Europe.

In Europe, electricity demand fell by more than 8% (year-on-year) between March 1 and May 15, 2020. At the same time, the share of renewable energy increased from 8% to 46%, while the traditional gas power source decreased by 17.5% (year-on-year). Although demand for electricity has recovered, the pandemic gives us a glimpse into the flexibility needed by power systems as the share of renewable energy sources increases. In such systems, the capacity factor of gas-fired power plants will likely decrease and the way these plants operate will also have to change.

Declining factors in power, changing operating modes, order of mobilization after renewable energy sources with lower costs, continuous start-and-stop, increase/decrease requirements, frequent loads, continuous operation at low loads, have created challenges for gas power source, and profits will also be reduced even if this fuel source is considered a transitional one.

How to settle this paradox? It is vital to be aware that traditional thermoelectric technologies that lack flexibility run the risk of becoming a stranded asset. Globally, a number of new CCGT plants have been built, but have been decommissioned because they no longer operate efficiently. However, there is still a greater opportunity to capture the potential of other technologies that also use gas but have greater flexibility such as the internal combustion engine (ICE).

Many countries are considering prioritizing the use of renewable energy (solar and wind) for energy security instead of traditional thermal power sources. It is rational as renewables are forecast to be the lowest-cost energy by 2030. Renewable energy does not pose any fuel risks, while helping to reduce emissions of energy sector and ultimately assist those countries in achieving goals such as net zero emission/carbon neutrality.

The role of electrification will change from background running/backing to peaking and system balancing. As a result, natural gas-powered generation technologies will need to be flexible in terms of start-up, load ramping, offloading, low-load operation, as well as quick start-and-stop times. Gas power plants using internal combustion engines (ICE) offer high efficiency (up to 50%) and outstanding flexibility (start-up within 2 minutes), making it a very suitable solution for weighing by renewable energy sources.


Manantiales Behr plant built by Wärtsilä to support for wind energy in Argentina.

The latest draft Power Plan VIII introduces 28,200 MW of flexible gas-fired power by 2045, demonstrating the important role of highly flexible technologies as the share of renewable energy increases.

However, to achieve the net zero emission target, thermal power plants will have to switch to using sustainable fuel such as green hydrogen and ammonia in the future. This will turn natural gas into a transitional fuel in the medium term, until the entire production chain of these fuel types is developed on a massive scale. This direction has been outlined in the recent draft Power Plan VIII, in which gas power plants will need to gradually switch to using hydrogen (mixed) and pure hydrogen fuel after 20 years.

Among companies specializing in ICE, Wärtsilä is leading with more than 74,000 MW of ICE installed in 180 countries around the world. Wärtsilä engines can now run on natural gas, biogas, synthetic methane, or a hydrogen/natural gas mixture of up to 25% hydrogen. Wärtsilä has partnered with a number of energy solutions providers and IPPs around the world such as Capwatt (Portugal) and Keppel Offshore & Marine (Singapore) in testing hydrogen, natural gas hybrid fuels for industrial plants, ICE power plants in these countries. Wärtsilä is developing new lines of ICE engines that can use 100% hydrogen fuel with water and air as inputs, helping the Group achieve its own carbon neutrality by 2030.

Mr. Pham Minh Thanh, Wärtsilä Country Director for Vietnam, said: “ICE power plants can play an important role in addressing the challenges facing Vietnam's power system. In the short term, ICE power plants can effectively help meet growing energy demand, and in the long term they can provide a reserve and balance of renewable energy for the power system, directing the transition towards a future with a high percentage of renewable energy.

According to Mr. La Hong Ky - Office of the National Steering Committee for Electricity Development, with 5 operating modes, a flexible ICE engine power plant can react quickly to abnormal fluctuations of renewable energy sources, help balance the system, avoid harmful frequency and voltage fluctuations, make an important contribution when integrating a large proportion of renewable energy sources into the national electricity system.

The gas crisis may only be a short-term problem. However, it is clear that there is a need to redefine the role of electrification in future power systems. This is also an opportunity to accelerate the energy transition by prioritizing the development of renewable energy sources and the use of carbon-free fuel combined with flexible technologies such as ICE. The combination of the two types will help reduce fuel risks and carbon emissions, ensuring energy security at an affordable price for the economy.

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