The power sector accounts for up to 41 percent of global carbon dioxide emissions today, with Africa contributing about 2-3%. In parallel, there are still over 580 million people on the continent who do not have access to reliable energy and the demand for electricity is expected to continue to grow as populations increase, industrialisation ambitions grow and urbanisation continues to fuel the need for more power.
To address sustainability concerns, the world is transitioning towards a lower carbon energy mix at a pace unseen before. This is reflected in the total global value of energy transition investment – including spend on new renewable energy capacity, electric vehicles and associated charging infrastructure, energy storage technologies, and more – reaching over US$500 billion for the first time in 2020.
This was an increase of 9 percent over the previous year, despite the economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. However, while renewables are growing rapidly, increases are not occurring fast enough, and they are still projected to provide less than half of global electricity supply by 2040.
“As Sub-Saharan Africa balances the need for more access to power with the drive for transition to cleaner energy sources, 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,” says Elisee Sesan, CEO of GE Gas Power Sub-Saharan Africa.
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 can complement renewables to offer decarbonisation at scale in the near-term, with pathways to near-sero in the long term, while providing affordable and reliable baseload power.
These solutions were discussed at a virtual media roundtable organised by GE Gas Power under the theme ‘Pathways to Faster Decarbonisation with Gas and Renewables’.
The complementary attributes of renewables and gas power
Today, we’re seeing countries across Sub-Saharan Africa commit to increasing the share of renewable energy in their mix and to decarbonise their economies. South Africa recently announced three new renewable procurement rounds totaling 6,800MW throughout 2021.
Nigeria’s National Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency Policy aims to add 10GW of grid-connected renewable energy by 2030. Kenya, Senegal, Ghana and Angola have similar ambitions. Gas power offers distinct advantages in supporting this growth of renewable energy throughout the region.
Gas is increasingly abundant, available, and affordable, and expected to become even more so in the years ahead, offering countries relatively low-cost power on demand. It offers the cleanest means of power production among all traditional fossil fuels, with as little as less than half the carbon dioxide emissions of coal. Additionally, gas offers pathways to future conversion to low or near-zero carbon with hydrogen and carbon capture, utilisation, and sequestration (CCUS) technologies.
Gas also provides dependable, dispatchable capacity that is available regardless of the time of day, season, or weather; this is critical for grid stability as very high renewables penetration can lead to system instability. Gas plants can compensate for long gaps in renewable production in ways that today’s battery storage technology cannot.
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, with the ability to start quickly, ramp power up or down, and turndown to very low output levels, so they can provide affordable, dispatchable power that can fill the supply/demand gap as and when needed.
Gas power plants have a significantly smaller physical footprint than wind and solar power plants, enabling them to be deployed in countries with limited land and closer to demand centers such as large urban areas, thereby potentially reducing the investments needed in transmission infrastructure.
Unlocking the potential of gas power technologies
There are gas power solutions available today that can help countries across SSA reduce the environmental impact of their power generation activities. The financial, human, and economic impact of weak or unimplemented power plant operations and maintenance strategies accounts for more than 40% of stranded or underutilised generation capacity in the region In the more immediate to short term, upgrade solutions can be deployed to increase the output, efficiency, flexibility, lifespan, and availability of gas power plants, while reducing fuel consumption and environmental impact.
In Cote d’Ivoire, GE’s MXL2 solution was installed on two GT13E2 gas turbines at the Asito Power plant, helping to enhance fuel efficiency and increasing the total output by 30MW, the equivalent electricity needed to power up to 24,000 Ivoirian households.
Many power plants in SSA still use gas turbines that were installed in and operate in simple cycle mode at efficiency levels around 30%. Converting them to combined cycle – something that can be accomplished in as little as 16 months – can enable them to produce up to 50% more electricity using the same amount of fuel. Through digital, customers can also leverage the insights to increase reliability and availability, lower maintenance costs while ensure continuity in times of uncertainty such as the COVID-19 pandemic.
In the more medium to long term, advanced technologies that offer higher efficiency and flexibility should be deployed to equip new power generation facilities. Gas power plants can often operate for thirty years or more 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.
The H-Class turbines will help power producers acquire the flexibility they need to bring more renewables onto the system and accelerate the retirement of coal, ultimately reducing carbon emissions. Smaller grids can include the Aeroderivative gas turbines and scale up as the power demand expands.
Apart from combustion technologies, there are pre and post combustion solutions that can also help sustainability efforts. 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 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.
GE is already enabling the transition of a 485 MW combined-cycle 7HA power plant in Ohio, USA, to run on carbon-free hydrogen. Long Ridge Energy Terminal, which owns the plant, is collaborating with GE and New Fortress Energy to provide carbon-free power to customers by blending hydrogen in the gas stream and transitioning the plant to be capable of burning 100 percent green hydrogen over the next decade.
“There are critical and efficient 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 without jeopardising Africa’s need for more affordable and dependable energy,” says Sesan.
“There is no one solution that fits all and the mix of fuels and technologies needed to achieve net sero carbon goals will vary from country to country. However, there can be no doubt that gas power can play a critical role in helping SSA achieve faster, deeper decarbonisation at scale while closing its energy gap.”