Support 110 years of independent journalism.

Advertorial: in association with VPI

Solving the power puzzle

Tackling challenges to accelerate our progress to net zero requires lateral thinking.

VPI is a leading power company in the UK and Ireland. Its role in the energy system is to anticipate and tackle challenges that emerge as the energy transition unfolds. Jorge Pikunic, CEO at VPI, runs through the work the organisation is doing.

How do you work towards net zero?
We work with customers, grid owners and operators, and governments to strengthen energy security and grid stability while we transition to net zero. Our portfolio includes reliable thermal power and battery storage across seven sites in the UK and Ireland. We are already one of the largest power generators in the UK and the largest battery storage operator in Ireland. We have three projects under construction and more in development. This includes one of the world’s largest carbon capture projects, which we can start building as soon as next year if we get the greenlight from government this year.

Can you offer an example of how you are solving problems within the energy transition?
We are constantly looking across the whole energy landscape, spotting problems that need solutions, then working to solve them. Opportunities for new, more sustainable sources and technologies will continue to emerge – there is no magic bullet. Moving from today’s mixed energy landscape to a greener, more sustainable future will require joined up thinking and flexibility on the part of producers, providers, users, and regulators.

Following Cop28, we have a global ambition to triple the level of renewables in the energy system. This is an important target. One of the biggest challenges in making it a reality is overcoming intermittency – ensuring we have adequate supply when the weather doesn’t deliver the power we need. Over the next few years and decades, this challenge will be compounded by increased demand, which is expected to double by 2050 according to the Climate Change Committee – think about electrification and additional power needs from technologies like artificial intelligence.

Reliable and flexible power is therefore needed to support more renewables. In the future, this could be delivered by technologies such as hydrogen, small modular reactors, or long-duration batteries. Today, batteries or power from neighbouring markets (when available) are good for short-term energy gaps. But for longer periods, the most economical, cleanest, and technically viable option available to deliver flexible power is gas-fired generation. That’s why the government has recently committed to supporting the building of new gas power stations to maintain a safe and reliable energy source – and hasn’t faced much opposition.

Can you decarbonise gas-fired generation?
The exciting thing is that there are ways to decarbonise gas-fired generation. Switching to alternative fuels like hydrogen is one of those ways. All our gas turbines have a pathway to use hydrogen once it becomes viable. Another way to decarbonise is via carbon capture technology. For power, this technology works well when the site is located near a transport and storage network. That’s why we are pioneering one of the largest carbon capture projects in the world at our site in Immingham, which is located within the Viking CCS cluster in the Humber.

Tell us about your carbon capture project in the Humber region
The Humber region contributes £18bn to the UK economy every year. It also emits more carbon dioxide than any other UK industrial cluster. An ecosystem of companies with sites in the Humber region, including VPI, is working to develop a carbon capture and storage network in the area to help the region decarbonise without deindustrialising. At the heart of this cluster is the Viking carbon store, which has been awarded Track 2 status by the UK government.

Our Immingham combined heat and power plant, is one of the largest in Europe and supplies power and steam to nearby industry. It is located very close to the Viking transport and storage pipeline and is one of the first emitter projects for the store. By capturing our carbon, we will not only deliver low-carbon flexible power to the country and steam to adjacent industries; we’ll kickstart the abatement of the industrial cluster.

How will it work?
Using a post-combustion solution, we plan to capture the carbon dioxide before it is emitted to the atmosphere, compress it, and then inject it safely and permanently into a depleted gas field in the North Sea, the Viking field. Our ambition is to capture up to 3.3 million tonnes of carbon per year by 2028. This is nearly a fifth of the government’s annual 20 million tonne-per-annum carbon capture target for 2030. What makes this project stand out is that we are ready to go. We have completed the engineering design. We could begin construction next year if we get the go ahead from government. It’s one of the easiest ways to launch the carbon capture industry in the UK.

What’s next for VPI?
We are always scanning for challenges to solve through the energy transition to accelerate our progress to net zero. We continue to invest in our existing fleet of thermal generation and battery storage to ensure reliable power. We are also working to find abatement routes for our assets. And we are developing additional solutions – for example, providing expert trading services to help renewables and small-scale developers get the most out of their assets.

All of this means that VPI is growing, its portfolio of technologies is diversifying, its customer base is broadening, and it is expanding internationally. The company will look different in a few years’ time.

This article first appeared in a Spotlight print report on Sustainability, published on 10 May 2024. Read it in full here.

Topics in this article : ,