Across 13.3 hectares, 45,000 PV modules will deliver 14.25 GWh of solar power, thereby saving 10,400 metric tons of CO2 each year. The facts behind the plant in Schönkirchen (Austria), fit neatly in a single sentence. But when it comes to the reasons for building it, well, there’s a lot more to say.
Sunny pilot project on the path to CO2-neutral production
While solar power is already being generated on the filling-station roofs of OMV Petrom, for example, this ground-mounted photovoltaic plant will be the first of its kind in the group. “We are always looking for opportunities to make our oil and gas production CO2 neutral”, says Reinhard Oswald, head of OMV’s upstream business in Austria. OMV and solar power – is that a contradiction? “We won’t be withdrawing from oil and gas in the near future, that’s our core competency. And, by the way, oil is a resource that we will still rely on for another decade and more. That said, we are committed to a realistic and practicable transition to a new energy era, one in which different forms of energy and technology complement each other. We have been proactive in deciding to replace the bought-in energy we used to use, that comes from coal, oil, gas or possibly even nuclear power, to replace that with green electricity produced by us”. The PV plant is just one of the company’s multiple initiatives promoting the research and application of alternative energy. Several teams in the group are exploring topics such as hydrogen technologies, biofuels from cooking oil for example as well as CCU – carbon capture and utilization, i.e. reusing CO2.
We are always looking for opportunities to make our oil and gas production more CO2 neutral. Every ton of CO2 saved is important.
Reinhard Oswald, Managing Director, OMV Austria GmbH
Oil and gas business in a state of flux: burn less, utilize more.
Reinhard Oswald mentions another way energy forms interlink, one that might be overlooked at first glance: “You mustn’t forget that crude is not only incinerated as a fuel, but is also processed into high-quality plastics. These bind the CO2 for a much longer timespan – and are a key component of renewables, for example in the production of solar panels or parts for wind farms. A stand-alone look at individual energy sources can be misleading”, says Reinhard Oswald. The crude oil and natural gas engineer has long been an advocate of a holistic approach to viewing and using energy: “It’s always about the whole process, the big picture”.
Architect of the energy future
The big picture is also what Angelika Schmid likes to focus on. After 13 years in project purchasing, where she was responsible for things like buying all of the parts needed for building the plant, the project manager made the switch to the project department of OMV Austria around two years ago. “Here I can manage even more aspects and have a more direct impact on projects”. The idea that she, a qualified architect, would one day build the largest photovoltaic plant in Austria is one she dared not even dream of. “I have always been interested in innovation and love to learn – that’s also why this project really appeals to me. It’s OMV’s first stand-alone PV plant on this kind of scale. And maybe it’s also a bit of a surprise that the largest photovoltaic plant in Austria is being built by an oil and gas company”.
It’s OMV’s first stand-alone PV plant on this kind of scale. And maybe it’s also a bit of a surprise that the largest photovoltaic plant in Austria is being built by an oil and gas company.“
Angelika Schmid, Project Manager, OMV Austria GmbH
Solar power as the ideal use of the Schönkirchen landfill site
The plant will be built on a landfill site from mining operations. The plot is perfect for a plant of this size and type as it is an old landfill site: primarily consisting of grassland that has grown over the old remains of rock. The rock originated from deep drilling and oil production in the region and has been properly stored in accordance with stringent inspections on storage limits. “In any case, the landfill body means that the space can only be used to a depth of up to just 30 cm below the surface, so there’s not really a lot you can do here. A photovoltaic plant that delivers green electricity is the ideal choice in my opinion”. At full capacity, the plant will be capable of generating enough power for around 4,400 households. This figure is for comparative purposes only as the electricity will be used by the company itself. “We won’t be storing it in the grid. Instead we will use the electricity we produce to power operations at our own production facilities”, explains project manager Angelika Schmid.
First power this year: fast realization, long lifespan
The construction be will realized in two phases, with around 35,000 PV modules installed in phase one. This phase is set for completion by the end of 2020 when it will deliver the first solar power. The second phase of construction with another 10,000 modules is planned for 2021. The start-up will be interesting, hints project manager Angelika Schmid: “That’s the real challenge, as construction and installation are tried-and-tested technologies. We still don’t know how the production facilities will react to the power stored in the company’s own grid; that’s why starting up in fall when there are fewer hours of sunlight is ideal. Here our electrical engineers come into play – they know the plant well and can respond quickly to unexpected developments”. Once the plant is up and running, it’s practically maintenance free. The investment is expected to be recouped in the first decade of the plant’s 40 to 50-year lifespan.
“Every ton of CO2 is important”
“The concept we try out here can then be rolled out to other sites”, explains Angelika Schmid. For example, another landfill site in the region is being evaluated and the search is on for suitable sites in other areas as well. “We want to make sure that the requisite infrastructure – namely a grid for storage – is available nearby in order to make the project efficient. If we want to secure the energy transition in Europe and meet the climate targets, we can’t be picky. Every ton of CO2 that we can save is important”, emphasizes Reinhard Oswald.