Welcome Energy explores the growing need for flexible energy supply systems in the transition to a green economy, both in the EU and the UK. One of the technologies that may prove a mainstay in the EU’s green strategy.
Adaptation vs institution
The COVID-19 pandemic has revealed a great many weaknesses in the systems that underpin our society, from an economy lacking support to fragile medical supply lines. One of the most obvious injuries inflicted by coronavirus, largely due to the lockdown imposed to prevent its spread, is that suffered by the fossil fuels industry.
Fairness dictates that mention be given to the unfortunate oil price war, now resolved, between Moscow and Riyadh which broke out just as lockdown conditions began.
However, this does not take away from the fact that the inflexible infrastructure behind fossil fuels has been struggling to cope with the changes imposed by coronavirus.
It is no surprise then that back in May, a consortium of European TSOs (transmission system operators) declared that electrical systems have an increasing dependency on flexible and sustainable generation.
Alongside the call for flexible generation options, increased attention has been placed on the potential of district heat networks to reduce carbon footprints at a citywide scale.
The UK government has responded to the promise of low cost, low carbon heating with a pledge of £270m to a Green Heat Network Fund.
UK energy supplier E.on have also staked their claim in the green heating arena with a new technology that promises to revolutionise district heat networks across Europe. The Federal Ministry of Economics and Energy funds a research and development competition, Reallabore der Energiewende (Real Laboratories of the Energy Transition) for which the new generation of heat network technology was developed.
“Our goal is to significantly improve the carbon footprint of cities. This is not just about expanding renewable energies. We want to look at the energy supply as a whole and implement it in partnership. With our low-temperature networks we have found a way to finally bring the energy transition as a heat transition into the city.”
Karsten Wildberger, E.ON Board Member
Using the new LowEx heat network technology means that instead of networks having to operate in excess of 100 °C, they can perform the same function at only 10-40 °C. The most obvious boon from this is that it will dramatically reduce energy loss across the network, however this also makes the integration of sustainable supply options like geothermal energy possible.
Waste heat also becomes a usable resource under these new systems since it exists in abundance but only at temperatures that are too low to serve the old systems.
Tennet was one of the three energy TSO’s included in the consortium and CEO Manon Van Beek summarised its strategy with these comments:
“Now that the conventional power stations are closing, we are preparing for a future in which we are largely dependent on consumers with their electric cars, home batteries and heat pumps to stabilise the grid reliably, sustainably and cost-effectively.”
The combination of governmental support at the national level, market pressures on existing systems and European drive for sustainable industry makes the trajectory of heat networks pretty clear. The sector is set up for huge growth in the immediate and mid-future and effectively navigating that future will require knowledge and experience gained in the past.
Property developers and engineers will want to stay abreast of emerging technologies like LowEx given its potential to exponentially increase the efficiency of tech they may already be using or be planning to use.
As the demand for affordable housing increases, alongside the restrictions imposed by the UK’s ‘Build back better’ campaign, developers may look to LowEx and other innovations to help meet these needs.
Welcome Energy have been providing billing and metering advice to businesses invested in district heating for over 30 years, working with clients including One Housing and Savills to ensure that these systems serve them as effectively as possible.
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