How to build a smart energy system

Green Transition 15 February 2018 Anders Dyrelund

More and more countries, regions and cities are making energy strategies. That's a complex planning task, especially if the goal is to be fossil-free and cost-efficient.

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8 mins

All around the world the Paris Agreement and local climate goals are putting pressure on energy planning. Countries, regions and cities are concerned with one big question: how to get on the path to a low-carbon society in the most cost-efficient way – while also taking energy security into account.

According to experts, making energy systems smarter is alpha and omega – especially on a national scale and in cross-border regions.

"We have to move away from a sole focus on areas like the electricity sector and look at the energy demands of the heating, cooling and transport sectors as well. We have to better connect the different sources and consumption areas – in a smart energy system,” says Brian Vad Mathiesen, Professor of Energy Planning at Aalborg University, Denmark.

The challenge is to identify where society is heading – in this case towards a lower-carbon solution. – and what is technically possible. This requires planning that combines and optimizes these two factors.

District heating with storage

Ramboll recently conducted a study for the Danish Ministry of Energy, Utilities and Climate on the possible challenges and barriers to establishing a smart energy system in Denmark and potential solutions to them.

The main recommendation is to electrify the entire Danish energy system in order to reach the goal of being a fossil-free society by 2050.

This would, for example, allow surplus wind power to be put into big heating pumps and thus used in the heating system.

A smart energy system that relies on fluctuating energy sources such as wind and solar power requires new, flexible energy usage and storage solutions. In turn this requires meticulous, long-term planning. The study recommends exploiting the already extensive district heating system as a cost-effective means of using and storing electricity, rather than investing in new transmission lines to other countries.

It also recommends that biogas use be expanded as a stabilising factor in the system - a more sustainable and energy-secure solution than steps such as increasing biomass imports.

Carbon-free cities

Also at the urban and regional levels, efficient energy management depends on there being a strategy for producing and utilising energy in place. Copenhagen has a layout that favours public transport and an extensive district heating network, so the target – to become CO2 neutral by the year 2025 – is arguably within reach if energy efficiency is improved and the share of renewables increased.

In Norway, the City of Oslo aims to halve its fossil fuel emissions by 2030 and become fossil-free by 2050 in a strategy that Ramboll has also helped to develop. Here, as elsewhere, the transition requires major investment, but investment that is cost-efficient seen over decades.

Energy planning for companies 

Ramboll identified significant water and energy savings for one of the world's largest spirits distillers by conducting a series of audits at its plants in North America. Five already energy-efficient facilities could reduce their energy use by another 10% with a payback period of approximately 2.5 years. Capital project opportunities ranged from boilers, biomass projects and lighting to the increased use of waste heat and simultaneous heating and cooling generation, as well as a number of combined heat and power opportunities.

 

Written by Michael Rothenborg