Two world energy records
One of the best practice cases the IEA promotes in its roadmap is the consumer-owned Marstal district heating system in Denmark, where, with Ramboll’s help, hot water from solar heating is being stored in a covered pit.
The Marstal storage system had some initial sealing problems, as birds and cats were able to get into the pit, and at that stage the technology still needed subsidies.
Today, however, the pit storage system has been secured and further developed by Ramboll elsewhere in Denmark – which brings us to Vojens. The consumer-owned district heating system there now holds two world energy records: a 70,000- m2 solar heating plant and a 200,000-m3 heat storage – a giant pool of sorts, 13 metres deep and 610 metres in circumference – in an old gravel pit. What is more, the pool is commercially viable under Danish conditions.
It takes about five months to fill the pit to its maximum of 200 million litres. “The floating cover makes it possible to store the hot water for the Danish winter season when consumers turn on their radiators,” says Flemming Ulbjerg, Senior Consultant at Ramboll Energy.
The large-scale investment, which will increase the share of solar heating to 50% of the annual heat demand, provides consumers with annual savings of 10-15% on their heating bills, and the plant saves 6,000 tonnes of CO2 per year.
The next stage will be to use electric boilers and heat pumps to harvest the cheapest electricity and generate the remaining 50% heat with electricity from wind energy – an integration already established by the district heating company in a similar, but slightly smaller pit in the nearby town of Gram.
Thermal storage will become more common
“This type of energy storage is still rare, but that’s about to change,” says Sven Werner, Professor of Energy Technology at Halmstad University in Sweden and one of the world’s leading experts on district heating and cooling.
“It’s inevitable that thermal storage will become more common in order to increase the efficiency of our heating systems,” he says.
Like Sven Werner, Brian Vad Mathiesen, Professor of Energy Planning at Aalborg University, believes we have to move away from a sole focus on the electricity sector to a look at the energy demands in the heating, cooling and transport sectors as well. Combining various utility systems can help provide the cheap storage needed for electric vehicles, hot water and cold water.
“The sole focus on one grid is a problem. We need to focus more strongly on district heating grids in combination with the power grid. If we combine heat and power grids, we can use cheap heat storage to reduce the fossil fuel-based production of heat and power by using excess wind or solar power for heat production. Heat storage can even enable seasonal storage of renewable heat such as in the covered pits in Vojens and Gram. Whether we have a colder climate or a hotter climate like those in the Middle East or parts of Asia, water storage and the combination of utility grids is key to cost-effectiveness,” Brian Vad Mathiesen says.