Moving towards an interconnected energy system
By Linnea Johansson, Johanneberg Science Park
As Europe and the world is moving towards a fossil independent energy system, it is likewise moving towards a decentralised, diverse energy system with multiple energy sources, new consumption patterns, and new actors contributing to the system. This was a general theme for the 8th International Conference on Smart Energy Systems in Aalborg visited by Linnea Johansson from Johanneberg Science Park.
District heating was the main theme for the conference, and it soon became evident that future predictions all show district heating as playing an even larger part of an integrated energy system of heating, cooling, electricity, and vehicle fuels. Today, many district heating networks are powered by gas or coal which within the near future needs to be replaced. During the conference, multiple case studies were presented showing possible pathways going forward such as fossil fuels being fully or partly replaced by waste heat from factories, sewage systems or data centres; where biomass from overlooked agriculture residuals such as straw or bran was used; where electric boilers and storage systems were introduced to the system, or where new technology for decreased heat loss could reduce the demand for production.
A second big topic for the conference was how an energy system can be reliable if mainly based on intermittent energy sources. For a long time, the base load for energy generation in Europe has come from predictable and stable coal or nuclear plants. Sun or wind however, the fastest growing renewable energy sources, are neither predictable nor provide a constant energy supply. Instead, new methods to provide a stable supply must be developed. Some topics from the conference was the potential for geothermal energy as a new base load supply, or various ways to store energy over time – both in terms of electric battery storage, heat or cold storage or hydrogen conversion.
A third buzz word was hydrogen. At the conference, various projects were presented where hydrogen showed potential for addressing challenges related to balancing the consumption/production from intermittent energy sources, and where the hydrogen itself was used for energy storage, fuels or raw materials for the processing industry. However, the new technology brings several yet unsolved challenges related to infrastructure for hydrogen transportation and safe storage.
A concrete example of the ongoing transformation can be found at Nordjyllandsværket (the Nordjylland Power Station): a combined heat and power plant which provides Aalborg with district heating, and the destination for a technical tour offered to the conference participants. (As seen in the photos below) Today, the main energy source for the power plant is coal coupled with a smaller amount of waste incineration and surplus heating. However, as the Danish government has set the deadline for fossil-based power production to 2028, a large transition must take place to replace the coal and the waste.
Already today the market provides some solutions to meet the goal, but as many of the solutions are yet to be invented or refined, the former power plant is now being transformed into Norbis Park; a large-scale energy living lab and a testing and development site for renewable energy solutions. Some of the first solutions to be placed on the site include a 150 MW electric boiler coupled with a 200.000 m3 heat storage, a sea water heat exchanger and a factory for production of e-methanol from captured carbon.
In terms of ACCESS, Aalborg Forsyning (the public company operating Nordjyllandsværket) is participating in a City Support Group organised by Johanneberg Science Park. Through the City Support Group activity, a knowledge exchange forum for accelerated energy transition has been created where Johanneberg Science Park continuously shares experiences and lessons learned from the ACCESS pilots to support the development at Norbis Park, while at the same time collecting insights from Aalborg Forsyning to share with the ACCESS partners.