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FUTURE ENERGY SYSTEMS – IN EUROPE AND BEYOND

RDK 8 coal-fired power plant in Karlsruhe, Germany. Image: EnBW

Meeting of VGB Technical Committee, 5 May 2021.

Established in 1920, VGB is a Germany-based global technical association for power and heat generation companies. As such, VGB is technically focused and does not participate in political lobbying but is very active in communicating factual data to inform policymakers.

‘Future Energy System’ is one of VGB’s technical committees, which was set up to guide VGB’s policy on how to shape the future integrated energy system in Europe. VGB itself has no preferred technologies; it is technically neutral. The committee provides VGB with information on a range of technologies and draws on representatives of 31 organisations within a wide field of renewable and fossil energy suppliers and research institutes, including Ørsted, STEAG, EnBW, EVN, EDF, Fraunhofer, Vattenfall, RWE, CEZ, Latvenergo, Uniper, VERBUND, RheinEnergie, and IEACCC. The committee’s focus is on developing practical options for a future energy system including different energy sources such as variable renewable generation, fossil fuel generation, energy storage and sector coupling (energy transformation technologies such as power-to-X) to aid the transition to low or zero-carbon generation.  Normally, the committee would meet twice a year in person, often at a member’s installation, such as a power plant or pilot demonstration. However, due to the Covid-19 pandemic, the meetings now take place online, three times a year.

The meeting last week included VGB’s updates on its activities, two presentations, and a round table discussion where committee members shared their news on ongoing and planned projects.

Ms Doreen Kückelmann, the committee advisor, gave an update on VGB activities. These include implementing a VGB Hydrogen Program, different projects on this topic and developing a VGB industry guide on hydrogen. This guide will  provide an overview of hydrogen products and services and will be of value to different stakeholders. It will be issued annually. Work on the first edition, “Hydrogen Industry Guide 2021/2022,” is ongoing.

A guest presentation was given by Dr Constanze Adolf, who talked about LUMENION GmbH’s steel-based combined heat and power storage system. The technology achieves up to 95% efficiency and has a smaller footprint than other storage systems due to the high energy density of steel. Another advantage of the system is that it can be built from recycled steel. The technology is used currently at 2.4 MWh size, but work towards a 20 MWh application is nearly complete, and there are plans to scale up to a GWh level. The high-temperature storage system works at 650°C and can work with different types of generators, including renewables, but it can also complement conventional fossil fuel power plants.

Sector coupling with high-temperature steel storage. Courtesy of Lumenion.

A presentation was given by Mr Bernd Abröll from EnBW, which is one of the largest energy suppliers in Germany and Europe and owns the famous RDK8 plant in Karlsruhe – the most efficient single reheat coal power plant in the world (see my recent report Increasing efficiency of pulverised coal-fired power plants, 2021).  Mr Abröll talked about an ongoing company transformation ‘from the energy supplier into a sustainable and innovative infrastructure partner’ and highlighted the company’s activities towards achieving climate neutrality in 2035.

The round table discussion and members’ updates on their activities were very interesting. They showed efforts towards decarbonisation of their respective assets and the search to find new practical solutions for the changing energy sector. Many members are involved in various projects, including CCUS, hydrogen, storage, and repurposing of some assets. For example, the committee chair Mr Carsten Hendriksen, who represents Ørsted, which is the largest energy company in Denmark, talked about very interesting projects ongoing or planned on some of their biomass units.  One of them will include hydrogen production at a 2 MW electrolyser installed at the biomass-fired Avedøre power station. Produced fuel will be then transported to Copenhagen for use in taxis or lorries.  The project is expected to be in operation by the end of the year.

I thoroughly enjoyed the committee meeting and feel privileged to learn first-hand how so many organisations plan to achieve carbon neutrality. No doubt, all the innovations and projects will shape the future energy system in Europe and beyond. I am looking ahead to future meetings, which will hopefully be in person soon. Information on some of the previous committee meetings can be found in my colleague Colin Henderson’s blogs, whom I replaced on the committee last year.

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