Could more district heating schemes help tackle climate change in Scotland?

Kevin Keane,  BBC Scotland’s environment correspondent, reports that the Scottish government is due to publish its climate and energy plans in the next week. Ahead of that, BBC Scotland has been looking at two radical schemes proposed by environmental groups. The second is a district heating scheme used in Norway.

For most of us, heat is something generated within the confines of the homes we occupy; coal fires, gas-powered boilers, oil, electric storage units.

But in the town of Drammen in Norway it is a shared commodity, created off-site and piped into homes.

District heating is considered to be much more efficient – and therefore more environmentally friendly – than all of the above.

And if you can create that heat with less reliance on fossil fuels, the carbon footprint is reduced even further.

In Scotland, heat accounts for more than half our energy use and so decarbonizing it will have to become a priority if climate change targets are to be met.

The irony is that while district heating is not in widespread use here, the system in Drammen was installed by a Scottish firm.

Glasgow-based Star Renewable Energy installed the heat pumps in 2010/11.

In simple terms, they work like a refrigerator in reverse, taking river water and cooling it down by about 4 degrees.

The heat extracted is enough to turn a sealed network of ammonia from a liquid to a gas which, through pressure, can heat water to 90 degrees.

That water is then piped into people’s homes to heat their radiators.

So why is such a simple idea not being used more widely?

Dave Pearson, from Star Renewable Energy, said: “I think it is a slightly abstract concept that we can harvest a river for heat. Rivers are quite chilly already.

“But really it’s down to bringing a combination of technology which we’re producing in our factory in Glasgow but also the imagination and the desire of the communities, the cities, the government to see better solutions.”

Heat-pump technology is not carbon-free as it still needs to draw electricity from the national grid. That electricity is made from a combination of fossil fuels and renewable technologies.

If huge numbers of people shift from gas or oil-fired heating, it is going to place greater demands on the grid which is decarbonizing.

In part, decarbonization in electricity is caused by a reduction in consumption.

Relatively large-scale district heating systems do exist in some parts of Scotland but gas is the dominant fuel.

In Aberdeen, a combined heat and power network is used to heat 2,500 council-owned flats and public buildings while also selling electricity to the grid.

Generators create the power while the warm exhaust from the engines is used to create the heat.

Although there are no plans at present, ultimately it could be converted from gas to heat pumps using water from the sea.

Ian Booth, from Aberdeen Heat and Power, said: “Once the infrastructure is built you could actually bolt on at the front end other technologies as they improve.

“We’re replacing electric heating systems with a combined heat and power fueled system. The impact on the environment is about a 40% reduction on carbon.”

In Norway, heat pumps rely on water from rivers and fjords which, around the surface, is about 8 degrees Celsius.

But Prof Janette Webb, from the University of Edinburgh, says Scotland has a source of much warmer water which could be exploited.

She said: “Right across central Scotland, not only have we got a lot of surface water we’ve also got underground mines, which are flooded now, which have water, in the deeper mines anyway, at about 30 degrees.

“We could extract heat from that water and use that to heat our buildings.”

The details of how Scotland will meet its climate change targets will be published on Thursday afternoon.

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What Enel’s buy of Demand Energy says about energy storage and microgrids

reports  in Microgrid Knowledge that this week Italian energy giant Enel swooped in to take 100 percent ownership of Demand Energy, an entrepreneurial U.S. energy storage company based in Washington state.

When a very big international company buys a very small company in an emerging area like energy storage and microgrids, you’ve got to ask, ‘What’s up?’

Pay attention U.S. utilities, says Rob Thornton, president & CEO of the International District Energy Association, which includes the Microgrid Resources Coalition. It appears European utilities get it.

The acquisition, Thornton said, “underscores how our European utility counterparts are ahead of the curve on utility transformation from central station generation to more distributed, cleaner generation closer to the customer.”

These European companies are “assigning greater value to effective tools like Demand Energy for decarbonizing and delivering enhanced customer control and resiliency,” he said.

An $80 billion energy company operating in 30 countries, Enel is striving to be carbon neutral by 2050.

“In my opinion, U.S. utilities that embrace this paradigm shift towards cleaner, more efficient decentralized solutions will likely prosper in the years ahead while those clinging to status quo, rate base monopolistic models may find themselves gone the way of Wang or Digital Equipment Corp.,” Thornton warned.

Enel acquired Demand Energy through its subsidiary Enel Green Power North America, which works in 23 U.S. states and two Canadian provinces. EGPNA operates 100 renewable energy plants, totaling 2.8 GW, and is developing others.

Demand Energy is a relatively small, but growing behind-the-meter energy storage and microgrids player. Founded in 2008, it has carried out 24 projects, totaling 3 MW/9 MWh of installed capacity in both the United States and Latin America. Its project pipeline exceeds 30 MW/100 MWh.

“…European utility counterparts are ahead of the curve on utility transformation” — Rob Thornton, IDEA

An intelligence play

Francesco Venturini, Enel’s head of Global Renewable Energies, said that the acquisition gives Enel “a complementary partner and innovator.”

“By combining our global presence and expertise in systems integration with Demand Energy’s software and established product offering, we will expand the development of renewables and storage both in the US and globally, delivering a clean, reliable, high-tech and cost-effective energy solution,” he said.

Enel smart grid pavillion

The acquisition highlights the growing importance of software intelligence for energy storage and microgrids, a feature product for Demand Energy. Demand Energy’s Distributed Energy Network Optimization System (DEN.OSTM) software was selected for a microgrid recently announced at a Costa Rican medical manufacturing facility. The project is billed as the first advanced solar plus storage microgrid in Central America.

Demand Energy also is involved in New York’s carefully watched non-wires alternative demonstration project in Brooklyn-Queens. Demand Energy was chosen to design and deliver a lithium-ion battery system for the program’s first microgrid that will serve a 625-unit apartment building.

This isn’t the first acquisition of a small energy storage company by a major international player. Last year international oil company Total agreed to buy French battery maker Saft.

Watch for more of this type of deal as the energy storage prices continue to drop and the market continues to ascend, said Matt Roberts, executive director of the Energy Storage Association (ESA).

“Larger companies are now starting to see this really tangible impact of what storage is, how these projects work,” he said.

“…makes sense that companies are putting a lot of emphasis and focus on microgrids.” —  Matt Roberts, ESA

Microgrid complexity encourages storage

The trend comes, too, as pairing of energy storage and microgrids grows more common, Roberts said.

He attributes the increasing use of energy storage in microgrids in part to an aggressive drop in battery prices.

In addition, microgrids are incorporating “a wider sweep of technologies” as they become more and more complex, he said.

The complexity comes with advanced optimization of resources, not only within a single microgrid but with multiple microgrids working together, he said.

“These more complex solutions are enabled by energy storage,” he said. “So it absolutely makes sense that companies are putting a lot of emphasis and focus on microgrids as a solution,” Roberts said.

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Leading the charge in district energy in Australia

In an Australian first, Electric Comms Data (ECD) reports that the University of Technology Sydney (UTS) has signed an agreement with Brookfield Energy Australia that will see the supply of cooling thermal energy under Broadway from the Central Park Thermal Plant.

In a move that will offer significant energy efficiency improvements, environmental impact reductions and even greater cost savings, UTS will source a proportion of its chilled energy requirements off-site from Brookfield’s Central Energy Plant. The contract is first of its kind in Australia, which sees a central plant providing energy to a precinct beyond its own requirement. If it is utilized to provide energy to other facilities in the wider Broadway and Ultimo vicinity, it will be a true district energy system.

The Central Park plant

Richie Sheather, the CEO of Brookfield Energy Australia, sees further potential.

“Brookfield Energy Australia is pleased to be working with UTS on this innovative initiative. The more this plant is utilized, greater long-term energy cost efficiencies will be achieved for all users. We look forward to working with more properties in the local area to connect to this district system.

“We see District Energy as a way of the future and anticipate working on similar initiatives in other parts of Australia.”

Sydney Lord Mayor Clover Moore said thousands of apartments in the Central Park development were being supplied with clean energy from Brookfield’s Central Energy Plant, installed as part of an environmental upgrade agreement with the City of Sydney.

“It’s great news the network is now expanding across the road to UTS, and we hope to see other businesses and building owners in the area take advantage of the environmental efficiencies and cost savings district energy systems can bring,” the Lord Mayor said.

“With 80% of greenhouse gas emissions in the City of Sydney area coming from buildings, it’s important we keep looking for innovative ways to create sustainable, energy-efficient developments,” said Moore.


The UTS $1.3 billion Campus Masterplan will see the development of new buildings and facilities that require further investment in on-site infrastructure, which includes increases in chilling infrastructure to meet increasing air-conditioning demand, crucial to keeping the campus operating smoothly for staff and students.

Rather than investing in new chilling infrastructure that would require utilizing significant space and a high capital investment, UTS has taken the innovative approach to source its cooling energy from a recently developed precinct cooling plant located across the Broadway strip and accessed by thermal delivery pipes that have been bored underneath busy Broadway.

Deputy Vice Chancellor (Resources) Patrick Woods said, “UTS is committed to innovating and investing in research, working on new business models that will result in sustainable practices that have a positive effect on the precinct and the environment. We are constantly looking at ways we can reduce waste and our environmental footprint and the District Cooling project is just one example of our commitment in this area.”

UTS Green Infrastructure Project Manager Jonathan Prendergast said the move additionally frees up much needed space.

“Investment in new chilling infrastructure can be capital and space intensive, requiring new chilling plant, pumps, connecting pipework, cooling towers and electrical infrastructure. By procuring a portion of UTS’s cooling from an off-site supplier, UTS can invest in its core business and free up space for teaching, offices and a more active roof space without cooling towers.

“UTS already operate a large central plant that supplies heating and cooling to eight UTS Broadway Campus buildings. Off-site supply of chilling energy from Brookfield provides greater diversity of supply and redundancy for cooling the Broadway campus, reducing the risk of failure and outages,” Prendergast said.

This initiative is made even more feasible as it takes advantage of the peak and off-peak demands of the plant’s current customer, Central Park. The plant currently provides chilled energy to the Central Park apartments, whose main peak demand is typically in the evenings and on weekends. Conversely, UTS’s peak demands are weekdays and during the hot afternoons in summer months including February and November.

Heating, cooling and ventilation accounts for approximately 62% of UTS’s total electricity usage. The partnership will see UTS’s greenhouse gas emissions reduced by approximately 2.2% or 1111 tonnes CO2-e per annum.

District energy systems are widely used internationally, particularly in North America and Europe. The Chicago District Cooling System supplies chilling to over 100 buildings in the Chicago CBD from just four energy plants and the Toronto system services over 140 buildings. In Sweden, seven cities incorporate district cooling systems.

Commitment to sustainability

UTS has a history of commitment when it comes to sustainable projects. As part of its Campus Masterplan, UTS is upgrading existing buildings to reduce water and energy use, and is constructing new buildings that are certified to a minimum 5-star Green Star rating, as well as improving cycling facilities, constructing green roofs and walls, installing stormwater recycling and rooftop renewable energy, and setting ambitious recycling targets for demolition and construction waste.

Three recently completed buildings — the Dr Chau Chak Wing, the Faculty of Engineering and IT and the Faculty of Science and Graduate School of Health — have won multiple awards for  design, architecture and construction, with the latter winning a hat trick of sustainability awards including a NSW Government Green Globe award, AIRAH Excellence in Sustainability award and an Architecture and Design Sustainability award.

More recently, UTS has entered an agreement to source 15% of the annual electricity consumption of the Dr Chau Chak Wing building from a solar farm in Singleton, New South Wales, in Australia’s first off-site solar corporate direct Power Purchase Agreement (PPA).

The cooling contract will see the purchase of chilling energy requirements for a 15-year period and is due to be implemented in 2018.

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Montpelier’s wood-fired district heating system charges ahead

Montpelier Vermont’s new wood-fueled steam district heating system, which also supplies hot water to parts of the capital city, has been successfully launched from a substantial upgrade of an old steam plant.

VIDEO: Click photo to watch video about the Montpelier district heating facility.

VIDEO: Click photo to watch video about the Montpelier district heating facility.

More information:

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Microgrids have a key role to play in a low-carbon future

From Microgrid Knowledge comes this report from ABB’s Maxine Ghavi, director of ABB’s microgrids program, who describes how microgrids can improve the lives of hundreds of millions of people, while helping to meet national and global emissions targets.

Cutting carbon emissions while meeting the growing energy needs of an expanding global population requires innovative, pioneering solutions.

One is microgrids, powered by renewable energy.

These small-scale grids are exceptionally flexible, bringing power to remote communities and facilities that might otherwise have to wait years or even decades for a grid connection. They are also ideal as back-up power sources for grid-connected installations in places prone to power outages.

Microgrids integrate multiple distributed generation sources including conventional diesel and gas, and/or renewables such as solar photovoltaic (PV), wind, hydroelectric, tidal and even thermal schemes like combined heat and power (CHP), together with energy storage. The microgrid provides the overall control to coordinate these resources to meet the requirements of industrial, residential or consumer loads.

They lend themselves perfectly to island communities and remote villages and towns. A notable example is the Azores island of Faial in the Atlantic, population 15,000, which has a self-contained microgrid powered by five wind turbines and six oil-fired generators. Others include the solar- and diesel-powered microgrids in the remote towns of Marble Bar and Nullagine in Western Australia. Thanks to grid stabilizing technology, which enables high solar-energy penetration, the towns now obtain close to 60 percent of their power from solar generation, saving approximately 400,000 liters of diesel and 1,100 tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions each year.

Microgrids have enormous potential in India and Africa, where more than 900 million people lack access to electricity. In sub-Saharan Africa, where two-thirds of the population – 620 million people – live without power, microgrids could dramatically speed up economic development. In India, they are likely to be the best solution for many of the 14,000 villages which the government has earmarked for electrification in the coming years under its “Power for all” initiative.

Experience shows that when a community gets electricity, the benefits start to be realized almost immediately. For example, bringing power to weavers and tailors in Barmer, an arid district in the Indian state of Rajasthan, pushed up their productivity by 50 percent and 40 percent respectively because they were able to work at night and avoid searing daytime temperatures. Children were able to study after dark, and the number attending school doubled in two years. Electricity also replaced kerosene, lowering fossil fuel emissions, reducing the danger of fires and easing health problems.

Microgrids have important applications in industrial and commercial sites by helping to ensure power availability and quality. If they are connected to the main power grid, they also help to improve grid resiliency and reliability, for instance during extreme weather events. In cities affected by frequent power cuts, they are a clean and efficient alternative to diesel generators, which are highly polluting and expensive to run, pushing up the cost of doing business. In Kenya, for instance, 57 percent of businesses own generators, according to the World Bank.

Renewables-powered microgrids also use diesel for back-up power when the wind stops blowing or the sun goes down. However, thanks to advances in energy storage technology it is now possible to store excess renewable energy, further reducing the need for diesel. For instance, a newly upgraded microgrid on Kodiak Island, off Alaska’s south coast, derives virtually all of its 28 megawatts (MW) of electricity capacity from hydropower and wind, supported by two 1.5 MW battery systems that take over as soon as the wind stops blowing. Optimization of this complex energy mix was made possible by ABB’s flywheel grid stabilizing system that extends battery life, balances intermittencies from the wind farm, and reduces diesel consumption. A similar solution is being installed at a remote windfarm called Marsabit in northern Kenya, where the population of 5,000 relies exclusively on a wind- and diesel-powered microgrids.

ABB has also delivered a microgrid control system plus a containerized battery energy storage system for an integrated solar-diesel microgrid at its own premises in Johannesburg, South Africa. The microgrid can seamlessly disconnect and reconnect to the main grid in case of outages. On sunny days, it can run entirely on solar power, and has resulted in a CO2 reduction of over 1,000 tons per year.

The ability of microgrids to seamlessly separate and isolate themselves from the main grid when needed is an increasingly important consideration, especially for humanitarian organizations. The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) recently asked ABB to supply solutions for a microgrid at its global logistics center in Nairobi, Kenya, which experiences frequent outages and power quality issues. Here again, ABB is providing a containerized battery energy storage system that works in parallel with the on-site solar/diesel generation, seamlessly disconnecting and reconnecting to the main grid in case of outages. This ensures a reliable power supply for the center, which delivers food and other essential items like medicines and relief supplies across the African continent.

As these examples demonstrate, the technology needed for the deployment of microgrids is now readily available. In addition, the cost of key technology components, such as solar photovoltaic and battery storage, will continue to decline as a result of the economies of scale and innovations in materials and manufacturing. Renewable energy is, in many cases, the most economical solution for electrification, with the levelized cost of electricity (LCOE) lower than diesel, provided the latter is not heavily subsidized.

Some countries have incentive-driven renewables programs, but very often no framework specifically for microgrids. This is starting to change; the United States Department of Energy, for instance, is working to encourage the development and deployment of microgrids, and the Indian government is promulgating federal and state policies under its “Power for all” initiative, to end regulatory uncertainty, which is in turn expected to unlock the level of investment required to scale up the industry.

With the right financing and business models that take account of the regulatory environment, microgrids could help to trigger development in rural areas, improving the lives of hundreds of millions of people, while helping to meet national and global emissions targets.

This article was submitted by Maxine Ghavi, director of ABB’s microgrids program. Maxine devises and develops the global business strategy for microgrids, working across the company’s divisions to identify and develop opportunities. All microgrid projects referred to in this article are ABB-enabled.

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Touting the green machine: biomass as an alternative fuel

Lindsay Kelly reports in Northern Ontario Business that when it comes to popularizing the use of biomass as an alternative fuel, public education should be the industry’s number one priority–according to Dutch Dresser, a founding director of Maine Energy Systems in Bethel, Maine.

Dutch Dresser

Dutch Dresser

Dresser has been visiting communities to spread word of biomass’s environmental and economic advantages.

But because most outside the industry have little experience with the medium, it’s an uphill climb.

“If I were to suggest to you that you could go out and buy a car this afternoon, you would have no difficulty knowing which cars would be on your list and which cars wouldn’t be on your list — you understand about cars,” Dresser said.

“If I suggested to you that you could go out and buy a pellet boiler or a pellet furnace this afternoon, you’d likely have no idea, and it would be really easy for you to buy a bad experience.”

Dresser was one of several guest speakers during the Biomass North Annual General Meeting and Forum in North Bay in October.

Knowledge of solar and wind applications has become relatively mainstream, Dresser noted, but getting people to understand the benefits of using biomass — leftover forest product like branches, needles, and bark — to fuel their heating and energy systems continues to be an uphill challenge.

There are myriad boilers and furnaces, and equally diverse forms of fuel, and getting the right combination for the right application is critical to success, Dresser said.

Despite the challenges, there are companies in Canada that are making headway. Viessmann has been manufacturing heating systems out of its Waterloo location for 30 years.

A highlight of its work is its Enderby, B.C., project, where in recent years it’s installed a district heating project that’s privately owned but serves commercial and residential clients.

Installed in 2012, the Fink machine is the first privately funded district energy system in western Canada, noted Andreas Wintzer, Viessmann’s commercial and biomass manager.

“(The client) started 2012 with eight lines and right now he has 12 lines — 1.5 kilometers of supply line,” Wintzer said.

Last year, the system earned another client: the newly built conference centre owned and operated by the nearby Splatsin First Nation.

The Fink machine is able to supply energy below what it would cost to operate the same center with natural gas.

“They built the whole conference center without any (heating) redundancy,” Wintzer said. “It is a really, really cool building.”

Viessmann now has in the works a demonstration plant in Waterloo where they can educate people in commercial and residential biomass systems with an on-site, working system.

The goal is to have it operational by early 2017.

André Mech believes climate change will drive demand. As founder of the Toronto-based consulting firm Mech and Associates, he said we’re now in “uncharted territory” in terms of the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.

The public is going to demand a cleaner, more environmentally friendly alternative to fossil fuels, both for its own use and from corporations.

“If you’re not moving in the direction of going carbon neutral, then you’re going to be affecting shareholder value,” Mech said. “It’s just that simple.”

Biomass systems “run on the stuff that nobody wants — the slashings, the barks, the pine needles,” Mech said, and so rather than take away from an existing sector, biomass is creating a new industry, which could mean operations and maintenance jobs for Northerners.

Mech said his company’s systems operate 47 per cent more effectively than traditional one-way heating systems, and they’re cheaper than heating a home with natural gas.

The systems can even run on two days with wet, green fuel if needed — a helpful contingency if power goes out because of an emergency.

“You want to have your critical infrastructure always working; they need to be independent of the grid, because the nasty weather’s coming,” Mech said. “So, let’s create some jobs here, let’s save some money and make our communities more resilient.”

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