Energy conversion efficiency can help Europe cut costs
There’s much debate in Europe at the moment about how to generate lower carbon power, whether by (lower-carbon-than-coal) gas, renewables and/or nuclear reactors; discussions around the now-published UK Energy Bill being one example. But there is also a resurgence of interest in end-use energy efficiency, reducing energy demand and load management – three slightly different techniques for cutting energy use so that less has to be generated in the first place.
A report commissioned by Germany’s Federal Environment Ministry from the Fraunhofer Institute is just the latest to quantify the scope for cutting energy use in Europe. It suggests that the EU’s primary energy demand could be cut by two-thirds by implementing energy efficiency measures; 90% of which pay for themselves in reduced energy costs. The report identifies annual savings of up to €500 billion across Europe by 2050.
These are very big numbers indeed. The largest gains are to be made in the buildings and transport sectors and industry could cut its energy bills by €100 billion per year, mainly through the use of CHP at site level, says the report. Aside from end-use energy efficiency gains, it’s the efficiency with which heat and power are generated in a CHP unit that delivers the goods for industrial and other users. Well-designed and properly-sized CHP plants often convert 80% or 90% of the energy contained in the fuel into useful heat and power, well above what can be achieved with a combination of electricity from remote, inefficient power stations and on-site boiler plant.
Energy conversion efficiency within CHP plants is a valuable addition to the gains to be made from switching to less wasteful energy-using equipment, buildings and industrial processes.
Yet the market for industrial scale CHP in Europe has been very slow for a number of years now. This is partly due to lack of confidence in the survival of industry itself in Europe – many companies have been transferring manufacturing facilities to lower-cost regions of the world. And few new industrial plants have been built in Europe.
And, although Europe has seen a dearth of traditional large-scale CHP schemes being built at industrial sites (although 400 MW coal-fired CHP scheme is being discussed in Belarus), plenty of smaller, waste and biomass-fuelled plants are being built. The last month has seen announcements of a biogas-fuelled CHP scheme for a logistics centre in Germany; new biogas CHP schemes for wastewater treatment plants in Poland and the UK; and the use of wood waste to fuel a CHP scheme for a furniture manufacturer in Italy.
Energy efficiency is not all about end use of energy – all these sites will use high-efficiency generation on-site to deliver significant cost and environmental benefits.
3 December 2012