Will electric energy soon come entirely from renewable sources? Wind power plants are rotating, especially in north Germany. Electricity is plentiful and sometimes in excess. Now’s the time for developing intelligent solutions and preparing the technology for the future. That’s exactly the idea behind NEW 4.0 – Norddeutsche EnergieWende (North German Energy Transition), which is making Hamburg and Schleswig-Holstein a model for Germany.
The project connects 60 companies and institutions in the north to a unique, innovative alliance. Funded by the German Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy (BMWi), the project is set to last four years. Begun in late 2016, it’s time to take a first look.
Jan Rispens, Managing Director of the Renewable Energy Hamburg Cluster Agency GmbH, has overall responsibility for making NEW 4.0 known to a broad, professional audience. The complex topic is likely to provide key impulses that will have a permanent impact on energy consumption. In an interview with Hamburg News, Rispens explains the issues at stake, identifies the approach taken by companies and institutions involved in NEW 4.0 and names the first, emerging projects.
Hamburg News: Why did the BMWi opt for Hamburg and Schleswig-Holstein to demonstrate the feasibility of the energy transition?
Jan Rispens: “Hamburg and Schleswig-Holstein are actually far ahead of the times. Presently, about 33 per cent of renewable energies are used in the electricity sector across Germany. By 2020, it should be 35 per cent and the proportion should rise to 100 per cent by 2035. The two states in the north, on the other hand, are already at a level of 45 per cent.”
Hamburg News: The region offers optimal conditions. That’s certainly due not only to the existing share of renewables.
Jan Rispens: “Both states have almost an ideal constellation. Schleswig-Holstein is already producing all it’s electrical energy from renewable sources. Hamburg and the Lower Elbe region, on the other hand, are major, nearby centres that consume enormous amounts of electricity e.g. the aluminium processing industry.”
Hamburg News: That means one would simply have to direct the energy flow of numerous wind farms to the Hamburg region?
Jan Rispens: “Wind power must arrive through the grid. That is a prerequisite. But wind energy, which accounts for the largest share of energy generated in Schleswig-Holstein, has the disadvantage that it is not available evenly around the clock. At times, far more energy is produced than the grid can transport. And in calm weather, conventionally generated energy has to be purchased.”
Hamburg News: Does that mean that projects with fluctuating energy production are central to NEW 4.0?
Jan Rispens: “Exactly, most projects can be explained with keywords like power to heat, power to product, power to mobility or power to gas. The focus is on solutions that convert existing, surplus energy into another energy source such as heat or gas or influencing demand to better match supply and demand.”
Hamburg News: Are the required technologies already available or have they to be developed first?
Jan Rispens: “That’s very different. The already proven basic technologies, which merely need to be adapted to specific requirements within a practical environment, can be used in quite a few projects.”
Hamburg News: Are there any practical examples?
Jan Rispens: “A plant is being created in Brunsbüttel is to convert electricity into hydrogen. The electrolysis process used has the advantage that it can be stopped and resumed at any time. This provides optimal conditions for operating the system whenever the current energy supply exceeds the demand. A similar concept is being pursued with a Vattenfall power-to-heat plant in Hamburg’s Karolinenviertel district. There, a 30-year-old boiler was replaced with a 45-megawatt electric boiler and can now be operated with excess energy from wind turbines in Schleswig-Holstein to generate heat for residential areas or industrial processes.”
Hamburg News: Is unexplored territory being trodden in any sector?
Jan Rispens: “Typical of this is a novel heat storage solution, which should go online in early 2019. The system, developed by Siemens, uses electrical energy to heat a storage facility of 1,000 tons of rock up to 600°C. In this way, energy can be stored on a large scale and be retrieved at any time by converting it back into electricity via a 1.5-megawatt steam turbine. The aim is to test the scalability on very large systems later as well.”
Hamburg News: But wouldn’t it be much easier to store energy in batteries?
Jan Rispens: “Battery storage also plays a role in NEW 4.0. Last October, for instance, a 2.5 megawatt battery storage power plant in Brunsbüttel was connected to the power grid. The technology uses surplus wind energy from a nearby wind farm and is used primarily to compensate for short-term fluctuations in the power grid. We will definitely need several forms of storage for the energy transition and for use in NEW 4.0.”
Hamburg News: What about solutions for private households? Is an improved match between supply and demand an issue?
Jan Rispens: “The Stadtwerke Norderstedt equipped all households with smart electricity meters in 2017 and is particularly active in this area. It is about flexible electricity tariffs and the timed operation of household appliances. The project is unique in Germany and allows the practical testing of an intelligent IT infrastructure to reduce consumption peaks.”
Hamburg News: So wind energy is the backbone of the energy transition. But the road to energy supply with 100 per cent renewable energy is complex. How does NEW 4.0 organize the different solutions and the companies and institutions involved?
Jan Rispens: “Eight interdisciplinary working groups form the core of the initiative. Each group pursues different goals and co-ordinates the related projects. For practical reasons, six application cases were defined to cover the different areas. These are prototypical applications that are currently in various stages of implementation: 2018 will be the year of NEW 4.0. Then, many projects launched in 2017 will enter their concrete construction and implementation phase. Plants will start practical operations and provide initial operating data. Solutions will have to prove themselves under real conditions. It will be really exciting because we are dealing with nothing less than the entry into a new phase of the energy transition, which links different sectors with each other intelligently.”