4 March 2010 – ‘Waste’ heat from power generation could meet a significant share of the UK demand for energy, providing a more efficient, flexible and resilient energy system than that currently proposed in an ‘all-electric’ approach to decarbonization of the UK energy system.
So concludes a new report commissioned by the UK CHP Association and carried out by energy scientists from Imperial College London and the University of Surrey.
Using more electricity to heat buildings and power cars increases dependence on the electricity system to unprecedented levels, says the report, which explores a range of possible ‘criticalities’ likely to arise as a result, which in turn, risk undermining the Government’s ability to meet stringent 80% cuts in carbon dioxide emissions by 2050.
The report outlines a more integrated approach to energy supply, proposing that ‘waste’ heat from power generation could meet a significant share of UK demand for energy, providing a more efficient, flexible and resilient energy system. Starting to develop this system today could reduce the anticipated stresses on the electricity system. To this end, heat storage can be used to help manage the intermittent output of some renewables and reduce growth in peak demand that has potential to place real strain on the electricity system in 2050.
Most scenarios for a 2050 energy system – including those used to develop the UK Government’s Low Carbon Transition Plan – anticipate that electricity will increasingly be used to meet energy needs for transport and heating.
The report outlines that such a transition could result in a doubling of peak electricity demand. Realising this ‘all-electric’ scenario is in turn dependent on a number of critical outcomes, all which must be met to achieve carbon abatement targets.
These include: investment in new, low-carbon power stations at unprecedented growth rates; expansion of electricity network capacity to meet higher system peak demand; and insulation to a very high standard of much of the UK building stock, and significant change in consumer behaviour.
The report finds that any route to a low carbon future brings major challenges. However, a system that makes greater use of CHP and district heating can mitigate many of the more demanding aspects of the ‘all-electric’ approach. Used in combination with biomass and carbon capture and storage (CCS) technology for fossil fuels, CHP and district heating infrastructure have a key role to play up to 2050 and beyond.
Graham Meeks, Director of the CHPA commented: ‘Diversity is the key to maintaining affordability and security of our energy supplies as we transition to a low-carbon economy. The report highlights the enormous risks we face in focusing on electricity to meet our demands for energy services. But it also demonstrates that more robust, dynamic and efficient pathways are open to us, recovering the waste heat from power generation, to create a more integrated and resilient energy system.’