State-of-the art CHP systems are a key component in the heating market

Kassel. Cities now already face the challenge of planning and establishing an efficient, sustainable energy supply for the future. Dr. Natalie Pfau-Weller from the “Morgenstadt Initiative,” which is headed by the Fraunhofer Institute for Industrial Engineering, explains how that can be achieved. In an interview with WINGAS, she talks about where energy for smart cities will come from and which gas efficiency technologies will play a key role. Combined heat and power is one of the forerunners.

Dr. Pfau-Weller, the world’s population is growing and people are migrating to cities. Energy consumption in metropolitan regions is forecast to triple by 2050. That means an efficient energy supply is very important. What will the energy supply of the future look like?

What’s important for an efficient energy supply is an intelligent combination of different kinds of power generation with electricity, gas and heat storage systems coupled with smart grids. The result is a smart energy system comprising renewable energies, biomass and gas. State-of-the-art CHP systems may be a key component, especially in the heating market, for example, in order to ensure an eco-friendly, efficient energy supply.

How must a sustainable energy supply be organized?

Renewable energies will increasingly be the main source. However, their volatility means that it will be crucial to knit communication technology with the energy sector. Only then can power generation and requirements be accurately recorded and controlled. The mobility sector must also be integrated into the system in future – which is likewise a major challenge. E-cars may be used in future to store electricity, for example, to balance out peak loads. Power to gas has particularly great potential because it allows for the storage of renewable energies – and especially since the gas network is already in place. Whether all of that can be accomplished depends on local circumstances. Cities and municipalities should therefore look at every measure and consider whether it makes sense for citizens and improves their quality of life. That’s the only way to achieve acceptance.

Where and with what technologies will power be generated?

There’s no single patent recipe because the options are very diverse. Solutions for power generation might be the use of renewable energies; wind farms and photovoltaic systems have proven their worth, in particular. Electricity and heat can also be produced from biomass, biogas and geothermal energy. The electricity used in the e-car may also become a source of energy. At any rate, power generation will become more and more regional and local. That also means that customers will increasingly become prosumers – in other words, producers – at the household level and use the power they generate themselves. 

How important is decentralized power generation, such as with CHP plants and fuel cell heating systems?

They will play an increasingly important role in the future, especially at district level. In particular, efficient CHP plants may be a sensible solution here. However, it’s necessary to clarify what type of district is involved beforehand. After all, the energy needs of a residential district are different to those of one where there’s only industry. However, there are plant and simulation programs that show exactly how high needs are and where valuable energy might be being lost.

Will regional energy suppliers still play a role at all in the smart city? 

Energy suppliers will remain a key component in the smart city. They have a lot of experience and, with their expertise, can best assess which energy solutions are feasible. Moreover, municipal utilities assume an important role as influencers in their city or municipality, since they promote and help finance projects. Energy suppliers will therefore play a major part in future in enabling the energy transition at local level. 

What role will natural gas play in the energy supply in smart cities?

In the future, there will be more decentralized energy systems based fully on renewable energies. Until then, however, solutions to complex challenges need to be found. That includes, for example, fluctuating power generation, as well as storage and conversion of renewable energies. Integrating regionally generated power will also be very important. It’s therefore foreseeable that the transformation to “smart energy cities” will take until at least 2050 and will not be possible without conventional energy sources. Natural gas from renewable sources will therefore play a key role – as a reserve capacity and to ensure a stable and secure energy supply.

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