An Electrifying Proposition: Bringing the Heat to the Energy Transition Weinhold’s Power Lines

Weinhold’s Power Lines
An Electrifying Proposition:
Bringing the Heat
to the Energy Transition
For countless millennia, the experience of gathering
around a fire has been an essential element of communal life for homo sapiens. Burning logs, brush, or
peat as a source of light and heat is part of what sets us
apart from animals. Even today, oil and gas used for
heating and cooling account for the lion’s share of energy consumption. In my home country of Germany, for
example, room heating accounts for a remarkable 30 percent of energy end usage − in private homes, that figure
may be up to 80 percent, depending on insulation quality.
In warmer climates, air-conditioning systems are also
huge factors for energy use. Looking at recent technology
and market developments, I am convinced much more of
this could and will be covered by electricity instead of fossil fuels.
As more and more intermittent renewable power, especially wind and photovoltaic power plants, are installed,
the increasing mismatch of supply and demand must be
solved by firstly reinforcing the electricity grids (transmission and distribution!), and secondly by ramping up
demand-side management. The use of electricity for heating and cooling would create substantial additional dispatchable loads with relatively low storage cost. France,
for example, already has about 6 gigawatts of dispatchable hot water electric boiler loads installed in households and is therefore well prepared for an increasing
share of intermittent power production.
We need to consider that much of the infrastructure is already in place: District heating networks are widespread
in northern countries (e.g., in Germany, every city has
one), and many cities are currently building huge hot-
52 Living Energy · No. 8 | July 2013
water tanks that they can fill up and discharge depending
on optimal operation of their combined heat and power
plant or directly via electric heaters, depending on electricity market price.
Utilities are also increasingly installing direct electric
heaters in the multimegawatt range, which could help to
mobilize the potential outlined above. But to reach those
heaters, the electricity grids must first be reinforced.
For private residents looking to renovate their houses,
there are now a variety of technical electricity-based alternatives such as heat pumps, or innovative solutions such
as wall tiles for heating and sensors that detect the residents’ movements and regulate temperatures locally rather than heating or cooling entire building spaces. Older
technologies such as resistive heaters, which are currently being phased out, may also gain new attractiveness.
The bottom line is that there are several smart ways of
using excess electricity. Together with stronger grids,
heat loads can help avoid power wastage while decarbonizing the heating sector. Fossil fuels can thus be shifted
to where they are used most efficiently – in highly efficient central power plants. On the macroeconomic scale,
the combination of decoupling and dispatchability serves
to hedge supply risks while increasing energy independence.
Yes, it is true that local climatic conditions vary, as do
building standards; but around the globe, it is possible to
raise living standards through electrification as a way of
integrating the ramp-up of volatile, nondispatchable renewable energy. Who will be the first to grasp this huge
business potential? p
Illustrations: Elisabeth Moch, Michael Weinhold
Michael Weinhold,
Siemens Energy’s
Chief Technology Officer
From Michael Weinhold’s
notebook: Using available infrastructures, such
as district heating, coupled with stronger grids,
the electrification of
heating and cooling can
enhance fuel efficiency
while decarbonizing
the heating sector.
Living Energy · No. 8 | July 2013