Deltares: Water is invaluable for making global energy sustainable
Published: 4 November 2016
Deltares points out that the global focus in renewables is currently on electricity, even though electricity accounts for just a quarter of primary energy consumption. Heating and cooling account for twice as much: fifty percent of primary energy consumption. The transport sector is responsible for the remaining 25 percent.
Energy demand in heating and cooling systems is primarily for heating. Most energy by far is used to heat the built environment and to generate the heat used in industrial processes. There is much less demand for cooling around the world, with the exception of the areas such as the Gulf.
Using water more often
Deltares also argues that, if we want to make substantial global energy demand sustainable quickly, we should be using water much more often. The enormous potential of this renewable source of energy is still very under-exploited, says Ivo Pothof, a specialist in renewable energy at Deltares Water & Subsurface.
Ivo associates energy from water not only with the use of water turbines to produce electricity from height differences, like the systems we see in other countries. Deltares also sees enormous potential in installations that generate energy with tidal turbines, and in the use of surface water and groundwater in aquifer thermal energy systems and in deeper layers. The temperature of this water two or three kilometres below the surface can be up to 70 degrees Celsius in the Netherlands. In other countries, there are locations where the water is even hotter.
In addition, the use of water as a renewable source of energy to make thermal applications sustainable is much cheaper. Investments in aquifer thermal energy in the built environment pay for themselves within about seven years. And that is even without taking the positive indirect effects into account, such as a 50% reduction in primary energy consumption. That does depend on adequate insulation in the buildings connected to the system, which is why systems like this are mainly used in new buildings.
Water in the energy transition
The optimal use of sustainable resources in the electrical and thermal parts of the energy system depends crucially on the optimal coordination of energy supply and demand. That is why Deltares has invested heavily in major improvements to its Real-Time Control Toolbox for operational water management and extended the range of potential applications. The RTC-Tools are used for smart systems in the energy transition. The innovative thing about RTC-Tools is that the toolbox can prioritise different objectives and cope with uncertainties such as weather forecasts or changing energy prices due to fluctuations in the supplies of solar and wind energy.
RTC-Tools are already being used extensively to optimise the operation of hydroelectric plants in the USA and Brazil. Four pilot studies with RTC-Tools are also being conducted at different water authorities to make pumping station operations as energy efficient as possible. And tests are being conducted to optimise the operation of District Heating Systems using RTC-Tools. Deltares expects RTC-Tools to be used more to operate tidal power plants and aquifer thermal energy installations and so advanced control systems of this kind are destined to play a major role in the energy transition.
For more information also see our publication Green energy in balance with water.