Live goes on. Way faster than expected, most of the times. I started this blog when I returned to Germany after working in England and Ecuador for three months each, on a hydrogen and a biomass project. Now I’m done with my master studies and starting a job next Monday. So live goes on.

I haven’t put as much effort in this project yet as I wanted to when I first started it. Change always brings movement. So I want to try to use this new gravitational pull in my life called work to slingshot myself into becoming a real blogger.

Neither the topic nor my interest has changed. So let’s see where this will take us.

Project publication

It’s quiet around the future power plant, but that doesn’t mean there’s nothing happening. My first research project has been published and can be accessed here or downloaded here.

I’m still pretty busy with my master thesis on the economics of different use possebilities of power to gas plants, but I plan to keep posting when I find the time.


100% Renewables in a virtual power plant

In May this year I had the chance to meet with Dave Saunders, the founder of the Bristol Power Cooperative.
I contacted him because I was looking for a project I could work for in my Masters. When I had found a place to work in Bath, we decided to meet anyways and it was the perfect opportunity to get to know his ideas while he was giving me a free tour to Bristol. Thanks again, Dave!

While walking along the canal Dave explained me his vision of Bristol (or rather, the people of Bristol) becoming their own energy supplier with the business model of a cooperative. There was a moment when we passed a ship fueled with hydrogen (the project I was working on at the time was on hydrogen production). The moment stuck in my head because I remember Dave saying the reason he was skeptical about hydrogen was that people will stay dependent of large companies and big money.
This is where I’m getting back to the title of today’s post. I want to discuss what might be the better, or what might be the more likely solution: big energy suppliers (we have right now) vs. small independent energy producers? Centralized vs. decentralized energy production?

What do we want?

What do we want might be a good question as a starting point. We obviously need energy, and what I’m talking about is heat and electricity. We also want to keep our nice planet remain a planet we can live on and make a living, and preferably, we want it to stay this way for our children and theirs.
So we need to find efficient and clean ways to supply this energy, assuming that conventional energy production might be able to meet the energy demand, but not comply with anything else of the above.

Assuming? The first point I want to make is that there is no „if“. There is no discussion about if human caused emissions support climate change or not, and there never can be. Why? Because it doesn’t matter at all. Climate is changing all the time. Climate on earth has been in a state where no live can exist for longer that it has been in a state where anything can live, and even shorter it has been a climate where we can survive.
Earth with it’s current climate is the only planet we have we can live on.
So, as long as this is true and we accept that clean energy can supply to the maintenance of this state, the answer to the question if we need to get to a  100% clean is a loud and infinite: YES!

Ho do we do it?

Now that we know what we want (I know what I want…), the question is how to get there, and how to get there as quick a possible and as sustainable as possible.
The conventional energy system is big. Big power plants generate huge amounts of electricity and heat and the produce a lot of emissions, waste and so on…They are at the thick end of the transmission system and they can only run if the produced electricity is consumed continuously.

With renewable energy the system is forced to change but so far it is still changing in it’s conventional shape. The core characteristics of most renewable energy sources are that they produce small amounts of electricity or heat. But there are loads of them, and they are usually sited at the thin end (the consumers end) of the transmission system.

If you try to picture this, it becomes clear that to have both big conventional producers and small renewable producers isn’t very likely to work.

With renewables, energy production becomes decentralized. This gives many villages or regions the option to supply themselves with all the energy they need so they become independent from the big energy suppliers who in return lose their business model. On the other hand, it also means big investments and risks for these independent region.
So far, none of these regions are really independent. They are in the balance of energy production and consumption, but they are all still connected to the main transmission grid and can rely on using conventional electricity when there’s not enough wind or sun.

I’m not promoting energy independent regions to cut their grid connection. But what about this:

A virtual power plant

The large energy suppliers are huge companies with employees all over the countries they supply. They have years of experience of how to manage energy production and supply and how to maintain a grid stability. They have loads of money and the infrastructure to manage nationwide projects.

In a completely renewable supplied country, they could handle each „independent region“ as a virtual power plant. At first, all electricity would be produced to be consumed locally. But when there is overproduction, the grid operators would have the options to transmit excess electricity to other regions if their production is not sufficient.

Unneeded electricity could be used to produce hydrogen and synthesize methane, so it could be stored in the gas grid and be used as electricity or heat again, when needed.

I believe that a system like this is the only way of getting to have 100% renewables working. However, I don’t think that the big companies are guaranteed to have their share in this. There are already regions and villages trying to become their own virtual power plant. I do believe though, that with the big suppliers and grid operators, 100% could be reached so much faster.
And I don’t think that big companies are evil. It’s just a matter of politics to make the right rules so that these big companies serve those they were founded to serve:
The people who have the need for electricity and heat to live confortably.

What do you think?

Where is the hydrogen?

A week has passed since the 2013 conference of the German Renewable Energy Research Association conference. As promised I would like to put up a little summary of all the talks and presentations. It was a nicely organised event, a great opportunity to meet people working and researching in renewable energy. A perfect place to get a complete overview of what is in the focus of research today.
Have a look for yourself and find the Slides of the conference here

And that’s where I want to come back to the title of this post: where is the hydrogen?

When I talked to one of the professors also attending the conference she told me that a good way of seeing such an event as a base line of what is cutting edge right now. And apparently hydrogen isn’t as much in the focus as I thought (and hoped).

Integrating heat and electricity
The main focus of most talks was according to the motto of the conference, the integration of heat and electricity generation. An important topic, as in Germany the two are very disconnected still.

Integrating the two systems means that more heat is produced electrically with excess renewable electricity. This is an excellent way of getting rid of electricity. I’m not sure though if in most cases it is the best way.
No doubts: if we want to change over to 100% renewables we have to integrate heat into the system because now heat for homes is produced with wood and oil for the most. In winter it makes sense to let excess electricity produce heat instead of e.g. shutting down wind turbines to prevent the excess.

First of all, in winter there is less light, so there’s less solar energy as well. Which means that generally there is less excess to put to heat. In summer, on the other hand, there is loads of solar energy. But nobody really needs to heat up his house.

And this is the point where I have to ask again: where is the hydrogen?

Storing energy in high quality
Producing heat from electricity is a way to store energy, or at least to use it instead of not using it at all.
But putting electricity to heat also means to convert high quality energy in a low quality form of energy, because most heat storages are irreversible. So there is no way to make electricity again, when you need it.

Many of the talks focused on very concrete solutions of how to produce heat for private houses with excess electricity. While this can be a good solution in winter I believe that it is not when you look at the whole year.
There is simply no need to convert electricity to heat in summer. Whereas if converted to hydrogen it could converted to heat and electricity in winter, when and how it is needed.

Maybe the topics of the conference can be seen as the focus of research of the past year, presenting the results, and hydrogen is the focus right now, but not too many like to talk about it yet. I definitely hope so.

Wasting energy is easy

A summary of the conference from last weekend is still promised to be put up here. For tonight and as a second post I want to start with something fun.

This youtube-channel WENCE (Waste energy competence!) committed itself to post videos showing how to waste energy. The objectives remain a myth…

Good night!

The Future Power Plant

I’m sitting on the train to the annual conference of the German Renewable Energy Research Association in Freiburg. The trains depart is delayed stopping in Stuttgart which is becoming one of Europe’s biggest train station, and being build underground on of the most advanced construction sites in the world.
The Deutsche Bahn magazine smiles at me with a new, green logo and a closer look reveals its recent subject: sustainability, and that with my Bahncard(a bonus card for “cheaper” tickets) I’m travelling with 100% renewable electricity. Though, the first part of my journey was on a Diesel powered train.
There can’t be a better place to finally write a first post to my new blog. It’s easy to guess now, this blog will be on renewable energy and the sustainable life. In other words: on the future of power.
I want this to become a platform for discussion, an online think tank where I put my thoughts to “paper, as an impulse, that grows and sets in motion the energy of thoughts. So this blog becomes a power plant for the future.

Who needs another voice for sustainability?

Everybody talks about sustainability. So apparently, everybody needs to know about it, and everybody knows about it.
So why start a blog on something everybody knows?
Well, honestly, I think that sustainability is one of the most misused and overused words. A word that just connotes something positive, yet is so abstract that few really know what it means. People tend to accept that if someone claims to do something in a sustainable way it must be good, because there is no way to test whether the electricity that is powering my train (finally moving) comes from solar panels, wind power, or one of our beautiful German coal power plants of which we’re too scared to shut them down for the jobs that will be lost.

Frankly, I believe there is loads to talk about renewables, about sustainable energy and living, because we’re in the middle of figuring out how to design the future of our energy supply. I don’t believe that this blogs subtitle is too populist. Climate change is a proof for the impact of energy on our planet. In the future we might end up at a point where only the amount of energy we have decides about if we can accomplish our goals or not. Ideally, without blowing up our atmosphere.

The future blues

Gas and chemical tanks rush past me on a cargo train. And while I know it’s supply for our industry, the backbone of our wealth, it makes me think what is that stuff they are using 50 tanks of 20m³ (or 20,000 liters) of? Can it be good? I bet no matter which company is using it, on their website you will find them describing themselves as especially sustainable.
Where will this all end? And who am I to make these problems mine? Why write it down and make it public?

I’m a student, so I’m living a life governed of learning. I’m doing my masters in sustainable energy. Yes, even in a uni course it’s there.
So naturally I’m busy with learning about energy technologies and sustainability. And I’m trying to put some of these aspects to my everyday life experiencing the struggle everybody has to have with it. At least, I can relax on the train travelling green.
As said before, I would like this to be a platform for discussion and thoughts. I learn new things every day and thanks to my program (yes, I actually mean it) I had the chance to do some interesting projects on renewable energy production.

So all this will be a part of this blog. Cause if we are designing our future right now, we’re all a part of it and little things might help. I can’t imagine how the future might be like. All I know is that when I was born, Germany was two countries. When I first used a computer I had to learn how to start Tetris and Commander Keen in MS-DOS. And now I just showed my ticket to the conductor on my smartphone screen while I’m writing a blog post sitting on a train.
So I guess quick change is possible.

A friend recently told me he believes that our generation might be the happiest that has ever lived. When you learn about climate change and the struggle in the world, when you just follow the news and see how people flee from their countries risking everything, losing everything, you can’t help thinking: quick change is possible, but are we still standing at the crossroads? Are both ends still possible?
I really hope so. We’re living the time of change and hopefully I’ll be a part of it. The stakes are high, with one planet earth, there isn’t much gambling when you have just one coin left.
The first day of the conference started with an overview of the political goals and actions on supporting the integration of renewable energy in the electricity and heat grids in Germany. There were many interesting talks and interesting people to meet. But this shall be part of a more specific post.
Now I’m back in a hotel room in Freiburg. The first day of the conference is done and I’m left with the feeling: there issomething going on. But a bitter taste stays, not because of the (delicious Spätburgunder) local red wine, but when you think of all the things that remain to be done.
Over the last hours of the conference I met a professor who taught solar energy in my program. And his thought that as a young person you should do what you believe is you way still echoes in my head now. So I guess there can’t be much wrong with this project, even if it ends up being just my personal future power plant.

I want to try to find the sustainability to keep up writing, and to keep whoever is interested posted about what I think it is, that needs to be done; there are enough ideas what to write about.
I’ll keep you posted.

Yours, Konrad