Utilizing the residual heat produced by power stations and heavy industry is a simple way for the Netherlands to make huge energy savings. The Netherlands’ own natural gas reserves could be used four times more efficiently as a high-grade form of energy. This is the conclusion of PhD research conducted by planning engineer Ferry Van Kann of the University of Groningen’s Faculty of Spatial Sciences. He suggests that spatial planning can make a major contribution to the energy transition from fossil fuels to sustainable sources.
The Dutch government has been moving towards this transition for the past fifteen years. Initially there were ambitious plans to achieve the transition as quickly as possible, but since 2011 the government has set its sights on a much more distant horizon. Van Kann concludes that relatively cheap interventions could bring these targets closer much faster. ‘Exchanging heat and cold in energy networks has been undeservedly overlooked as part of the solution for this transition. I studied two regions, southeast Drenthe and south Limburg, where experiments with using residual heat are already underway. At the regional level, both small-scale and larger-scale networks are being created that allow energy to be used much more efficiently.’
Despite all the good intentions, residual heat is only being put to limited use. Van Kann gives the example of the residual heat produced by the power stations of the Eemshaven region. ‘They are currently using 35,000 litres of clean water per second to cool the plant, after which it is discharged into the sea. This is a cheap solution in the Netherlands simply because it is allowed, in contrast to countries like Denmark. However, if you installed a pipeline to transport the process water to Groningen you could heat 10,000 households with it. The investment would pay for itself within 6 years. In the same fashion, you could provide heating for any region within a 30 kilometre radius of heavy industry and power stations, which amounts to a large part of the Netherlands.’
This is not only an economically interesting plan, it is also a way to treat our precious energy more carefully. The keyword in Van Kann’s reasoning is exergy, which refers to the quality of the energy source. Electricity has enormous exergy because it has so many applications, and the same applies to natural gas. Heat is at the bottom of the exergy ladder. It is much more logical to reserve high-grade energy for applications that cannot run on lower-grade energy sources, such as natural gas for cooking and steam for electrical appliances. Van Kann believes that the regional exchange of energy streams could make an important contribution. ‘There is a real opportunity here to improve the energy system. In fact, we have the potential to use our own natural gas up to four times more efficiently.’
Ferry Van Kann (Kerkrade, 1983) studied environmental and infrastructure planning at the University of Groningen. As a PhD student with the University’s Faculty of Spatial Sciences, he contributed to the SREX project (SREX: synergy between regional planning and exergy, a research project with funding from the Ministry of Economic Affairs in which the University of Groningen participates). He is currently a lecturer in environmental and infrastructure planning with the Faculty of Spatial Sciences.
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