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Jakob Jensen's picture
Chief Commercial Officer Heliac

I am the commercial director in Heliac. Heliac produces solar-generated utility-scale heat for district heating and industrial processes up to 200C. The low-cost, scalable method enables heat...

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  • May 18, 2021
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"To put it mildly, gas is over...Without the end to the use of unabated fossil fuels, we will not be able to reach the climate targets," European Investment Bank (EIB) president Werner Hoyer said...

Super interesting piece from Reuters even though the article doesn't mention alternatives to gas for heat-driven processes in the lower temperature ranges that consume as much energy as global electricity demand.

For investors and banks worried about stranded assets, volatility, carbon emission taxes, expensive solutions, and public sentiment, solar thermal may be a great alternative. With the added bonus of producing three times as many kWh as solar PV per area.

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Matt Chester's picture
Matt Chester on May 18, 2021

I'm curious what's unique in the European situation compared with North America, Asia, Australia-- is the portended end of gas in Europe similarly true in these other markets, or will Europe be the first region to see the phase out? 

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Nathan Wilson on May 23, 2021

It sounds like the author and her sources simply don't understand the electric grid.

In the US, where we just watched Texans freeze to death over the winter, due to inadequate firm electrical generation resources, it is obvious that we have to maintain adequate firm generation to power our demand peaks, even if they are turned-off 95% of the time (due to abundance of clearer, but variable energy).  And the most economical power plant to leave idle 95% of the time is powered by a gas turbine (of course, these plants will need regulatory policy support to allow them to be more economical than simply letting user die).

And while solar thermal is a great way to heat a swimming pool on a sunny spring day, it is a bad solution for winter home heating in the north.  We tried that in the US back during the oil shock of the 1970s, and it just wasn't worth the bother.  Much of Europe's population is even further north than most Americans, which exacerbates the seasonal problem with solar energy.

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Jakob Jensen on May 25, 2021

Solar thermal can be used for more than swimming pools - even in the northern countries. In Denmark where the sun shines 20% less than in Seattle, WA, large-scale solar thermal provides some of the heat to our district heating network (district heating heats up 64% of all homes in Denmark). This is done at costs competitive to natural gas.

The report Solar Thermal Worldwide 2019 gives a quick overview of global market development and trends as well as detailed 2017 market figures.

It's a fascinating and much overlooked opportunity to create jobs, decarbonize, reduce energy costs, and deploy infrastructure funds looking for long-term stable returns; While it's expensive to build district heating networks, the networks last 'forever' with very little maintenance, heat can be transported over long distances (in Denmark +40 miles) with very little heat loss, the demand side doesn't disappear or go bankrupt, and average solar irradiation can be estimated with high accuracy.

 

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Nathan Wilson on May 26, 2021

Wow, that's the perfect way to green-wash a largely fossil fuel based heating system.

I'm a big fan of heat-networks.  They are a great way to deliver safe, clean heat from a carbon-free source to homes and businesses.  But heating is mostly a winter-time load, and sunshine in inherently weak in the winter (unless one lives near the equator).   A solution that is carbon-free half the time was great for 30 years ago, but today we need solutions which approach 100% emission-free.

When I think of carbon-free heat sources that work well in winter, I think of geothermal (in some locations), biomass (dirty and environmentally impactful), industrial heatpumps (with clean electricity and hot-water storage), fossil fuel with CC&S, and of course nuclear (with the lowest environmental impact).

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Jakob Jensen on May 26, 2021

Storing energy as heat rather than as electrons reduces the cost of storage very significantly. Especially if the storage temperature is less than 100C. In Denmark,er have seasonal storage (3-4 months consumption) at half a dollar per kWh capacity. Assuming 25 years lifetime and one full cycle per year this less than 3 cent per kWh. Pretty low for a technology that's still in its infancy. https://planenergi.dk/wp-content/uploads/2018/05/Soerensen-and-Schmidt_D...

Another note. I do not see heat networks as green washing. Even if they are powered by waste heat from power plants in which case you get full use of the fossil fuels instead of losing two-thirds in cooling towers. Has worked great in DK since the oil crises in the early 1970's. And now being converted to solar thermal and heat pumps.

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Nathan Wilson on May 28, 2021

Oh, sorry.  I meant that solar water heaters with fossil fuel back up are green washing for the fossil fuel backup.  I am very impressed with the green potential of heat networks in general, particularly their compatibility with 100% emission-free nuclear power (and even fossil fuel with CC&S). 

But sure, with 3 months of cheap storage, that's sounds compatible with solar thermal (or wind-power) with little or no fossil backup; so that's great.

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