The Ways Forward to Energy Diversity

The search to find different energy sources and divert away from fossil fuels has in the past been primarily concerned with environmental matters, in particular the effect on climate change. But the Russian invasion of Ukraine has brought this matter into far sharper focus.

A recent article by Forbes offers their view of how the war would affect energy policies in Europe: “By 2024, we estimate that 34% of Europe’s energy will be produced by renewables and nuclear, which is two percentage points more than our pre-war forecast. Energy emissions will decrease by a similar amount.”

So the need to diversify the sources of energy that power industry, commerce and public utilities, and to develop the technology to use them efficiently and safely, has never been greater.

Harnessing the potential of hydrogen

Schwank has been established for over 80 years and invented the first ever gas-fired infrared heater. And the company’s development has been marked by innovations in HVAC and climate solutions, focused on energy efficiency and emissions reduction.

Now Schwank engineers have made a breakthrough by developing a 100% hydrogen powered tube heater.

This new tube heater had to be equipped with a completely new burner technology. In Schwank’s laboratories in Cologne, Germany, the ignition and combustion behaviour of hydrogen in a closed, small-volume system was simulated on the computer using complex calculation models. Using 100% hydrogen as a fuel is extremely difficult because of its unpredictable nature. It can be highly inflammable, and the project required frequent and rigorous testing for the safety as well as the performance of the heater.

It will be some time before this new tube heater goes into volume production, but it is also worth mentioning that all new Schwank heaters can already run on a 20% mix of hydrogen with natural gas whenever that option is available via the existing energy networks.

Capturing the power of the sun

The quest for energy diversity and sustainability has also prompted Schwank to introduce a new product line which uses the power of the sun in an innovative and highly effective method.

While solar power generation is generally associated with capturing the sun’s energy via solar arrays for conversion into electricity, Schwank’s new Solar Air Collectors work in a very different way. In fact, there is no conversion process involved in creating the heat that they produce.

These new solarSchwank products for renewable heat generation are façade-mounted systems. The actual solar air collector consists of perforated, durable, aluminium, with a solar active surface (absorber). This selective coating ensures a highly efficient conversion of solar energy into thermal energy when the sun’s rays meet the solar active surface.

The heated air is then released into the air layer below the absorber and fed directly into the building assisted by a fan. The whole process is carried out without any conversion processes or use of a heat exchanger. Thanks to this efficient method, heating costs can be reduced by up to 50% and CO2 emissions can also be significantly lowered.

These solarSchwank systems are available with or without fresh air supply. The air collectors are easy and quick to install at both new and existing buildings. Thanks to the use of lightweight materials, they can be mounted on almost any building facades.

Progress is being made

Reducing the carbon footprint of industrial and commercial heating and cooling systems and reinforcing energy security to counter international supply instability have been long-standing objectives in the HVAC sector.

Schwank provides an example of how leading HVAC companies are investing time and resources to utilise sustainable sources of energy to achieve these goals.

Benefits of using waste heat efficiently

Heat recovered from factories, incinerators and other commercial buildings may soon heat many UK homes.

In a recent article, The Guardian’s Energy Correspondent Lillian Ambrose describes the UK government’s intention that thousands of UK homes, offices and hospitals “could soon be warmed with surplus heat from factories, incinerator plants and even disused mine shafts under plans by the government to fund low-carbon heating.”

The Guardian reports that the government is looking to spend £30m to help set up “heat networks” across a number of cities including London, Manchester and Glasgow. It also states that: “The UK’s largest planned heat network will receive just over £12m to capture the surplus heat produced at a waste incineration plant in the London borough of Bexley to warm up to 21,000 homes in south-east London.”

This is a heat networks project on a grand nationwide scale, but this concept, also known as district heating, goes back a long way and on many different levels. For instance, as Build Energy records: “In the year 1330, the French Commune of Chaudes-Aigues (“Hot Waters”) began using geothermal energy domestically. The hottest springs in Europe provided heat for approximately 30 houses. The system used wooden pipes, with a central main and smaller channels serving each home. The method survives in the spa town today.”

The technology of heat recovery

The principle of heat recovery used in district heating networks can also work exceptionally well in individual industrial settings such as factories. For instance, Schwank has carried out a range of innovative heat recovery installations, including for Bauer in Germany.

Using the hybrid Schwank heat recovery solution, heat is recovered from the exhaust gases of Bauer’s Schwank radiant tube heating system and fed into an air-water heat exchanger. This exchanger then outputs the heat energy of the exhaust gases in the form of hot water, which is directed into a hot water storage cylinder. This supports the hot-water heating of Bauer’s offices, both saving energy and reducing carbon emissions.

A variety of initiatives of different scales of size and complexity will be required to reach the global target of zero carbon emissions by 2050. Responsible manufacturers in the HVAC sector are putting significant efforts, skills and resources into technological developments to support this objective.

IEA analyses pandemic effects on Energy Efficiency objectives

The IEA (International Energy Agency) has published its Energy Efficiency 2020 report, as the latest in its annual overviews of worldwide developments in energy efficiency. The report gives a comprehensive appraisal of the issue through the analysis of energy data, policy decisions and technological trends.

These yearly updates by the IEA are always worth studying, but last year provided unique circumstances due to the spread of the Covid-19 pandemic. The IEA states that: “Since 2015, global improvements in energy efficiency, as measured by primary energy intensity, have been declining. The Covid-19 crisis adds an extra level of stress. As a result of the crisis and continuing low energy prices, energy intensity is expected to improve by only 0.8% in 2020, roughly half the rates, corrected for weather, for 2019 (1.6%) and 2018 (1.5%). This is well below the level needed to achieve global climate and sustainability goals.”

The pandemic has had dramatic effects on the priorities of the present and has created a huge degree of uncertainty about the future. The economic crisis caused by Covid-19 restrictions is likely to delay new investment in energy efficient technologies, with business spending on efficiency measures “facing pressure as energy prices remain low.”

Building back better

building back better after the pandemic

In our previous blog entry late last year, we stated that: “When the pandemic ends, energy efficiency improvements will be more important than ever.” The idea of an end to the risk of coronavirus seems, with the passing of time, to have been over-optimistic. The virus has shown it has the ability to mutate at an alarming rate and it may well remain an unwelcome presence requiring regular vaccination programmes to keep it at bay.

However, we believe that the key element of that statement remains true. Energy efficiency not only benefits environmental sustainability but also reduces operating costs for businesses and households alike. It can be seen as an aid rather than a hindrance to economic recovery.

Having described the negative impact of Covid-19 on energy efficiency developments, the IEA also adds a note of optimism: “On the other hand, the socio-economic benefits of energy efficiency are now becoming widely recognised. Governments are starting to rise to the challenge of “building back better” from this crisis, announcing billions of dollars in stimulus spending to increase energy efficiency, particularly in buildings and transport.”

Hopefully, this policy of “building back better” will be a lasting legacy of Covid-19. Governments worldwide have found a common purpose in fighting the pandemic, and if similar global efforts were applied to actions on energy efficiency, the results could be very significant.