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Sector coupling: the engine of a CO2-free society

Not all sectors are as quick in switching over to sustainable energy. Especially industry, the built environment, mobility and agriculture are slow starters. For industry, heavily reliant on fossil resources, the options to become more sustainable are often also quite limited. Or come up against objections. How can we break out of the impasse? TNO is working on innovative solutions in the field of sector coupling for an optimal match between the supply of renewable energy and the demand of end users.

Want to know more about sector coupling?

Get in touch with Sjaak van Loo.

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In the transition to a sustainable, CO2-free society, an increasing amount of energy comes from renewable sources. This increase is necessary to provide industry, the built environment and mobility with CO2-free energy. TNO combines domain knowledge of energy with that of industrial processes, mobility, spatial heating and smart ICT systems.

Sustainable frontrunner

Sector coupling necessary to make large amounts of sustainable electricity available for a CO2-neutral energy supply

The electricity sector is at the forefront of the transition to a sustainable, CO2-free society. Renewable electricity from wind and solar power is, in principle, available almost without limit and the installed capacity worldwide is growing rapidly. In many places electricity from wind and sun is now cheaper than from fossil fuels. Technological developments are further increasing efficiency and lowering the cost price of electricity from wind turbines and solar panels.

In other sectors such as industry, built environment, mobility and agriculture, decarbonisation is slowing down. Particularly in industry, which relies heavily on fossil sources for high-temperature heat and raw materials, the options for sustainability are limited. Geothermal energy, biomass and fossil generation with CO2 storage are insufficiently available or are encountering obstacles.

Electrification for decarbonisation

The idea of sector coupling is to make large quantities of renewable electricity available for decarbonisation of the end sectors. This requires electrification: electric transport, heating of buildings with heat pumps and electric industrial process heat. If direct electrification is not possible or feasible, such as for industrial raw materials, electricity can be converted to a more applicable energy carrier such as hydrogen.

In order to decarbonise sectors, the amount of renewable electricity that is generated must keep pace with demand from electrification. At the same time, consumption in the end sectors will boost the demand for renewably generated electricity, so developers of wind and solar parks will continue to invest in new capacity. In the VoltaChem programme, TNO is working with energy producers and the chemical industry to realise sector coupling in practice.

Security through flexibility

The supply of electricity from wind and sun fluctuates greatly, requiring flexibility on the demand side: using as much energy as possible when it is available. If that is not possible, you can convert electricity to hydrogen, for example, and store it. By balancing production and consumption locally as much as possible, the costs of grid upgrades can be avoided.

This calls for intelligent coupling. TNO develops models and tools to carefully balance generation, transport, conversion, storage and consumption in the system to provide security of supply at minimal cost to society. TNO has knowledge of all aspects of the energy transition and, together with knowledge partners and companies, is developing innovative solutions for a reliable, affordable sustainable energy system.

H-vision

A significant reduction of CO2 emissions by industry players in the port of Rotterdam by producing blue hydrogen on a large scale and applying it in industrial processes. Industry uses a lot of hydrogen, especially for high-temperature processes, by burning natural gas. In the plans, the CO2 released in this process will be captured and transported to empty gas fields under the North Sea.

North Sea Energy

System integration in the North Sea: electrification of oil and gas platforms, reuse of empty gas fields for underground storage of CO2 and use of gas infrastructures to transport wind energy in the form of hydrogen, which is much cheaper and more efficient than transport by electricity cables.

VoltaChem

Together with industrial and knowledge partners TNO is working in open innovation on the use of renewably generated electricity for the electrification and thus decarbonisation of the chemical industry. This involves the conversion of sustainable hydrogen into fuels and chemicals (Power2Hydrogen), of electricity into heat (Power2Heat) and conversion into chemicals (Power2Chemicals).

System integration research and fieldlab

A WUR test station in Lelystad will be expanded with TNO test facilities to investigate how the electricity grid can be kept stable if large quantities of electricity and hydrogen are produced by wind farms in the North Sea from 2030 onwards. WUR mainly focuses on applications of hydrogen for the agricultural sector.

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