Classic public utility services must be reconsidered in view of climate change and resource depletion. Ensuring access to energy, power, heat and water is no longer all there is to the mission. Nowadays, taking that truly seriously involves making sure that people do not allow their consumption of those goods to destroy their livelihood. In the field of energy supply, in particular, the problem of carbon dioxide (CO2) must be tackled in order to control the related effects on the global climate and, ultimately, safeguard the habitability of our world.
In Germany, wind power offers a great potential in the field of renewable energies. That is why the coming years will see increased investments in that field. Of course, the sun is also one of the energy suppliers of the future. If we managed to create the technical and political conditions for its use, the problem of energy production would be solved for future generations. Today already, seven federal states would theoretically be able to fully supply themselves with green power from available regenerative energies.
From standard to modern public utility service. HSE (HEAG Südhessische Energie AG) in Darmstadt has been synonymous with reliable energy supply in the region since 1912 and meanwhile has become a forerunner of the energy turnaround in Germany. In view of global climate warming, the risks of nuclear energy and the unresolved disposal of radioactive waste, the group has, for years, advocated a sustainable and non-nuclear energy supply in order to preserve natural resources as well as the development potential of future generations.
The conversion to a sustainability-committed energy supplier was not a decision based solely on an economic tactic. The shift rests on a conviction to do the right thing, what is necessary for society. The strategy is both preparation and the master plan for a climate-neutral energy supply. The “Darmstadt road” to sustainable energy supply is based on the triad of avoiding, reducing and compensating for CO2. With investments of over one billion euros in expanding renewable energies, we contribute, as a company, to reducing carbon dioxide emissions.
Every megawatt-hour of power from regenerative sources like wind, sun, water and biomass renders an equal amount from conventional power plants expendable and prevents related emissions harmful to the climate. Currently, HSE owns or holds a participating interest in nine wind farms, four solar parks, 120 roof-top solar arrays, four biogas plants and one biomass-fuelled combined heat and power station.
Climate protection research. By founding the NATURpur Institute for Climate and Environmental Protection, HSE has taken another step towards a future of sustainable energy supply. The institute was founded as a non-profit corporation in 2008, making environment and climate protection its business. Its activities are geared to implementing a vision of modern public utility service. The institute envisions itself as
a platform for application-oriented, interdisciplinary research and supports select research projects in the fields of energy efficiency, renewable energies and conventional energies. The NATURpur Institute realises joint projects with the Darmstadt University of Applied Sciences, the Darmstadt University of Technology as well as the universities of Gießen and Kassel. All investigative findings are made available to the public.
In the field of renewable energies, for example, the focus is on geothermics, a technology area of the future, while in the field of conventional energies, it is on the effects of energy crops on the entire ecological system. In the area of energy efficiency, the activities of the institute include discovering energy saving potentials in tyre production at Pirelli as well as research to develop smart grids, which are intelligent power generation and transmission infrastructures.
Power grids of the future. More and more households opt for the use of green power. The proportion of regenerative energies in power generation is estimated to climb from about 15 per cent to 30 per cent. Power grids, which so far connect consumers with mostly nuclear and coal power stations, must be adapted to that new trend.
In a three-year, approximately five-million-euro research project, a consortium of ten European companies is developing a communication concept for the intelligent power grids of the future (smart grids). The European Union funds the project to the tune of 2.9 million euros with the remainder being shared between the participating companies from Germany, Austria, Switzerland, the Netherlands and Poland. The project named “Web2Energy” is conducted in Southern Hessen and led by HSE of Darmstadt.
The objective is to develop solutions in the three central areas of smart counters, intelligent energy management and intelligent remote control technology and to then test them under real-life conditions. To that effect, several hundred power customers in residential areas of Darmstadt-Eberstadt, Ober-Ramstadt, Groß-Bieberau, Münster, Eppertshausen and Schaafheim are equipped with smart meters, which continually monitor power consumption. That makes it possible, to a larger extent, to adjust power consumption to the actual supply of power.
Through intelligent energy management, the growing number of decentralised energy producers is to be coordinated and their power made available as a virtual power station. To that end, HSE-owned biogas plants, solar systems and cogeneration units as well as hydro-electric power stations on the Neckar are interconnected to control the load. Concurrently, new innovative storage technologies are to bridge the gaps between power demand and supply.
As a result of power grids being well kept, power interruptions are very rare in Germany. In the event that they occur, however, the detection and clearance of the failure involves starting up numerous local power grid stations one by one. Within the project, intelligent remote control technology is to automate and, thus, considerably shorten those processes. The central coordination is to take place at the interconnected control centre of the Rhein-Main-Neckar distribution grid operator (VNB) in Darmstadt.
New projects in the Darmstadt area. In Groß-Umstadt/Heubach, HSE has launched a geothermal pilot project. The first geothermal deep drilling in Hessen is to advance the use of energy from under the earth. The geothermal energy is to supply a mid-sized company.
Schlossberghalle in Heppenheim-Hambach is an example of improving energy efficiency. The façade was insulated, the heating and ventilation system modernised and a solar water heater installed. The multi-purpose hall built in 1965 now uses almost 54 per cent less power and heat, and the renovation has resulted in an 87-per-cent reduction in carbon dioxide emissions.
In the future, there will be many more smaller, decentralised systems that utilise regenerative sources like sun, wind, water and biomass. Since the sun does not shine all the time and the wind does not always blow, regenerative energy does not flow continually into the grid. That makes it harder to equalise power generation and demand. In Darmstadt, a 55-million-euro gas turbine power station is to supply the grid with so-called reserve energy. This allows for equalisation of natural fluctuations within a few minutes. The gas turbine system can be ramped up from zero to 100 megawatts in as little as nine minutes.
HSE’s commitment to renewable energies and its “Darmstadt road” are receiving nationwide recognition. In 2010, the group was awarded the “German Solar Prize”. Renowned scientist Ernst Ulrich von Weizsäcker publicly lauded the efforts as exemplary in Germany. Expanding the energy generation capacity as well as investing in renewable energies ensure self-reliance and independence – so that decisions about the region can continue to be taken in the region.
The author (born in 1953) studied business management at the university of Würzburg and was active as an authorised signatory for Neckarwerke AG. Since 1998, he has been a board member of HEAG AG. From 2002 to 2003, he was board spokesperson of HSE (HEAG Südhessische Energie AG). Since then, Albert Filbert has been CEO of HSE.