© Markus Breig | KIT

Energy transition: New technologies for sector coupling

Intelligent networking, control and optimization of electricity, heat and gas supply are the key to a climate-neutral energy system. The Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT) offers a unique research infrastructure for the transdisciplinary development and testing of new strategies and technologies for sector coupling (SEKO) on a pilot plant scale. On the way to a new, holistic modelling system, the researchers have reached the first milestones. The Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF) is increasing its funding for the SEKO Real Laboratory by 10 million euros to a total of 16.5 million euros.

“Our goal is to consider all forms of energy in an overall model and to generate, store, and convert them according to demand,” explains Professor Joachim Knebel, KIT coordinator of the SEKO research project. In this project, new and promising computational models and tools are being developed. They make it possible to simulate not only the behavior of individual components such as batteries, gas turbines, electrolysers, power converters or generators in real time and on the basis of real data, but also their interaction in the context of the expected demand and the current grid capacities. “In our real lab, we can map all the energy conversion processes and pathways that will be possible in the future, from power-to-X to combined heat and power to geothermal applications, on a pilot plant scale or as a digital twin,” says Knebel.

Forecasts of loads on electricity, gas and heating networks

Among other things, the scientists have succeeded in combining the thermal behaviour of buildings in a single simulation model. It enables forecasts to be made of heat consumption, heating and cooling requirements and the resulting loads on the electricity, gas and heating networks. The data required for this were provided by the model buildings of the Living Lab Energy Campus (LLEC) with office buildings and laboratory halls, which are used by KIT employees in real operation and represent the entire range of technologies for heating and cooling supply. This data was evaluated and processed in the Energy Lab 2.0. Alongside the LLEC, it forms the second important pillar of the infrastructure for SEKO research. With the Smart Energy System Simulation and Control Center (SenSSiCC), the Energy Lab 2.0 includes not only a photovoltaic field, a large battery storage facility, a gas turbine test stand and container plants for methanation (power-to-gas) and power-to-liquid synthesis, but also the central control room for the real laboratory.

Scenarios for the energy supply in the overall system

“SEKO allows us to work with a young team across institutes and faculties on a new modelling approach that captures the increasingly complex scenarios for energy supply in an overall system,” Knebel emphasises. “With the help of such a model, we can describe and evaluate possible transformation paths with the goal of climate neutrality by 2045.” So far, the BMBF has funded four subprojects with a volume of 6.5 million euros within the framework of SEKO. With a view to sector coupling, these address, among other things, electrical distribution networks, the building heating sector, technologies for gas supply and information and communication technologies for an intelligent, stable and secure energy system. With the budget increase of ten million euros, two further work packages can now be launched, one focusing on building-integrated CO2 capture and conversion and the other on a novel power-to-liquid process. The first work package focuses on the system design, operating behaviour and energy requirements of a new generation of air conditioning and ventilation systems that could turn buildings into CO2 sinks through direct air filtration. In the second work package, an integrated process will be validated for the first time in a pilot plant that synergistically combines the production of synthetic methanol from CO2 from biogas plants or sewage treatment plants and green hydrogen from electrolysis.

The SEKO research project, including the top-up, will run until March 2023. The KIT institutes involved are the Institute of Microprocess Engineering, the Institute of Automation and Applied Computer Science, the Institute of Technical Chemistry, the Institute of Electrical Energy Systems and High Voltage Engineering, the Institute of Technical Physics, the Institute of Electrical Engineering, the Institute of Light Engineering, and the Engler-Bunte Institute. (sur)

Caption: Data from real operation in the model houses at KIT (left) provide the basis for forecasts of loads on the electricity, gas and heating networks. (Photo: Markus Breig, KIT)