In view of the climate targets, it is clear that fossil fuels must be replaced as quickly as possible. Electricity from renewable energies plays a decisive role in the energy transition – without electrification it will not be possible to achieve climate neutrality. Public perception often focuses on aspects such as mobility and transport.
But industry also needs to electrify its processes in order to successfully drive decarbonisation and end its dependence on fossil fuels – especially in view of the current gas shortage. This is the only way companies can ensure security of supply as well as competitiveness in the long term. Especially in the area of process heat, electricity-based processes are central. After all, this accounts for around two-thirds of final energy consumption in the industrial sector.
History of electrification
By definition, the term electrification refers to the technical conversion of infrastructures and facilities to the use of electrical energy. This was primarily driven by the industrial revolution. Street lighting, for example, was electrified very early on, with gas lanterns being replaced by electric light in the early 1880s. The advantages of electrified lighting: the light was much brighter, it was free of exhaust fumes and it was considerably safer.
In private households, it still took a few years before everyone was able to enjoy the benefits of electric power. Nevertheless, it is clear: electrification has fundamentally changed society.
Electrification as a way to decarbonise industry
Today, industry is primarily focused on using renewable electricity to drive decarbonisation in order to achieve climate neutrality by 2045 – and to end dependence on fossil fuels. Yet, especially in energy-intensive industries that rely on high-temperature heat or steam, there is hardly any alternative to the electrification of processes.
Heat pumps are generally not suitable for the required temperatures of over 200°C, the use of geothermal energy is often not yet economical and biomass and sustainable biogas are only available to a very limited extent. Green hydrogen will also not be widely available in the foreseeable future. In addition, the efficiency of hydrogen drops significantly if it is produced from electricity and burned again for heat. Nevertheless, for areas where direct electrification is not possible, green hydrogen remains a good alternative.
These are the challenges faced by businesses and politics
One thing is indisputable: electrification remains the most efficient way for industrial companies to achieve CO2-neutral process heat. But regardless of whether electrification takes place directly or via the diversions of green hydrogen, the conversion to a climate-neutral energy supply means one thing above all: the demand for electricity will increase significantly in the coming years. In order to achieve the goal of climate neutrality, sufficient green electricity must be available. The central pillars of electrification are therefore a consistent expansion of renewable energies and an increase in energy efficiency and flexibility.
Electrification using thermal energy storage: These are the advantages
In industry, thermal storage is of particular interest with regard to the efficient use of green electricity, as it allows renewable energy to be stored in the form of heat and made available when needed. The potential of surplus heat can also be raised. Previously unused waste heat in production processes can be stored in thermal batteries and reused, reducing dependence on fossil energy sources and saving energy costs and emissions. This way, companies can secure their heat supply and improve their climate and business balance at the same time.
But the possibility of energy storage is not only significant for companies themselves. There is also hardly any way around them with regard to the overarching energy system. Even if the expansion targets for solar and wind energy are met, the question of supply security persists. The use of thermal energy storage systems can compensate for fluctuations or even failures in the supply. The supply of climate-neutral energy thus becomes more resilient and flexible. The costs of the energy transition are reduced. What is needed now from governments are incentives and concrete goals for the expansion of storage technologies. Because they have long been ready for commercial use.
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