Local energy generation with DE promotes a cultural change in our attitude to the use of energy, which can be integrated into our communities thereby stimulating energy-use efficiency a local level. The share of new generation taken by decentralised power globally is on the increase. National governments around the world need to remove policy and regulatory barriers to encourage the utilisation of DE as one of the key solutions to tackling climate change.
Climate change has thrust energy production to the top of the political agenda. The developed world is currently dominated by a centralised electricity generating system, which is the embodiment of technological inertia, performing little better today than it did in the 1970s. This centralised system is hugely wasteful and environmentally damaging.
Within the (pre-2007) 25 European Union nations, for example, the electricity sector is responsible for releasing more than 1.2 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide and over 2600 tonnes of dangerous radioactive waste every year. Whatâ€™s more, only 0.6% of the oil, 2% of the gas, 7.3% of the coal and almost none of the worldâ€™s uranium lie within EU, so there is limited security of supply. At the same time more than half of Europeâ€™s power plants are more than 20 years old, and will need to be replaced over the next decade or so, offering an opportunity to move towards a more sustainable decentralised system which protects the climate and provides future generations with secure energy.
Big centralised electricity generating stations waste around two thirds of the energy in the fuels they use by throwing away waste heat in cooling water, up the cooling towers and then in the electricity transmission wires. So 65% of the energy is lost before it even reaches consumers. If we could make use of this waste heat it would make a very large contribution to tackling climate change and improving security of supply.
By seeing the energy system as a whole and locating energy production close to where it is used, it possible to use both the heat and electricity generated and more than double the efficiency of power stations. This system would work hand-in-hand with renewable energy sources and more efficient end use. This highly efficient, decentralised, approach is better for the climate, more secure and gives better value for money than investment in a centralised system.
A Decentralised Energy (DE) system produces heat as well as electricity at or near the point of consumption. It includes high efficiency co-generation or combined heat and power (CHP); on-site renewable energy systems and energy recycling systems. CHP plants, although often fuelled by fossil fuels, are much more efficient than in large centralised power stations, because the heat is used either as process heat in industry or distributed around buildings via a district heating system. The availability of a local district energy network connected to the DE generation plant means the CHP plant can be integrated with other fuels/technologies such as biomass, geothermal energy, or solar collectors.
Importantly once a DE scheme has been constructed with its associated district energy network, as new technologies mature, such as fuel cells, they can easily be integrated. This is not the case where a development has been constructed with many localised heat plants and grid electricity supplies.
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