Gas reliant autonomous energy area

Master's assignment
Student Thijs ten Brinck
Supervisors Dr. Ir. A. Molderink, Dr. Maarten J. Arentsen and Michiel Geurds (Alliander)
Programme Sustainable Energy Technology - University of Twente


Anticipated climate impact and the exhaustion of natural resources together are the main driving forces behind an ongoing transition away from fossil fuels and towards a more sustainable energy system. Renewable Energy Sources (RES) like wind and solar to great extend enable us to substitute fossil fuel power plants and at the same time plugin-hybrids, full-electric vehicles, heat pumps and infrared panels pose valuable options for fossil fuel free personal transport and space heating. Despite the fact that renewable resources offer great answers to some of the biggest challenges of our time, large scale utilization of those resources also presents novel challenges of its own. Most of the sustainable energy sources are weather dependent and therefore intermittent regarding power their output. Furthermore, in order for renewables to reach a similar power outputs as traditional power plants a much larger area is required. This results in the addition of many, highly distributed small scale power generation units. At the same time, electrification of mobility and heating presents large novel strains for the electric power grid. Our existing energy infrastructure is designed to distribute the energy of large, centralized facilities, that supply power on demand to relatively small loads at end-users. In order to accommodate for new intermittent and distributed suppliers like photovoltaic solar panels and large new loads like electric car chargers, the energy distribution system thus has to be adopted considerably.

Graduation thesis description

Possible pathways to adapt the electric power grid to the requirements of a sustainable future are grid reinforcements, improved forecasting of demand and supply, demand side management (Smart Grids), increased application of peak power plants (or spinning reserves) and energy storage technologies. All those options have their specific benefits and disadvantages and generally speaking, a combination of all of them will be required to ensure ongoing stability on the power grids. This thesis research originated from the notion that the natural gas grid is mostly unaffected by the transition in energy use. Unlike the power grid, the gas grid by no means suffers from congestion and stability issues. Furthermore, advancements in small scale combined heat and power (micro-CHP) offer highly efficient and on demand electric power generation. Additionally, driven by the desire to enable storage of ‘wrong time’ intermittent renewable power, ongoing developments enable the conversion of electric power into synthetic natural gas. The aim for this thesis work is to explore the opportunities these new gas based technologies offer regarding the transition towards a sustainable energy system. To start off with, a desk research on the state of the art in Power to Gas technology will be performed. This study will subsequently be used in the development of several transition scenarios for residential areas. The main objective here is to find out if the gas grid could be a decent provider of flexibility and/or back-up power, paired with intermittent renewable energy sources connected to the local electric power grid. Lastly, this study will look into non-technical matters that might be of importance for actual implementation of the most promising (technical) scenarios. The research will be performed in cooperation with Liandon/Alliander.