Is Waste Heat the Key to Safeguarding the Renewable Energy Mix?

Energy has been top of the agenda since the announcement of the European Green Deal but Europe’s commitment to net-zero has been somewhat overshadowed by the on-going energy crisis (FT, 2022).

As countries race to increase domestic energy production and businesses and consumers face spiraling power costs, there is a risk that governments will revert to fossil fuels in a bid to safeguard energy outputs. 

However, this isn’t the only way - or even the most effective way - to safeguard baseline power and tackle the energy crisis. In fact, leveraging dispatchable renewable power and boosting sustainable energy outputs could be a viable way to accelerate the sustainable transition, increase domestic production and reduce energy costs, thus mitigating the impact of the energy crisis. The key?

Getting the renewable energy mix right.

What Is the Renewable Energy Mix?

The ‘renewable energy mix’ is the range of sustainable energies that are used to generate power within a specific region or country. According to the latest statistics, Europe generates 22.1% of its gross final energy consumption (European Environment Agency, 2022) and 37% of its electricity consumption (Eurostat, 2022) from sustainable sources but which types of renewable power contribute to this output? 

Recent statistics show that Europe’s total renewable energy output comes from a relatively small mix of sustainable power sources: 

A pie chart showing the renewable energy mix in Europe on a blue background.
The European Renewable Energy Mix

As shown above, wind, hydro and solar power account for 83% of Europe’s renewable energy production - which leaves Europe’s renewable energy industry in a vulnerable position. 

Safeguarding the Renewable Energy Mix

A narrow renewable energy mix inevitably threatens the reliability of sustainable power. If one type of renewable fails to produce expected outputs, for example, it could have a significant impact on Europe’s sustainable energy outputs as a whole. 

Furthermore, Europe’s main renewable energy sources - hydro, wind and solar - are weather dependent, meaning that they only produce energy intermittently. 

Additionally, the two main sources of renewable power in Europe - wind and solar - are non-dispatchable, which means they cannot provide reliable baseline power and cater for peaks in energy consumption. The potential over-production associated with non-dispatchable power can lead to inefficiencies, excess costs and the need for increased energy storage. 

With weather dependency a major issue for Europe’s main source of renewable power, along with an emerging and potentially costly energy storage industry, it’s not surprising that renewable energy as a whole is sometimes seen as unreliable. Indeed, failing to safeguard the renewable energy mix with alternative forms of dispatchable sustainable power could render renewables overlooked and underused.

An image showing solar panels in the forefront, a dam representing hydropower and wind turbines in the background under an orange sky.
Europe’s main sources of renewable energy are weather-dependent and, therefore, intrinsically limited in terms of reliability.

By diversifying the renewable energy mix and increasing the reliability of green electricity, however, we can make green energy a more attractive option to investors and power generators and increase the accessibility of green energy to consumers and businesses. 

As confidence grows, the lower costs, optimal reliability and domestic production available via a more diverse renewable energy mix can successfully increase both the demand and consumption of renewable power as a whole. In this sense, waste heat recovery can provide a solution to Europe’s ‘energy trilemma’ (EUISS, 2022) and provide renewable energy that is secure, affordable and sustainable.

What Role Does WHR Recovery Play in Power Generation?

To date, waste heat recovery (WHR) has been a largely overlooked form of renewable energy. As Climeon’s HeatPower technology shows, however, waste heat recovery can play a critical role in diversifying and safeguarding the renewable energy mix. 

In simple terms, waste heat recovery generates clean electricity from wasted heat. As a form of renewable energy, it’s a sustainable and carbon-free method of generating power. Using Organic Rankine Cycle (ORC) technology, Climeon’s HeatPower system takes low-temperature waste heat and converts it into clean, carbon-free energy.

Thermal energy in the form of low-temp heat is always generated as a byproduct by industrial processes and engines, as prescribed by the laws of thermodynamics. Electricity is more valuable than heat, easier to distribute and a key to the reduction of CO2 emissions.

HeatPower 300 models utilize the thermal energy and generate electricity in a way that does not cause any additional emissions, does not depend on weather and is dispatchable. Furthermore, it can also provide a sustainable supply of electricity that is detached from the volatility of today's energy markets (KCORC, 2022). 

Climeon's HeatPower technology converts low-temp waste heat into clean, carbon-free electricity. 

The processes, engines and turbines used in power plants produce significant amounts of waste heat. When this waste heat is channeled into a HeatPower module, it is converted into renewable electricity. By integrating waste heat recovery technology into power stations, the plant’s total output and renewable output increases. 

To learn more about the role waste heat recovery can play in safeguarding the renewable energy mix, take a look at some of the benefits on offer:

Non-Weather Dependent

Unlike many other forms of renewable energy, such as wind, hydro and solar power, waste heat recovery is not weather-dependent and can produce clean, carbon-free energy 24x7x365, providing thermal energy is available.

If a HeatPower unit is integrated with a turbine in a natural gas power station, for example, the turbine will produce waste heat whenever it is in operation. This waste heat then feeds into the HeatPower system and is converted into renewable power.

Climeon HeatPower module
Climeon’s HeatPower technology is capable of producing carbon-free electricity whenever thermal energy is available, regardless of weather conditions.

With no reliance on weather conditions, power station operators can be confident in their ability to produce renewable power at any time while in operation. This enables power stations to incorporate renewable energy into their baseline power production and ensures waste heat recovery can become a much-needed form of reliable, renewable energy.

Dispatchable Renewable Power

The demand for energy is in a constant state of flux, which means power generators must be able to account for sudden increases in electricity consumption. To facilitate this, ‘dispatchable’ energy sources are used. These dispatchable sources effectively mean that power can be produced on demand. Conversely, power generators can reduce or stop energy being produced when demand is met by using dispatchable sources, thus giving them complete control over production. 

While the fossil fuels commonly used to produce electricity - coal and natural gas - are dispatchable, the most frequently used renewables - wind and solar - are not. 

As these non-dispatchable sources of power cannot be relied upon to deliver baseline power, many energy producers are understandably apprehensive about being totally reliant on them. Similarly, investors may be wary of backing renewable energy plants that cannot offer consistency and reliability. 

However, waste heat recovery is a form of dispatchable, renewable energy that can be relied upon to meet fluctuating demand and contribute to baseload power production. Providing thermal energy is available, Climeon HeatPower units can generate clean electricity at any time. With the option to automate carbon-free electricity production via the Climeon Live management system or manually adjust production settings, power stations can increase the reliability of their renewable energy outputs in response to demand.

In this sense, waste heat recovery not only diversifies the renewable energy mix but it also provides the enhanced security, consistency and reliability that is critical to successfully integrating renewables into the mainstream energy mix. 

Domestic Production

Recent statistics show that 58% of Europe’s energy comes from imported sources (Europa), with some countries more heavily reliant on imports than others. However, strained international relations have highlighted the risks associated with having such a high energy dependency rate.

Due to this, many European countries are eager to increase domestic energy production. As well as safeguarding energy supplies, this gives EU countries greater control over pricing and even enables governments to generate additional profits from energy sales.

Of course, domestic energy production can only be successful if a country has access to the raw materials required to produce power. To date, Europe has predominantly been using natural gas and fossil fuels to generate energy, hence the need to import resources from non-EU sources.

By increasing renewable production, however, European countries can boost domestic production and reduce their energy dependency rate accordingly. With the ability to generate increased energy outputs via HeatPower, even power plants still using fossil fuels can reduce their reliance on imports and maintain existing outputs with on-site waste heat recovery technology. 

Fast Integration & Immediate Outputs

In the midst of an energy crisis, efficient solutions are needed to shore up energy supplies, reduce costs and retain confidence. While new renewable solutions are emerging, the relatively slow speed at which they can be tested and/or deployed renders them unsuitable saviors given the immediate need for clean, affordable, domestic energy supplies.

Similarly, increasing domestic production of existing renewables typically means building new wind farms or producing thousands of extra solar panels. Not only does this require investment in materials and land, but it takes a considerable amount of time for sites to be commissioned and fully operational.

In contrast, HeatPower systems can be integrated into new and existing power stations comparatively easily. From super-efficient, next-gen, low-carbon power plants to traditional fossil-fuel-powered sites, Climeon’s HeatPower modules can utilize the waste heat that’s already being produced to maximize efficiency, increase energy outputs and generate carbon-free power to enhance the renewable energy mix.

HeatPower modules can be integrated into existing power stations quickly and efficiently.
HeatPower modules can be integrated into existing power stations quickly and efficiently.

Furthermore, the speed at which HeatPower systems can be deployed and integrated ensures optimal performance from the get-go. At a time when reliable, renewable and affordable energy is desperately needed throughout Europe, waste heat recovery provides a fast and proven way to generate cost-effective, carbon-free electricity now.

Low-Cost Energy

Energy costs reached an all-time high in Europe in 2022 (Europa, 2022) with governments, businesses and consumers all scrambling to find lower cost power options. When we rely so heavily on imports and fossil fuels, however, we remain at the mercy of external providers who can effectively set any price for the commodities we need.

Fortunately, waste heat recovery overcomes these issues in a number of ways to provide a low-cost and sustainable addition to the energy mix.

Firstly, waste heat recovery relies on resources that are already being produced, namely waste heat. In fact, this thermal energy is typically produced as a byproduct of an existing process (such as an operational turbine or engine). By converting this overlooked byproduct into a usable, renewable asset, HeatPower significantly reduces the cost of producing renewable power.

Secondly, HeatPower systems can be integrated into existing power stations, which ensures modules can be installed cost effectively. Instead of having to build new wind farms or produce thousands of solar panels to generate intermittent sustainable energy, for example, existing power stations can simply increase their renewable outputs by installing HeatPower systems alongside their existing infrastructure.

Lastly, Climeon’s HeatPower systems have a relatively low payback period combined with low operating costs. Giving power stations and investors the opportunity to increase renewable energy outputs, safeguard energy production and reduce operating costs, waste heat recovery could be a cost-effective and lucrative addition to the mix.

Diversifying the Renewable Energy Mix with HeatPower

We’re always happy to hear from you! If you want to learn more about waste heat recovery in the power generation industry or you’re eager to find out more about integrating Climeon’s HeatPower modules into new and existing power stations, contact our specialist team today.