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Local alliance captures waste energy before it’s lost into thin air

by dbdh

A new way of thinking made the difference in joining one of Denmark’s largest manufacturing companies and a local district heating company. They built a closed heating and cooling cycle, where no energy goes to waste

The Energicentralen, a join energy exchange station in Bjerringbro, Denmark. Photograph: Grundfos

When Mrs. Jensen in the Danish town of Bjerringbro turns on the heat in her family home in winter, part of it comes from Grundfos, a global pump manufacturer and the town’s largest workplace. When Grundfos on the other hand needs cooling for its data centre and factory in the summer, it gets a vast amount of it from the town’s groundwater cooling system.

Grundfos and Bjerringbro District Heating Company have built a joint energy exchange station called “Energicentralen,” or the “Energy Central.” Energicentralen captures, stores and uses cooling and heating in a closed system. The cooling part benefits the Grundfos factories, and the heating benefits the district heating company.

Energicentralen is filled with shiny metal pipes in all shapes and sizes and with a faint smell of detergents and a deafening noise. It is the centre of a public-private partnership gone right.

“To put it very simply: for every single kWh we put into Energicentralen, we get 9 kWh out. Four-and-a-half of them are energy for cooling and 4-and-a-half are energy for heating. Exchanging one to four-and-a-half would be good, but this is actually great,” says Klaus E. Christensen, senior project manager in the Grundfos environmental department, Quality and Environment.

A green project with a valid business case
The idea was born in Quality and Environment as a way for the privately owned company to show consideration for the local community and reduce its carbon footprint. After three years, Energicentralen has saved the company 3,700 tonnes of CO2 emissions per year.

What started off as an idealistic idea turned out to be a way for Grundfos to help meet its strategic goals of not emitting more CO2 than in 2008.

“We made a contract about exchanging energy with the town we are situated in. That is it. The technology is not rocket science, and the set-up is not rocket science either,” says Christensen. He continues, “The project was born as a green project. Luckily, there have been multiple positive technical side effects as well. What we have done with Energicentralen in Denmark has created precedence for how things are done in the rest of the Group. For example, we no longer establish cooling towers.”

No compromises
Cooling towers are not a clever way to create the cooling a manufacturer like Grundfos needs for a long list of processes, according to Christensen. They use a lot of water, make a lot of noise, and you have to use chemistry in the process. You avoid these disadvantages when you create a closed cooling system. On top of that, energy exchange is also cheaper.

Grundfos is represented in more than 55 countries and makes more than 16m pumps a year, so it makes a difference when facility management changes the cooling processes. Christensen admits that it required an effort from the environmental department to convince facility management.

“Trust and confidence are key to a successful integration. Of course, a production like ours cannot make any compromises as regards to the security of supply, and a new set-up needs to be integrated in the internal systems. It is a process that is demanding for everybody, and a process that takes dedication to change.”

Nevertheless, Christensen does not see the transaction of cooling and heating as the truly unique thing about the venture.

“The unique thing about this cooperation is that we actually made it,” he says. “The timing was good – both partners were looking for a different way of doing things and new solutions. There was support from top management and a willingness to take a risk. There was good personal chemistry between the participants and it all added up in a mutual trust and confidence. That really made the difference.”

Go see what your neighbour is doing

Denmark has been a district heating flagship since the early 1970s. More than 37,000 miles of pipes distribute the local district heating to more than 63% of the population. That means that the infrastructure for the distribution of heat is in place. But that is not the key to success. It is all about the mindset.

“If you do not have the infrastructure, take a look at your neighbour. If he needs heating and you need cooling then maybe you should get together and work out a solution. It does not have to be more complex than that. The exchange of energy is basic, and a lot of companies can do what we have done and find partners that can use the energy surplus to something instead of just sending it into thin air,” says Christensen. He continues: “At Grundfos we are not experts in cooling. But we found a partner who was and who can actually help us build a better solution – a solution where there is focus on the economy and the efficiency of what we are doing. What made the difference for us were the relations, and the right people that made the right decisions.”

The total CO2 reduction from this project is 3,700 tonnes per year. In comparison, the average UK citizen emits 9.7 tonnes per year.
Grundfos initiated the project as one of the ways to live up to its strategic goal to not to emit more CO2 than it did in 2008.