16 Jul 2023

Sector Coupling: Principles and Practicalities

Sponsored Article by Neil Parry, Global Head of District Energy, Armstrong Fluid Technology

The process of sector coupling, the integration of buildings from various sectors (domestic, commercial, industrial etc) onto a connected grid of varying energy sources, is an increasingly important part of the process of decarbonisation in many countries. So what opportunities should we be looking for, or actively trying to bring to fruition, as we design the next phase of our energy infrastructure and transition to net zero? And which elements integrate most effectively?


Sector coupling design principles

Sector coupling splits energy supply into 4 key power grids: Electricity, Gas (a mix of natural, hydrogen, biogas etc.), District Cooling and District Heating. The four grids are divided into four areas where the energy is ‘obtained’, stored, converted or used. The source and the use are straightforward, although the more diverse both are, the better. The storage and conversion however, are the two key areas that create flexibility and allow for energy to flow across the four different power grids. The four grids and the four stages are connected. Even the end users can be consumers or prosumers, taking or giving energy into the system. Sector coupling therefore can be thought of as a spider’s web with energy travelling in all directions across every strand. Energy of all types can move from, or to, the storage, conversion and end use sectors.

Energy sources

The energy sources could include biogas, hydro-electric, nuclear, geothermal, wind, solar, large scale CHP etc. Some sources will be available 24 hours a day, every day, such as nuclear for example, whilst the availability of some sources, such as solar or wind, could fluctuate. For those that fluctuate, we need to look at storage or conversion when they’re bountiful, and look at alternatives when they’re not available. They do still form an important part of the whole energy supply structure. Sources such as geothermal, solar and heat pumps can supply energy directly into the district heating network or, of course, into storage. Any energy source and, in particular renewable sources that are in abundance at a particular time, can have their excess energy sent to storage.

Energy storage

Storage is vital to increase security and flexibility of supply. Storage also allows our control to be smarter, storing energy ahead of predicted peak demands or to compensate for expected downtime of other sources. Wind energy could be stored as electrical energy in batteries or can be used to pump water up to high reservoirs for storage as potential energy, ready to be released to produce hydro-electricity via turbines. Gas, biogas and hydrogen can be stored using traditional methods, whilst thermal storage allows energy to be stored as LTHW, for example. In a similar way, chilled water can be stored for cooling networks, possibly even in the same vessels, or in aquifers, switching from heating to cooling seasonally. Heating and DHW demand in domestic homes can be very ‘peaky’. Typical profiles show significant peaks early morning and again later in the evening. Knowing this allows the smart network to increase thermal storage ahead of this known peak in demand.

Energy conversion

Energy can be converted into different types, depending on requirements at any particular time. Electrical energy directly from solar or wind, or indirectly from storage batteries in the storage phase, can be used to produce hydrogen or used by heat pumps to create LTHW or chilled water, for example. Consumer waste can be incinerated and turned into LTHW and/or electricity at waste to energy plants. Electrical energy (be that directly from source, or from batteries or gas powered CHP from the conversion sector) can be used via heat pumps or electric boilers, for example, to pre-charge LTHW thermal stores in the storage sector ready to meet the predicted district heating peak. The CHP, of course, also produces electricity. This electrical output can be sent directly into buildings, sent back into the grid, or used to power heat pumps that can further augment the LTHW store.

End users

Depending on the time of day, end users could be either consumers or prosumers. Industry end users often have energy intensive processes that produce heat as a by-product of that process. Very often this heat is wasted. A better approach is to direct waste energy back into the district heating system, or to LTHW stores for use at a later time. Typically, electrical power plants send their heat to atmosphere, but it would be far better to direct it directly into a district heating network instead. We could capture the heat from wastewater processes or from datacentres and send this heat into the heating network. How about a business with a large fleet of electric powered vehicles? We could use the electricity stored in their batteries and send it back into the storage or conversion sectors for use elsewhere. Very often these vehicles are not required from 6pm to 6am, plenty of time to use their stored electricity and re-charge them again prior to 6am.

For more information about sector coupling in particular, or district energy networks in general, contact Armstrong on Tel: +44 (0)8444 145 145, email: [email protected] , or visit www.armstrongfluidtechnology.com.


About Armstrong Fluid Technology

With eight manufacturing facilities on four continents, and employees around the world, Armstrong Fluid Technology is known as an innovator in the design, engineering and manufacturing of intelligent fluid flow equipment, control solutions and optimization technologies.

In the shift toward digitalization and integration of fluid-flow systems, Armstrong leads the industry. With advanced solutions that leverage edge computing, IoT, machine learning, digital twin technology and demand-based control, Armstrong provides and protects efficiency in building mechanical systems, approaching energy optimization as a whole-building challenge and advancing the practice of full lifecycle management. Focusing on HVAC, Plumbing, Gas Transmission and Fire Safety applications, we provide energy-efficient, cost-effective solutions and performance management services to building and facility professionals around the world.

Armstrong Fluid Technology is committed to sustainability. In 2019, Armstrong signed the Net Zero Carbon Buildings Commitment, a program launched by the World Green Building Council. As a signatory to the program, Armstrong has pledged to ensure that all its offices and manufacturing facilities operate at net-zero carbon by the year 2030.


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