A systems approach will take the functional requirements of an energy using system as a starting point. In many cases, the same functions can be fulfilled by a range of technologies, and it is worth assessing whether the technology that has been used historically for a particular function continues to be the most advantageous from an economic and energetic point of view.
A typical example of a technology switch is a change of energy carrier. Some changes will be driven by the move to phase out fossil fuels as part of the energy transition, but a mix of other factors can also play a role, such as energy efficiency, total cost of ownership, maintenance costs and production quality.
Technology switches involving changes of energy carrier include:
- From petrol-driven vehicles to electric vehicles (EVs). Passenger cars driven by electric motors have higher well-to-wheel efficiency than cars with an internal combustion engine (ICE) powered by fossil fuels. The same is true for electric buses and trucks. Exactly how much higher is difficult to express in general terms, since EV motor efficiency depends on the load profile and system boundaries. The introduction of EVs creates a new interdependence between the transport fleet and the building energy system, which should incorporate EV charging points. Architects, construction companies and electrical installers should take this into account when designing new buildings or renovations. This example demonstrates the importance of looking beyond the boundaries of the energy system being considered.
- From central heating networks with boilers running on fossil fuel to heat pump systems with electrically driven compressors. This example is discussed in the introduction to this whitepaper. Such a switch demands investment in an entirely new heating system, but leads to dramatically reduced energy consumption. It can also bring other advantages, such as the possibility of using the same system for space cooling, and the option of participating in demand side management (DSM).
- From a centrally driven pneumatic system, as used in many automated industrial processes, to a set of electrical actuators at the point of use. Whether this is advantageous from an economic and functional point of view depends on many parameters, such as the required speed, torque, precision, and intensity of use. Generally, an all-electric system has a higher initial cost but will in many cases have a lower life cycle cost. This is mainly because electric systems do not draw power when no motion is required. They are also not susceptible to leakage and have lower maintenance costs. All-electric systems also have better motion control (accuracy, repeatability, and co-ordination of multiple actuators) and can achieve a higher power maximum. Not all pneumatic systems are suitable for electrification, but today they are still commonly found in cases where an all-electric system would be beneficial over the lifetime of the installation. Reliance on the status quo persists when decision makers fail to apply a systems approach, taking into account functional requirements and life cycle costing.
- From a fossil fuel combustion furnace for industrial process heating to processing materials electromagnetically. A systems approach is indispensable when exploring such a technology switch, since the advantages of electromagnetic processing can be identified in a number of areas. Apart from the obvious potential reduction in carbon emissions, it can lead to improved energy efficiency, complete eradication of local emissions, eliminating fuel transport and storage needs It can also bring a more compact installation, improved automation and control, higher production speeds, and reduced oxidation.
Technologies used historically are not always the most advantageous in terms of energy, costs and even quality.