16. November 2022 | Industry Insights

Electrification: Where will all the green electricity come from?

Electric cars instead of combustion engines, heat pumps instead of gas heating – if we want to save the world, there’s no way around it. However, this only works if we not only expand renewable energies on a large scale, but also use the available electricity more efficiently than before. The potential is there – it’s just slumbering in an often overlooked industry.

Electrification plays a major role in the fight against man-made climate change: combustion cars will be replaced by electric cars, gas heating will have to give way to electrically powered heat pumps, and even the industry will have to electrify as much as possible. According to Prognos, electricity consumption will therefore increase by 11 percent by 2030.

The path is clear: to prevent the worst consequences of the climate catastrophe, fossil fuels such as oil, gas and coal must be replaced. The alternative: electricity from renewable energy sources such as sun, wind, water and geothermal energy. The problem is that they do not even begin to cover today’s electricity needs. There is still a large portion of coal and gas in the electricity mix – mostly from unsafe countries of origin. But if as much as possible of the rapidly growing energy demand for industries, transport and private households is to be covered by green electricity, we would have to produce – in today’s standards – an unimaginably huge amount of green electricity. Or we could simultaneously begin to make massive savings in other areas.

Elektrifizierung: Woher soll all der grüne Strom nur kommen?

The good news is that there is unexpected energy saving potential without having to give up any of the comforts we are accustomed to – it lies dormant in an area that is still far too often overlooked. We have many things in mind when we talk about the causes of the climate catastrophe: Energy production, traffic, air travel, agriculture – and all these areas are playing a significant role. However, hardly anyone considers an electricity guzzler that is essential for our modern lives: refrigeration.

Refrigeration more climate-damaging than global air traffic

It’s not just the cooling of buildings that’s booming due to climate change. Refrigeration is also found in cloud data centers, which are growing in number, as well as in numerous industrial processes and food transport. Around 17 percent of global electricity consumption is used for refrigeration, and the industry’s contribution to climate change is even twice as large as that of global air traffic, at around 7 percent.

This is due to the fact that more than 95 percent of the refrigeration industry still relies on inefficient refrigerants, which are twice as damaging to the climate: not only is the high electricity consumption a problem, but also the still-used and environmentally harmful fluorinated greenhouse gases – in short, F-gases. The same is true of the highly propagated heat pump sector. Since the same technologies are used here, this technology can be implemented much more efficiently.

And yet alternatives have long been available: refrigeration systems using natural refrigerants such as propane, CO2, ammonia or ordinary water are significantly less harmful to the climate – or in the case of water, not at all. The systems that use water as a refrigerant also consume up to 80 percent less electricity.

F-gases carry names like R410A, which contributes more than 2,000 times more to global warming than CO2. Because traditional F-gas plants operate at positive pressure, some of the gas escapes into the atmosphere over its life cycle, fueling climate change.

Instead of operating above atmospheric pressure, Efficient Energy’s eChiller uses a vacuum to evaporate the refrigerant water at room temperature. This was made possible by the in-house development of an extremely powerful turbo compressor with over 60,000 rotations per minute.

Around 0.5 degrees Celsius of global warming can be prevented if these F-gases are replaced by natural refrigerants. Around half through reduced electricity consumption, the other half by eliminating the climate-damaging gases themselves. The massive reduction in electricity consumption for refrigeration will provide a relief and create free electricity capacities and thus contribute to solving the question of where the green electricity for the electrification of everything from e-cars to heat pumps will come from.

The technology to combat climate catastrophe exists – it just needs to be scaled up

Refrigeration is an industry that very clearly demonstrates what applies to many sectors: a technology with which we could significantly contribute to averting the climate catastrophe already exists and has been tested – it just needs to be scaled up. Unlike many other climate protection measures, replacing refrigeration technology would cost neither comfort nor prosperity.

Particularly the current energy crisis can now finally get things moving: More efficient chillers are more expensive to buy, but recoup themselves more quickly than ever before due to lower electricity consumption in the face of high energy prices, and are significantly cheaper over their service life. Efficient refrigeration technology is thus not only a key to combating climate change, but also to the success of the electrification of all areas of life.