Editorial Feature

Sector Coupling - How it Works

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In broad terms, sector coupling is the interconnecting of the energy consuming sectors and the power generating sector.

Sector coupling strategies are meant to enhance the efficiency and versatility of the energy system, in addition to its dependability. Sector coupling can also lower carbon emissions.

Initially, the term 'sector coupling' referred mainly to the electrification of consumption sectors, such as heating and transportation, with the objective of growing the ratio of sustainable energy in these areas. More recently, the idea of sector coupling has expanded to include the production side of the equation.

While the electrification of energy-consumption can significantly lower emissions, the further incorporation of the supply side can also help with achieving this objective while supplying added versatility.

To promote sector coupling in many end-use and supply applications, officials have been calling for the removal of technical, economic, policy and regulatory obstacles. Supporters are also pushing for more integrated planning of energy systems.

An All-Electric World

Making electricity the default kind of energy in heating and transportation would be a big step towards the ideal of an “all-electric world.”

Today, electricity is mostly used for lighting, machinery and digital devices. Commercial industry and households may use electricity for lighting, but natural gas and oil are typically used for heating. Also, most road transportation is powered by fossil fuels.

In most areas, the principal sources of sustainable energy are wind and solar. Unfortunately, these energy sources are not always available when needed. Therefore, energy storage is a significant factor for sector coupling. The merging of sectors is one solution: A portion of the power generated by renewables could be used to heat large volumes of water, essentially electrifying the heating sector. At high-volume production times, electricity might be used to generate hydrogen or other gas that is capable of functioning as an energy-storage medium, which could then fuel vehicles or be converted into electricity when needed.

Electrifying the Power Sector

An all-electric power industry would involve replacing electricity produced by fossil fuels and nuclear plants with renewable sources, including wind, solar, biomass, hydropower, and geothermal sources.

Even though the global energy system is still mostly reliant on fossil fuels, there has been a major push toward decarbonisation, mostly in the power sector. The recent growth in renewable energy has been due to a blend of public policies and cost reductions in the various technologies, particularly in solar and wind.

Electrifying Heating Systems

While energy for heating is used in commercial industry, households are major consumers of heat energy, which is produced mostly by non-renewable energy sources. Approaches to raise the share of renewables for heat energy include the usage of solar, geothermal, heat pumps, biomass, power-to-gas, and power-to-heat.

Heat pumps are viewed as an essential technology to merge the heating sector with the grid. These devices circulate hot liquids using the heat from geothermal or other sources.

A different power-to-heat solution uses extra electricity made from renewable sources to heat considerable quantities of water, which is then pumped through in heating networks.

Electrifying Transportation

Presently, the transportation sector has one of the smallest shares of renewable energy usage of all end-use sectors. However, the transportation sector lends itself well to total electrification. For starters, railways are already largely electric.

For vehicles, sector coupling solutions would constitute a portion of their electrification, either through the use of electric batteries or indirect means like in power-to-gas or power-to-liquid technology. Aviation is best suited to power-to-x technologies, as opposed to battery power.

The overall cost of electric vehicle ownership is currently greater than that for traditional cars, but a break-even point might be coming soon. Due to the rising appeal of electric cars, predictions indicate that electric vehicles, including hybrids, will account for more than 70 percent of overall car sales by 2030, if policies encouraging their use are strongly pursued.

Greater usage of public transportation, car-sharing, cycling, walking and automated driving solutions will likely play a growing role in the transportation sector.

References and Further Reading




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Brett Smith

Written by

Brett Smith

Brett Smith is an American freelance writer with a bachelor’s degree in journalism from Buffalo State College and has 8 years of experience working in a professional laboratory.


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