Transformation of the energy system: Industrial consumers can use electricity more flexibly

Load reduction of up to 6 gigawatts possible – paper industry able to deliver over 40 percent

wind energy plants and conventional power plantClick to enlarge
Peak demand must be concentrated during the times when renewable energies are supplying power.
Source: kgdad /

Electric steelworks, chlorine electrolysis plants and other industrial large-scale consumers could become much more flexible in their electricity consumption and thereby help in the effort to integrate renewables in the power grid. These are the findings of a study done on behalf of the German Environment Agency (UBA). “More flexible power demand – known as load management – is key to the transformation of Germany’s energy system (Energiewende). In future we must concentrate peak demand for electricity during the times when wind or solar energy are supplying power. We would then need less installed capacity in conventional power plants", said UBA President Maria Krautzberger. The nine industrial sectors examined in the study show a technical potential to reduce demand by about 6 gigawatts (GW), or about 7% of German annual peak load.

The UBA study interviewed 25 companies from the following industrial sectors and industrial processes: paper industry, chlorine electrolysis, electric steel production, aluminium electrolysis, air separation, refineries, cement manufacturing, container glass industry and brown coal mining. All nine sectors, which account for about 30% of industrial power consumption, have peak periods of demand, requiring many hours of electricity during the day, and have a high level of installed capacity.

Without having to make any major changes to production processes, some 3 GW can already potentially be used to achieve a load reduction. One example is when an aluminium manufacturer temporarily lowers electrolysis production at night when there is no sunlight. Different types and longer storage of intermediate products could increase the load management potential. Load management is currently not feasible in refineries since many of aggregates are dependent on rather complex processes.

According to the study, strictly "technical" potential is thought to be 6 GW for all nine industrial sectors. However, it goes on to say that what is technically feasible are load reductions which do not cause lengthy interruptions of production or damage to a plant. The "sociotechnical" potential (1 hour total) is currently at only about 3.5 GW and is the figure which the 25 interviewed companies currently estimate can in fact be tapped. Besides purely technical aspects, this potential also takes into consideration specific aspects such as constraints due to existing delivery commitments based on inflexible supply contracts or a lack of economic attractiveness.

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