Saturday, March 14, 2009

Stockholm, district heating and Warren Buffett

In Stockholm, even the guards at the palace are looking cold, and there is still ice floating down the river.

Guard at the Royal Palace in Stockholm.

The plane arrived this morning through low clouds and into a light spatter of snow and rain. The formalities were relatively easily dealt with and there is a fast and comfortable commuter train that took 20 minutes to get into the city, and then into the hotel, which is still pleasantly quiet, and comfortably warm. Though like most European hotel rooms it is small. Passing through the airport we missed a coming attraction, which is going to be one of the largest ground-source heat pump establishments. In essence the airport, which plans on being carbon neutral by 2012, has to find a way to control an energy demand that is equivalent to that of a city of 25,000 folk (though there aren’t nearly that many around). The plan is therefore, as with most ground-source heat pumps (English) (International) (FAQ ), to drill pipes down into a large undergound aquifer and draw the cool water out of that storage in the summer, returning it as a slightly warmer source that builds up heat, that can then be used in the winter for melting the snow from runways and similar energy intensive operations. It is expected, when it is finished later this year, to save 4 GWh of energy directly, and an additional 15 GWh will be provided for district heating.

Source Arlanda

There were not a lot of folk on the streets for a Saturday, but then I was wandering around above ground, so it wasn’t until I got into the Old Town (the Gamla Stan) that the streets became full of tourists, and the café’s and restaurants busy. There was something going at the art galleries, which were serving wine to willing patrons, but I missed why. And it was only on the way back, that I found where folks were. Because, like many other Northern Cities, there is an under-layer to the city, with large, well lit, shop lined concourses between the mall-like stores that lie around the center of the city. Anyone with any sense could have wandered around in comfort, beneath the streets, instead of having to duck into the Royal Shop to buy a scarf.

Stockholm, as with many of the Nordic Cities uses district heating. As this is explained
District heating meets the diverse thermal energy needs of residential, commercial and industrial users. Thermal energy needs or demands include space heating for maintaining human comfort, domestic hot water requirements, manufacturing plant process heating, etc.
District heating can be combined with electricity generation to create a more efficient total energy utility. Conventional condensing power stations generally utilize less than 40% of the fuel they burn for electricity generation (over 60% is lost in flue gases and in cooling tower or cooling water). Much of this waste energy can be reclaimed by recirculating hot water or steam to buildings, for space heating or industrial processes giving an overall efficiency of about 85%. Waste heat can also be used to drive chillers for cooling.

The difference in fuel efficiency between combined heat and power plants and condensing power plants can be illustrated with the following example:
For each EIGHT "barrels of energy" consumed in a combustion plant:
ONE "barrel of energy" is lost through the chimney or in the plant.
THREE "barrels of energy" are converted to useful electricity.
FOUR "barrels of energy" are wasted in cooling systems 
FOUR "barrels of energy" is converted to useful district heating.

Because Stokholm is build on a series of islands it is more practical to have more “districts” for the heating than a single source, and this city of 1.9 million folk started with district heat in 1953. Because of where it is, it has problems with lack of sun, and not a huge amount of wind, and so is limited in what it can use. The country gets slightly more than half its power from nuclear and hydro-electricity but also uses a lot of biofuels, with pellets being one of the domestic resources. It has become one of the largest systems that combine district heating with power generation in this part of the world, with new power plants focusing to use 70% biofuel, and with a current user demand of 12 GWh/yr. They are also using the biomass to provide biogas, which is being introduced as a fuel for buses, with a target of 130 bio-fueled buses this year. They are also using ethanol to drive some 380 buses out of their total fleet of 1,800. They also found that imposing a congestion charge for downtown worked, dropping traffic by 20% while increasing access and lowering pollution.

In short the city would be considered green, apart from the winter plumage it currently wears.

There won’t be a Pick Points, tonight, but had there been, then the piece that follows, would have been in it.
“So here I am at Newark Airport with a four-hour layover, and while the airport was relatively quiet when I arrived, the part we are in is where some of the larger aircraft leave, including ours that is heading for Europe, and so, as the afternoon wears on the seats are filling up. Coming to St Louis I subscribed to Newsweek on my Kindle, since I usually pick one up to read on the ‘plane and the Kindle cost for the magazine is a fraction of the paper price. So now, in Newark, I am glancing through the March 9th edition and I come to the letter that Warren Buffett sent to his shareholders this month. It contains the following:
Last year I made a major mistake of commission (and maybe more; this one sticks out). I bought a large amount of ConocoPhilips stock when oil and gas prices were near their peak. I in no way anticipated the dramatic fall in energy prices that occurred in the last half of the year. I still believe the odds are good that oil sells far higher in the future than the current $40 - $50 price. But so far I have been dead wrong. Even if prices should rise, moreover, the terrible timing of my purchase has cost Berkshire several billion dollars . . . .”
Well at least I wasn’t the only one making mistakes.

And so to dinner.

Stockholm from the Royal Palace

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