ETH Zürich demonstrates decentralized energy systems

A team from leading Swiss university, ETH Zürich looked into the future of the world’s energy system, and the potential for transforming to one based on distributed generation from renewable sources, coupled with multiple storage technologies.

The researchers found that the technology to power such a transition already exists, but that political, social and economic questions remain over the likelihood of such a move actually occurring.

The principle of such a system, according to ETH Zürich, is to bring energy consumption and energy production closer together physically, exploit synergies and become more efficient.

Their paper, ‘Optimal design of multi-energy systems with seasonal storage’, published in the journal Applied Energy, references several distributed systems, which are already operational in Switzerland, where energy from rooftop solar can be consumed immediately, stored in batteries for the short term or converted to hydrogen for the long term.

In a blog on the topic, ETH Zürich’s Roman Seidl discusses further issues raised by these technologies, which could be stumbling blocks in its development.

First among these is economics – even if the public is interested in the technologies, the investment for such a system is too high for most.

“Surveys conducted as part of our research show that potential users, i.e. homeowners and tenants, regard energy hubs as useful in principle,” notes Seidl in the article. But it is only a minority of users that are currently taking the first step.