Engineering local paths towards sustainable energy
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Engineering local paths towards sustainable energy

It’s not every day that a freelance communications specialist can revisit a project from a few years back to see how what we talked about then has evolved into what is happening now. 

And it has been nearly five years since I had the pleasure of hosting a series of four initiatives centered on various aspects of sustainability for the Danish engineering company, Danfoss – with some great speakers participating. Today, I indeed did revisit the subjects we discussed during the Engineering Tomorrow series of gatherings and interviews. My invitation to do so was graciously accepted by Bjarke Osmundsen, Head of Customer Projects and Innovation Adoption in the Digital Services team at Danfoss. 

My interest in following up on those discussions from five years ago came up initially after learning that the ideas which were presented at those gatherings in Warsaw, Kyiv, Nantes and elsewhere haven’t just ended up as prototypes, but indeed were being rolled out to the public – at a functioning pilot system in a supermarket in Denmark. 

In this insightful conversation, we delved into the complexities and necessities of using innovative engineering solutions to promote more efficient, less wasteful use of precious energy on a global scale. Companies like Danfoss have propelled themselves into the limelight as active contributors and influencers of the course of entire industries, painting a global canvas where engineering solutions are taken from a conceptual stage towards viable, sustainable energy efficiency.

Energy efficiency rests on the twin pillars of “smart use” and flexibility. The broader perspective of a global shift towards sustainable, efficient systems emphasises a holistic approach towards energy management. This isn’t merely about transitioning to different energy forms or sources but optimally using what is already available. As the world shifts towards “electrifying everything” we will need to continually place energy efficiency at the top of our lists of priorities, as  Bjarke succinctly pointed out: “we need to use the energy we have better.” 

To bring this principle to life means building intelligent, flexible engineering systems. This can be achieved through treating, for instance, management of controlled temperature environments as one integrated system – with coooling and heating part of one, large circle. Bjarke encapsulated this, stating, “instead of using, let’s say, doubled the amount of energy because we consider cooling and heating as two different energy flows, we basically power one with the other.”

This creates a synergy where refrigeration needed for keeping food cool isn’t it’s own “silo” but becomes a cog in a larger system, a contributor to a balanced energy grid where the excess heat created through refrigeration isn’t wasted but, rather, used elsewhere. And the engineering systems required to build this at scale already exist. 

Bjarke explained, “it’s important to emphasise that we are talking about how the engineering is already available. We are not talking about research but about what we can do today in terms of creating a more energy efficient supermarket, which allows store managers to focus on running their business right now, with the energy balance taken care of.”

Engaging with the challenge of making traditionally “unsexy” concepts like district heating not just visible but appealing, the incorporation of digital technology and IoT becomes paramount. Bjarke agreed, “when we talk about refrigeration and heating it all sounds like part of a dull engineering world. Once we have something like a digital component and IoT in the mix…it becomes a lot more interesting.” 

This isn’t digitalisation for the sake of staying at the cutting edge of modernity but a practical tool to optimise and manage energy flows within a supermarket, where the electrical grid, the cooling grid, and the heating grid are considered together, ensuring it’s “designed in the best possible way.” It also allows for remote monitoring and control, wrapped in an attractive visual representation via Danfoss’ cloud platform.

Some innovative, scaleable solutions have existed for a long time, yet their adoption has been slow. A practical demonstration of this is how Danfoss has been both advocating and actively progressing towards using CO2 as a refrigerant, particularly in supermarket cooling systems. Bjarke commented, “Danfoss has been promoting CO2 as a refrigerant… and now there is a stronger and stronger shift towards it in the industry globally. In Europe, most systems are already running on natural refrigerants.” 

The crux of this transition is not just the adoption of an eco-friendly refrigerant – it is tightly woven into the broader fabric of energy efficiency, ensuring that while we make environmental strides, we are also embedding economic sensibility into the solution. 

However, weaving of technological potential into real-world application often finds itself in need of a mediator: policy and regulation. Our discussion pointed towards the potential which lurks within Scandinavian countries, where political frameworks are both conscious and supportive of engineering solutions which promote energy efficiency. This is not just about technological viability but about creating “circumstances that allow us to build solutions such as smart stores that intertwine cooling and heating systems” into larger, multi-layered systems of energy management, as Bjarke explained.

Our current geopolitical context is, of course, exposing the urgent need for intelligent solutions ever more urgently. Energy security, a term now mentioned frequently in the halls of power in Europe and elsewhere, becomes not just a point of consideration but a critical goal for countries which see reliance on fossil fuels bought from at best unreliable and at worst hostile suppliers as a strategic imperative. 

With engineering solutions from companies like Danfoss, there is a tangible pathway towards not just achieving but securing an energy-efficient future, where our strides towards sustainability are steadfast, calculated, and fundamentally embedded with the principles of ‘doing more with less.’

In the intertwining dialogues of technology, environment, and policy, perhaps there is a subtle yet powerful reminder: the solutions for a sustainable future are not in the distant horizon but right here, embedded within the intelligent, efficient, and flexible engineering systems.

For those who like hard numbers, here they are:

• 90% of the heating is expected to be covered by Heat Recovery Units and potential excess heat can be sold back to the District Heating Utility

• the store is expected to be 50 % more energy efficient in comparison to a traditional supermarket

• 100 kilowatt solar panels are installed on the roof

• payback time for most of the components used are around three to four years

 (Illustration compliments of Danfoss)

The Engineering Tomorrow talks are here: