The U.S. produces vast amounts of heat every day from heating and cooling systems, industrial equipment, and even home appliances. Can the excess heat be used to power productivity? Source: Shutterstock

Heating up the energy transition

April 3, 2023
The U.S. is sitting on a gold mine of excess heat. Can it help?

Did you know the United States has a way to heat up its productivity and economy – and it’s all underneath us? According to new data from multinational engineering group, Danfoss, excess heat is the world’s largest untapped source of energy and yet little of its potential is utilized, especially in the U.S.

“[The U.S.] is sitting on a gold mine of excess heat,” says Astrid Mozes, president, regions for Danfoss, in a new whitepaper. “Policy makers must push for more efficient use of the vast amounts of wasted energy in the form of excess heat.”

The whitepaper, “The world’s largest untapped energy source: excess heat”, details how excess heat would give a productivity boost to the world’s economy, reduce energy prices and accelerate the energy transition to sustainability. It highlights the vast untapped potential of excess heat as a source of energy and calls on policy makers worldwide to accelerate the use of excess heat across all sectors.

Every time an engine or machine runs, it generates heat. Anyone who has felt the warmth behind their refrigerator recognizes this. The same is true on a larger scale in supermarkets, data centers, factories, water/wastewater facilities, subway stations and commercial buildings, according to the whitepaper.

Danfoss adds that excess heat can be reused to supply a factory with heat and warm water, or exported to neighboring homes and industries through a district energy system, which supplies heat to consumers via a network of underground pipes carrying hot water. Such heat networks can cover a large area or even an entire city, or supply a small cluster of local buildings. While the U.S. would need to invest in infrastructure and district heating systems, there’s low-hanging fruit in universities, hospitals and other campuses to apply this solution now, according to the company.

Recycling heat is not only an overlooked measure in the current energy crisis, but also the next frontier of the energy transition in the U.S., according to Mozes. “Excess heat is the world’s largest untapped source of energy and it’s all around us,” she says. “Using gas or electricity for heating is like using a chainsaw to cut butter because heating can be easily covered by low-value heating sources such as excess heat.

“Despite this incredible opportunity—[the U.S.] has the most data centers in the world—there are very few initiatives pushing for more efficient use of the vast amounts of wasted energy in the form of excess heat. And this is even though we already have the solutions available to harness heat,” she continues. “We urgently need new policy measures to accelerate using excess heat across the U.S., so that citizens and businesses can benefit from lower energy costs, and ensure we speed up our progress on the green transition and decarbonizing our economy.”

According to the findings outlined in the whitepaper, using excess heat can replace significant amounts of fossil fuels that are otherwise needed to produce heat. Used this way, excess heat can help stabilize the future electricity grid and ease the transition to a green energy system.

The whitepaper also assesses the potential of excess heat as an efficient energy source. According to the International Energy Agency (IEA), a global push for more efficient use of energy can reduce CO2 emissions by an additional 5 gigatons per year by 2030, compared to current policy settings. A third of the reduction needed in energy-related CO2 emissions this decade must come from improvements in energy efficiency.

A full implementation of technologies that tap into synergies between different sectors and enable a utilization of excess heat has the potential to save $72 billion a year, once fully implemented by 2050, according to Danfoss’ data.

“One of the first barriers preventing us from reusing excess heat includes the lack of information,” Mozes says. “But we must also introduce economic incentives, policy measures and prioritization of partnerships between local authorities, energy suppliers and energy sources to help maximize the full potential of excess heat.”

About the Author

Len Vermillion | Editor in Chief

Len Vermillion is editor-in-chief of Control. 

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