River water and deep storage: BTB is making energy supply greener

14. September 2021

River water and deep storage

BTB is making energy supply greener

David Weiblein, BTB-Baustelle © WISTA Management GmbH

The BTB facility park is growing: David Weiblein on the newest construction site © WISTA Management GmbH

As long as it works, we don't even notice it. The infrastructure of our cities is just there, under our feet and above our heads. Most of us simply take it for granted. Until it blacks out—then we notice. To prevent this from happening, energy and heat suppliers such as BTB GmbH Berlin, an energy provider, are working on creating interconnected smart solutions. "The future belongs to decentralised, decarbonised and smartly controlled energy systems", says David Weiblein, managing director of BTB, which stands for Blockheizkraftwerks- Träger- und Betreibergesellschaft mbH Berlin.

Berlin is growing. It requires better infrastructure systems to meet the needs of this growing population. They cannot merely be reactive but forward-looking, efficient, and proactive. We should use digitisation to turn existing infrastructure into smart infrastructure. To do so requires building blocks such as novel IT platforms or artificial intelligence.

Since 1990, BTB has been planning, realising and operating highly efficient and tailored energy supply facilities and energy grids and is now one of Greater Berlin’s largest energy providers. Located in the south-east of Berlin, the company operates several thermal power stations and a regional district heating network that covers ground of about 150 kilometres. This puts BTB in the same league as energy providers of medium-sized cities like Magdeburg, says Weiblein. And the company is growing. A ground-breaking ceremony in April was the official starting shot for the construction of the BTB plant’s expansion. Realising this project has also been the largest overall investment in the company’s history and based on an innovative version of the combined heat and power technology (CHP). This approach combines a conventional CHP facility with a purely electrical and an innovative renewable heat generator in order to increase the share of renewable energies in the heating sector.

At the combined heat and power station on the corner of Wegedornstrasse and Ernst-Ruska-Ufer, construction work on a new building with four additional state-of-the-art gas engines is well underway. While it was still using heavy fuel oil in the 1960s, the combined heat and power station in Adlershof has since transformed itself into a state-of-the-art model power station. The share of renewable energy in BTB’s district heating network is already at over 60 percent, the share of combined heat and power is at over 90 percent. The network extends from Treptower Park to Schönefeld Airport and from Neukölln to Köpenick. Its lynchpin as well as its cradle is supplying the Science and Technology Park with energy.

“Much like the Adlershof site, we are constantly changing. From an economic as well as ecological perspective, sustainable energy is the appropriate answer to changing environmental conditions and rising energy prices. For this reason, we prefer producing heating and electricity with environmentally and climate-friendly combined heat and power systems, supplemented by a growing share of renewable systems,” Weiblein explains.

Once an industrial powerhouse famous for cable and transistor factories and automobile manufacturing, Berlin’s Schöneweide district is back and developing rapidly—and so is its hunger for energy. There, too, BTB is operating a combined heat and power station that is based on CHP. The plant is currently still powered using hard coal, but this is scheduled to change. The use of water used to be limited to cooling power plants. In Schöneweide, river water heat pumps will soon be used to generate heat. They extract thermal energy from the Spree river water to produce heating water, which is then brought to a temperature level suitable for district heating and fed into the district heating network. “The development of this technology has advanced to a point where it is scalable,” says David Weiblein. “With our plant, we are a kind of pioneer in terms of size. Nobody is doing what we’re doing at this scale.”

“We are driven by the close proximity to researchers in Adlershof. The focus of many companies here is on research fields like IT or energy,” say Weiblein. Meanwhile, the company has its own interdisciplinary innovation department that is well-connected to other research facilities and putting out its feelers in every direction. In cooperation with the German Research Centre for Geosciences in Potsdam, it will soon launch an additional innovation project with an exploratory drilling aimed at ascertaining the potential for a thermal energy storage in Adlershof. So-called aquifers are rock formations that serve as natural stores for groundwater in subsoil layers of the earth. Should the soil conditions be suitable, thermal energy could be seasonally stored in Adlershof’s groundwater. The storage tank would then be filled in summer and provide regenerative heat during the winter and thus replace fossil heat generation.

“We need to take a holistic view of generating heat because it is becoming more and more decentralised,” says Weiblein. Energy must be converted where it is needed. To this end, his team and external specialists now make use of the extensive and readily available data on needs, system efficiency and load conditions, consumption and consumption behaviour.

“When we invest today, there are now many more aspects than refinancing an investment. Above all, this includes sustainability standards.” Because the energy of the future, as formulated in the company's mission statement, should not only be affordable but also clean.

Rico Bigelmann for Adlershof Journal

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