Meeting sustainability goals with renewable thermal energy

Renewable thermal solutions are a hot topic this week for the world’s largest buyers and users of renewable energy as they meet at the Renewable Energy Buyers Alliance (REBA) Summit, in Oakland, California. There, representatives from the Renewable Thermal Collaborative (RTC) – a joint effort of C2ES, David Gardiner and Associates, and the World Wildlife Fund – are discussing how energy users can switch from fossil fuels to renewable thermal energy for heating and cooling.

C2ES today released a report to the RTC, including a set of case studies that illustrate successful renewable thermal projects from members of the RTC: Cargill, General Motors, L’Oréal, Mars, the city of Philadelphia, and Procter and Gamble.

Thermal energy results from converting a primary energy source to heat, most often through combustion of natural gas. The most common uses of thermal energy are for heating and cooling inside buildings or at industrial manufacturing facilities. Unlike electricity, thermal energy cannot travel over long distances, so it is produced on-site or nearby and distributed locally.

Domestically and internationally, we see a great opportunity to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by switching from fossil fuels to a renewable energy source. Only 10 percent of global heat production is sourced from renewable energy. Fossil fuels currently power the majority of energy for global heating and cooling, while U.S. heating and cooling costs $270 billion annually and accounts for more than 30 percent of energy use across the residential, commercial, and industrial sectors.

November 1, 2018 Renewable Thermal Collaborative webinar, featuring Jessica Leung

Today’s C2ES report highlights renewable thermal technologies that have been deployed globally in a consumer goods production plant using geothermal energy; a corn and starches facility using solid biomass; a cosmetics company buying renewable natural gas from a landfill; an automotive assembly plant using waste-to-steam energy; and two wastewater treatment plants using biogas, one for a food processing plant, and the other to generate electricity at a wastewater treatment plant for a major city.

Below is a summary of the different projects:

Project Location Renewable Resource Used Source of Avoided Emissions Use
Uberlandia, Brazil Biomass Fuel oil Steam boiler
City of Philadelphia: Northeast Water Pollution Control Plant Philadelphia Biogas Flared biogas Combined heat and power system
L’Oréal USA: Kentucky Renewable Natural Gas Purchase Agreement Ashland, Kentucky Renewable Natural Gas Natural gas Pipeline-quality renewable natural gas
Mars Corporation: Mars Chocolate
Poland Waste Water Treatment Expansion
Sochaczew, Poland Biogas and Waste-to-Steam Natural gas Combined heat and power system
Procter and Gamble: Xiqing Geothermal Xiqing, China Geothermal Natural gas/grid electricity Boiler and absorption chiller
General Motors: Detroit-Hamtramck Assembly Facility Detroit Waste-to-Steam Coal Steam turbine chiller and compressor turbine

One example of a biomass-powered facility is Cargill’s Uberlandia plant. Located in the state of Minas Gerais, Brazil, Uberlandia produces industrial and pharmaceutical starches, corn products, and proteins for animal feed. Cargill replaced its fuel oil-powered boiler with a biomass-powered steam boiler and turbine in 2011. The company sustainably sources the biomass from its own land, which contributes to local afforestation efforts.

In addition to reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 67,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide per year, the switch from fuel oil to biomass allowed plant capacity to increase by 70 percent, which would not have been possible if the company had stayed with more expensive fuel oil. This project helps Cargill to meet several of its sustainability targets, including greenhouse gas intensity and renewable energy targets in place since 2005 as well as energy efficiency targets in place since 2000.

Each large energy-user highlighted in the report had clearly established sustainability goals that supported a renewable approach. Other factors that helped them put renewable thermal solutions in place included high and volatile fossil fuel costs or the phaseout of older capital investments, which offered an opportunity to review renewable options for heating and cooling needs.

The RTC is a coalition for organizations committed to scaling up renewable heating and cooling at their facilities. It is a place for large thermal energy users to understand problems in the market, learn from each other, and overcome barriers to deploy more renewable thermal solutions. The coalition operates under the umbrella of REBA and is facilitated by C2ES, David Gardiner and Associates, and World Wildlife Fund with the goal of raising awareness and building greater supply and demand for renewable thermal options. Increasing the availability and cost competitiveness of these solutions is key to deploying them at scale.