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Green heating: a vision becomes reality

With a view to also realizing the energy transition in the heating market, SWM developed a district heating vision in 2012. The aim is to make Munich the first German city to use district heating generated exclusively from renewable sources by 2040. Geothermal energy will be the primary source for providing green heating.

Munich has one of the largest district heating networks in Europe. SWM currently produces the majority of its district heating in highly efficient combined heat and power plants. However, the aim is to replace the fossil fuels used in heating with renewable sources in the long term. To this end, geothermal power is to make up the primary source of Munich’s district heating supply. For the transition time, the cogeneration plants Nord and Süd with their environmentally-sound combined heat and power plants are indispensable for the security of Munich’s heating supply and for bridging the gap into the new era.

In Germany, most energy is consumed for heating. It makes up around 40 percent of overall energy consumption, while the heating and warm water supply even account for some 90 percent of energy consumption in private households. The energy transition can only succeed overall if renewable energy sources can also be used to replace conventional power in this area. SWM is therefore taking an integrated approach. Its Renewable Energies Expansion Campaign encom-passes this key area of energy generation – one which has been largely neglect-ed both politically and economically up to this point.

Green heating: Geothermal power under Munich

North/South cross-section of the foothills of the Bavarian Alps

By switching district heating to renewable energy sources in the long term, SWM will therefore once again significantly improve the already excellent carbon footprint of district heating. Due to the unique characteristics of the Munich region, geothermal energy will make a substantial contribution to these efforts. In fact, hardly any other region in Germany can compete with the excellent geological potential held by Munich and its surroundings in this respect.

The geothermal energy comes from hot thermal water drawn out of permeable limestone layers (Malm). Munich is located right on top of a huge reservoir of this environmentally friendly energy source. At a depth of 2,000 to 3,000 meters, the water has a temperature of between 80 and over 100 °C. The heat from this thermal water is ideal for use in heating. To this end, the water is pumped to the surface and fed through a heat exchanger, extracting its energy. Once cooled, the water is then fed back deep underground. As a result, the geothermal power cycle doesn’t impact on the ecosystem.

In the Riem district as well as in the municipality of Sauerlach to the south of Munich, SWM has already been using geothermal power successfully for some time. The next project, a geothermal power plant in the Freiham district, is currently under construction. Another plant is due to be built from 2018 on the site of the combined power and heating plant “HKW Süd”. SWM is aiming to build four further geothermal plants in the period up to 2025.

In addition, depending on the required heating, technical development and avail-ability, both of the “green fuels” biogas and ultimately power-to-gas1 are available for generating renewable district heating. The renewable portion of residual waste can also make a contribution in this respect.

One aspect supporting SWM in realizing its vision is the likelihood that energy requirements for heating purposes will gradually sink in the long term due to energy-saving and energy-efficiency measures like building renovations, while de-mand for hot water will remain relatively constant.

1) Power to gas is a form of renewable gas that can be used to produce electricity and heating. Methane gas is created in a two-step process using “excess" power produced by renewable energies. First, electrical power, e.g. from wind parks, is used to make hydrogen from water using electrolysis. In the second step, the hydrogen is combined with carbon dioxide to create methane, which can be used in the same way as natural gas.

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