Vattenfall, a Swedish utility firm, has developed a massive “thermos” that will hold millions of gallons of hot water to help heat Berlin homes this winter, even if Russian gas supplies run out.
The rust-coloured tower rising from an industrial site near the Spree river’s banks in Berlin might not look similar to the coffee flasks Germans use, but its goal is comparable. It aims to provide warmth throughout the day, mainly when it’s cold outdoors.
With a height of 45 metres (about 150 feet) and a capacity of 56 million litres (14.8 million gallons), Vattenfall claims that the tower will assist heat Berlin houses this winter even if gas supplies run out.
“It’s a large thermos that helps us store heat when we don’t need it,” said Tanja Wielgoss, who oversees the company’s heat unit in Germany. “And then we’ll be able to release it when we need it.”
Although district heating systems powered by coal, gas, or waste have been operational for more than a century, most of them aren’t built to retain large amounts of heat.
In contrast, the new facility launched at Vattenfall’s Reuter power station would store water heated to nearly boiling temperatures using extra electricity generated by solar and wind power plants around Germany.
“Sometimes you have an abundance of electricity in the grids that you cannot use anymore, and then you need to turn off the wind turbines,” said Wielgoss. “Where we are standing, we can take in this electricity.”
The $52-million facility will have a thermal capacity of 200 Megawatts, enough to cover most of Berlin’s hot water needs in the summer and around 10% of its needs in the winter. The large, insulated tank can keep water hot for up to 13 hours, bridging short periods of no wind or sun. Moreover, according to reports, it will use heat from other sources, such as wastewater.
When completed at the end of this year, it will be Europe’s largest heat storage plant, but an even larger one is already being planned in the Netherlands.
Furthermore, Wielgoss is confident that Vattenfall’s consumers will not go chilly this winter, despite Russia’s inevitable gas embargo.
“Consumers in Germany are very well protected,” she said. “So they for sure will not suffer any shortages. But of course, we plead with everybody to really start saving energy.”
“Each kilowatt-hour we save is good for the country,” she added.