Thermal cooling using low-temperature waste heat: A cost-effective way for industrial companies to improve energy efficiency?
As a typical cross-cutting technology, cooling and refrigeration equipment is used for a variety of industrial applications. While cooling is often provided by electric compression cooling systems, thermal cooling systems powered by low-temperature waste heat could improve energy efficiency and promise a technical saving potential corresponding to 0.5 % of the total electricity demand in the German industry. In this paper, we investigate the current and future cost-effectiveness of thermal cooling systems for industrial companies. Our focus is on single-stage, closed absorption and adsorption cooling systems with cooling powers between 40 and 100 kW, which use low-temperature waste heat at temperature levels between 70 °C and 85 °C. We analyse the current and future cost-effectiveness of these alternative cooling systems using annual cooling costs (annuities) and payback times. For a forecast until 2015, we apply the concept of experience curves, identifying learning ra tes of 14 % (absorption machines) and 17 % (adsorption machines) by an expert survey of the German market. The results indicate that thermal cooling systems are currently only cost-effective under optimistic assumptions (full-time operation, high electricity prices) when compared to electric compression cooling systems. Nevertheless, the cost and efficiency improvements expected for this still young technology mean that thermal cooling systems could be more cost-effective in the future. However, depending on future electricity prices, a high number of operating hours is still crucial to achieve payback times substantially below 4 years which are usually required for energy efficiency measures to be widely adopted in the industry.