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WIREs Energy Environ.
Impact Factor: 2.922

The sector coupling concept: A critical review

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Abstract Pursued climate goals require reduced greenhouse gas emissions by substituting fossil fuels with energy from renewable sources in all energy‐consuming processes. On a large‐scale, this can mainly be achieved through electricity from wind and sun, which are subject to intermittency. To efficiently integrate this variable energy, a coupling of the power sector to the residential, transport, industry, and commercial/trade sector is often promoted, called sector coupling (SC). Nevertheless, our literature review indicates that SC is frequently misinterpreted and its scope varies among available research, from exclusively considering the use of excess renewable electricity to a rather holistic view of integrated energy systems, including excess heat or even biomass sources. The core objective of this article is to provide a thorough understanding of the SC concept through an analysis of its origin and its main purpose, as described in the current literature. We provide a structured categorization of SC, derived from our findings, and critically discuss its remaining challenges as well as its value for renewable energy systems. We find that SC is rooted in the increasing use of variable renewable energy sources, and its main assets are the flexibility it provides for renewable energy systems, decarbonization potential for fossil‐fuel‐based end‐consumption sectors, and consequently, reduced dependency on oil and gas extracting countries. However, the enabling technologies face great challenges in their economic feasibility because of the uncertain future development of competing solutions. This article is categorized under: Energy Systems Economics > Economics and Policy Energy Systems Economics > Systems and Infrastructure
Monthly electricity generation in a 100% VRE 2050 scenario for AustriaSource: EEG TU Wien
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Direct and indirect electrification of transport and heating, heat pump (HP), electric boiler (EB), battery electric vehicle (BEV), fuel‐cell electric vehicle (FCEV), photovoltaic (PV)
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Comprehensive high‐level overview of SC pathways from a technological view
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The role of sector coupling in a future smart energy systemSource: Adapted from Connolly et al. (2016)
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Restructured steel production process powered by renewable energySource: Adapted from Voestalpine (2020)
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Sector coupling aspects in holistic factories of the futureSource: Adapted from Herrmann et al. (2014)
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Flexible operation of Skagen CHP plant, equipped with heat pump and electric boiler on march 18th, 2020 (EMD International, 2020)
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Power‐to‐heat (P2H) technologies on central and decentralized level (Bloess et al., 2018)
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Coradia iLint—The world's first hydrogen powered train. Fuel cell (FC)Source: Adapted from Alstom Group (2020a)
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Renewable power use for common modes of transportationSource: Adapted from Lund, Mathiesen, et al. (2014)
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Power‐to‐X technologies and cross‐sectorial energy storage for sector couplingSource: Adapted from Stadler and Sterner (2018)
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Sector coupling transformation pathways from a technical perspectiveSource: Adapted from Wietschel et al. (2018)
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Sector coupling: Pathways from the power to transport, residential, and industry sectorSource: Adapted from Robinius, Otto, Heuser, et al. (2017)
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Exemplary summer day 2050: Surplus VRE electricity generation, AustriaSource: EEG TU Wien
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Energy Systems Economics > Systems and Infrastructure
Energy Systems Economics > Economics and Policy

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