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This content is taken from the University of Groningen's online course, Solving the Energy Puzzle: A Multidisciplinary Approach to Energy Transition. Join the course to learn more.

Skip to 0 minutes and 13 seconds Energy systems connect resources to end users. Let us for a moment consider our energy system to comprise of a collection of energy supply chains. This is what we call a system decomposition. In this case, I, your instructor, and the system observer have chosen to decompose our energy system into a collection of energy supply chains. And furthermore, I have chosen to decompose each and every one of these chains as shown in the figure.

Skip to 0 minutes and 46 seconds Each and every single one of these chains begins with a resource that is tapped. To extract and produce natural gas, for example, requires production wells to be drilled, connected, and maintained, and on-surface treatment to remove impurities, such as water, and to isolate ethane, propane, butane, and many more components from methane, which is natural gas. To bring the gas from the location of production to the market, extensive pipeline networks have developed. Remote and sea-locked locations are increasingly served by liquefied natural gas systems. Eventually, via gas transmission and distribution networks, the gas is delivered to the end users.

Skip to 1 minute and 28 seconds These employ technologies such as furnaces, boilers, and heaters to convert the chemical energy contained in the gas to heat that is used in the factory and for space heating. Let’s have a look at coal. Around the world, coal is mined and transported, usually by railroad, to seaports, from where it is shipped in large bulk carriers around the globe. This way, most coal finds its way to thermal power plants, the ones fired with coal one typically finds in harbour locations or alongside navigable rivers. This is convenient to deliver the large quantities of coal at low shipping cost, and also convenient because cooling water required for the thermal power plant operation is also available.

Skip to 2 minutes and 16 seconds As with gas, at some point in a chain, the energy product is delivered to a transmission grid, for electricity in this case, and eventually distributed to end users. Consider for a moment for the use electricity for. We power, if not empower, our homes and lifestyle. In industry, it is electric power that drives any machine we may think of, of any size. To allow us to put crude oil to use, in a crude oil refinery, it is converted into fuels that we can use. Gasoline, kerosene, gas oil, or diesel, and fuel oil. These automotive fuels are then shipped to gas stations so that we can use them to fuel our cars and trucks.

Skip to 3 minutes and 2 seconds In national energy statistics, a different energy system decomposition is used. In statistics of our economy, the energy system is decomposed into winning, conversion, and end-use sectors. The sponsors had a different raison d’etre of business sectors. Some companies add value by winning resources. Others are in the conversion business, such as the oil refineries and electric utility companies, but most just use energy. Framing part of your world as an energy system and adopting a decomposition together make up your system lens. With that lens, you can navigate your world and analyse it. Try this for any energy system near to you. In the next lecture, I will introduce the laws of physics that govern energy systems.

Energy system components & system decomposition

How are different components of system representations connected? Where does it start, or where does it end? What examples can we think of when analysing our energy systems? By framing part of your world as an energy system, and adopting the methods explained in previous videos, you can develop your ‘system lens’. It is explained by the systems thinking concept, a way of thinking about systems in a more abstract way. The abstraction you obtain by formulating inputs, outputs, components, their interfaces, and the system boundary. As you will see in the tasks of this, and later topics, it can aid your understanding.

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This video is from the free online course:

Solving the Energy Puzzle: A Multidisciplinary Approach to Energy Transition

University of Groningen