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Volkswagen and LichtBlick Partner on Home Combined Heat and Power Systems; LichtBlick Plans a “SchwarmStrom” for 2,000 MW of Decentralized Power

9 September 2009

An EcoBlue CHP unit. Click to enlarge.

Volkswagen and German energy supplier LichtBlick have formed an exclusive world-wide energy partnership. Volkswagen will produce the high-efficiency EcoBlue CHP (combined heat and power) plant, which is to be driven by natural gas engines from Volkswagen. LichtBlick will market the plants as “ZuhauseKraftwerke” (home power plants) and will use them in a new, decentralized intelligent power supply scheme: “SchwarmStrom” (current swarm).

LichtBlick plans eventually to network some 100,000 of the distributed home power plants to form a 2,000 MW virtual decentralized power plant to handle fluctuations in future electricity generation as renewables grow to represent a larger component of the power mix, according to Dr. Christian Friege, CEO of LicbtBlick.

The EcoBlue units consist of a natural gas engine that powers a generator; the exhaust gas is used for the heating component. In the ZuhauseKraftwerk Schwarmstrom concept, each EcoBlue unit will connect to a grid operations center, and will be able to provide power on demand to the grid.

By marketing the ZuhauseKraftwerk, which allows decentralized, flexible power generation, LichtBlick will be ushering in a new era of smart energy supply. As Germany’s largest independent energy supplier, we know how power and gas markets work and how to organize a successful sales system. In Volkswagen, we have found the ideal partner for our scheme. You should think of our home power plants like a shoal of fish, with many small units pooling their resources to form a large, high-performance community that generates power. LichtBlick plans to network 100,000 of these home power plants to form the largest power plant in Germany.

—Dr. Christian Friege

While the ZuhauseKraftwerk will only generate power on demand, the heat produced at the same time will be stored, allowing reliable supplies of heating energy and warm water to the building at all times. These natural-gas-fired home power plants already reduce CO2 emissions by up to 60 percent, compared with conventional heat and power generation. In the future, LichtBlick plans to operate the plants on biogas, a renewable energy source with no impact on the climate.

The LichtBlick scheme for decentralized power generation is intended to supplement the expansion of renewable energy sources. Some experts predict that almost half of the electricity used will be generated from renewable sources by 2020. Conventional base-load power plants cannot be started up or shut down fast enough to compensate for fluctuations in power supply from solar or wind energy units as a result of changing weather conditions. In contrast, power from the LichtBlick decentralized system can be supplied to the grid quickly.

Most importantly, we can supply power when there is no wind. This approach will pave the way for increased use of renewable energy sources and for the flexible and climate-friendly power generation system of the future.

—Dr. Christian Friege

LichtBlick will initially be marketing the home power plants in Hamburg and the first plants will be available for installation from 2010 with the customer paying an installation contribution of €5,000. From 2010, LichtBlick will be gradually expanding its marketing efforts to cover the whole of Germany.

Volkswagen is to start volume production of home power plants at its Salzgitter engine plant. The Volkswagen Works Council sees this project as a first key step towards alternative employment in addition to conventional engine production.


September 9, 2009 in Biomethane, Engines, Natural Gas, Power Generation | Permalink | Comments (19) | TrackBack (0)


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It is a course a very good idea. It is one of the least costly ways to reduce CO2 and produce energy. It is a bit late to market when HONDA and others have about 100,000 units in operation, but they are all too expensive so compettition is needed. It looks big but the contribution seem almost small enough. It should have been called VOLKSSTROM. ..HG..

Note that the unit delivers 20kW when it runs enough to power about 30 average households. In other words, if these units were installed in one out of ten homes you would have plenty of capacity to supply the whole area including industry with electricity on a non-windy day in a grid that otherwise was powered 100% from wind energy.

Now we just need this unit to run on hydrogen supplied by the same pipes that supplies the natural gas today and then make the hydrogen by electrolysis of water with electricity from wind power when the wind ‘blows too much’ and the society can be 100% CO2 neutral with regard to electricity and heating. To realize that ideal we need less expensive wind power and electrolyzers. Hydrogen can be stored inexpensively underground at the right geological locations so that is not a problem but it will take some time before wind power can make electricity profitable at an average price of 3 cents per kWh which I believe is needed to produced hydrogen cost effectively from electrolysis.

That's exactly what I was going to post about next Henrik ... and it's being worked on already. I just don't know what the emissions are like in the nat gas to hydrogen proces.

The link I posted is and old story, and FuelMaker Corporation went bankrupt...but you'd think someone, somewhere is working on a home nat gas to hydrogen to fuel cell electricity unit.

Germany has already proven this would work using biogas fueled farm-based CHPs-
So adding home-based CHPs to the grid is just logical.
In 2007, produced 22.4 billion kWh of biogas electricity, out of a 594.7 billion kWh total.

There's a lot of energy lost when you convert electricity into hydrogen and more is lost when you convert it back. It may make sense to do this when you need a mobile power plant; like in a truck, ship or plane but for the grid - when the wind ‘blows too much’ - Germany has pumped hydro stations to store the extra electricity. That plus international grid interties will mean there's no need to store electricity as hydrogen unless you're also using the H2 as a coolant in the next generation Supergrid-

Lets not assume that all conventional power plants cannot adjust their output quick enough to compensate for power generation fluctuations from Wind and Sun and other sources.

Hydro power plants (currently suplying 98% of our e-power)can adjust their output rather quickly and store the unused power (water) in their huge existing reservoirs at no extra cost.

It is very easy to forecast Sun and Wind power production. This would give plenty of time to adjust Hydro ouput when required.

Hydro producers will have to get used to be secondary sources (+ storage) of power and let other more volatile sources be used as primary sources.

NG power plants could play a similar back up secondary role where Hydro power is not enough.


I agree in terms of electricity there is a huge loss from electricity to hydrogen to electricity. Likely 0.65 (electrolysis) * 0.35 (VW unit) = 23% electricity cycle efficiency. However, much of the lost energy is used for heat production in the VW unit and it may also be used in the central electrolysis unit. Including heat energy the cycle efficiency is likely to be 0.85*0.7 = 56%. This loss is economically fine if the cost of electricity is low enough, such as, less than 2 cents per kWh when the wind blows a lot and there is really no other way to spend the produced electricity.

Ah yes but it's that when there is really no other way to spend the produced electricity thing that's the kicker.

There are just too many ways to store electricity; pumped hydro, batteries[For grid storage we could use both BEV fleets and stationary flow batteries: Examples of redox flow batteries are the vanadium redox flow battery, polysulfide bromide battery (Regenesys), and uranium redox flow battery. Hybrid flow batteries include the zinc-bromine, cerium-zinc and all-lead flow batteries.], Compressed Air Energy Storage (CAES)[The need for pressurized vessels or for mining can be obviated by placing the pressurized air underwater in flexible containers (e.g. plastic bags) at the bottom of deep lakes or off sea coasts with steep drop-offs.] and Transport[Utilities routinely move large quanities of electricity over grid interties.]

Others should realize how frightening this is to established electric utilities. The schwarmstrom scheme utilizes conventional technology and could easily be tried in the US. Schwarmstrom is also illustrative of how far ahead Germany is vs the US. For example Germany has aprox 20% of electric load provided by solar.

This sounds like cogeneration for an apartment building...preferably someplace cold that needs heating, or lots of hot water. Part of the challenge is that the times of day you need electricity vary somewhat from the times you need heat.

This is a fine thing where you need it. Actual efficiency results tend to be quite a bit less than theoretical.

Two other CHP units using Gas are about to hit the German market - Ceramic Fuel Cells BlueGen unit uses low temp ceramic fuel cells and Whispergen uses a Stirling Engine to generate power. Both are dishwasher-size and are different only on the amount of heat generated. Both are in the >80% efficiency range.

For example Germany has aprox 20% of electric load provided by solar.
Actually, by 2008 the overall electricity production by ALL renewable sources[not just solar] was only 15% of gross electricity production in Germany.

Actually the article says: "While the ZuhauseKraftwerk will only generate power on demand, the heat produced at the same time will be stored, allowing reliable supplies of heating energy and warm water to the building at all times."

It's much easier to store heat than electricity; many of the newer green buildings in my area already store solar and/or waste heat using ground-loop heat pumps.

Heat pumps are available with COP's of 4-6 meaning for each kWh of electricty you can get 4-6kWh of heat.

This is a much better use of 'extra' electricity than other storage technology as you don't have to suffer the round trip losses. Also we can 'store' electricity by shutting down the fossil fuel plants when the renewables are producing.

Using hydrogen to store renewable electricity is mad, turning high value electricity into a liquid or gas fuel makes no sense when 1kWh of electricity can power heating or transport 5 times more efficiently than 1kWh of liquid fuel or hydrogen.

Would be a good match for solar thermal, which could provide hot water in the summer when heating and lighting demands are lower. Then on cold winter evenings when heat and electricity demands are high the unit can supply both.

Stick some wheels on it and it can be your range extender too.

This looks like just the thing I wrote about in The Cogeneration Stopgap.

Making hydrogen from natural gas (or, heaven forbid, electricity) is an enormous waste and should not be done.  However, around 40% of the output of high-temperature coal gasifiers is hydrogen (by volume and energy).  The CO could be separated and used for industrial purposes which allow carbon sequestration; distributing the hydrogen over short distances is reasonable (hydrogen has much higher pumping losses than NG) and could fuel cogenerators.  This would allow energy needs to be met while also reducing carbon emissions, and reducing reliance on Russian gas.

Others and the article by the engineer-poet has just pointed out something that has been ignored for many years. "Furnaces" can be built to run on natural gas and get as much as %200 efficiency or more. An engine that runs on natural gas can operate a heat pump compressor directly and with various heat exchangers and heat storage units get double the heat at least that is gotten by a standard unit. Some engine heat can be stored in the earth for later use when temperatures get really cold.

The Capstone C30 unit is of similar size but has only one major moving part, and runs with air bearings.

This is a unit not highly suited to single separate homes, but smaller units like the HONDA CHP should be required in every home. The efficiency of waste heat collection should be required to be improved. The Freewatt name is misleading; you are getting free heat but you have to pay for the power by burning gas. Gas prices should be adjusted for use in such machines relative to the prices utilities get when they burn gas.

There is also a small unit called the 'lion' for single dwelling use that has a built in steam engine, and Enatec is in a consortium that has been testing freepiston stirling units for over five years.

The financing model is more attractive than some, but all such units are relatively expensive. but they are all cheaper than solar and a better investment of society's money than solar cells.

Better than solar cells?  It depends where you are.  Huntington Beach, CA is going to get a whole lot more out of PV than cogen.  Phoenix, AZ is probably the same story, while Rochester NY looks like cogen country.

Excellent project. True, these type units will cost-out better in colder climates. But at least we will have a real world demonstration of NG-fired residential CHP.

Eventually these units will be replaced by SOFCs able to burn unreformed NG (Bloom Box e.g.) Eventually NG can be replaced by H2 from coal gasification or new forms of high efficiency electrolysis. Considering that H is the most abundant element in the known universe - it makes sense to focus on ways to best utilize it in energy systems.

Congratulations to LichtBlick and VW for forming this partnership and moving the distributed energy concept into a real world demonstration. It is just the right time to start down this path.

Still missing is the chiller component which would make the concept viable in hot sunbelts.

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