Energy is essential for development. The International Energy Agency (IEA)’s Global World Energy Outlook 2016 forecasts a 30% rise in global demand for energy by 2040, most of which will come from developing countries. Despite this they predict that 500 million people will have no access to electricity by then.
Steel is and will be critical for supplying the world with energy, whether based on fossil fuels, nuclear technology, or renewable sources like wind, solar or geothermal. Whatever the source, steel has a crucial role to play in producing and distributing energy as well as improving energy efficiency.
Steel is used in all areas of renewable energy:
- Biomass: steel is used extensively in agriculture.
- Solar: steel plays a key role in converting solar energy into electricity or hot water. It is used as a base for solar thermal-panels and in pumps, tanks and heat exchangers.
- Wave and tidal: a steel pile is the main component of a tidal turbine in tidal energy systems. Steel is also used to fabricate wave energy devices. The steel used is formulated to withstand the challenges of the marine environment.
- Hydroelectric: steel is needed to reinforce concrete dams.
- Wind: steel is the main material used in onshore and off-shore wind turbines. Almost every component of a wind turbine is made of steel, from the foundation, to the tower, gears and casings (see Steel Solutions in the Green Economy: Wind turbines). Steel provides the strength for taller, more efficient wind turbines.
Steel is used in nuclear and fossil fuel-based energy:
- mining equipment
- offshore oil platforms
- equipment for oil and gas extraction and production
- pipelines for the distribution of natural gas and oil
- storage tanks
- power plants.
Read our story on the innovative use of steel in small nuclear reactors.
Steel is used for the production and distribution of electricity:
- transformers (magnetic steel core)
- generators and electric motors
- power distribution pylons and steel-reinforced cables.
Steel is used for energy transport and distribution:
- ships, trucks and trains used to transport fuel
- transport networks: steel is required for bridges, tunnels, rail track, and in constructing buildings such as fueling stations, train stations, ports and airports.
Below are a few examples of innovative steel solutions contributing to improved efficiency.
Transformers: Transformers step down the voltage from power stations to household voltage. The magnetic core of transformers is made of steel. As a result of continual development and increased application of new electrical steel grades, the energy loss in modern transformers can be reduced by 35% compared to conventional ones.
Fossil fuel power plants:
- High temperature-resistant steels have made efficiency in steam power plants possible and have the potential to be developed and employed even further.
- Combined heat and power (CHP) allows waste heat in power plants to be used for power generation as heat energy, increasing the overall efficiency of fossil fuel power plants. The waste heat is transported exclusively in steel pipes.