Performance and cost evaluation to inform the design and implementation of Organic Rankine Cycles in New Zealand
Thesis DisciplineMechanical Engineering
Degree GrantorUniversity of Canterbury
Degree NameMaster of Engineering
The aim of this thesis is to evaluate ORC systems and technologies from an energy and economic perspective. ORC systems are a growing renewable electricity generation technology, but New Zealand has limited local skills and expertise for identifying ORC resource opportunities and subsequently developing suitable technologies at low cost. For this reason, this thesis researches ORC technology, resource types, and international development, with the aim to determine guidelines for how to cost-effectively develop ORC systems, and to make recommendations applicable to furthering their development within a New Zealand context.
This thesis first uses two surveys, one of commercial ORC installations, and a second of economic evaluations of ORC systems in literature, to determine what resources and economic scenarios are supportive of commercial development. It is found that geothermal resources provide the largest share of ORC capacity, with biomass and waste-heat recovery (WHR) being developed more recently. The surveys also found that countries with high electricity prices or policy interventions have developed a wider range of resources using ORC systems.
This thesis then undertakes an EROI evaluation of ORC electricity generation systems using a combination of top-down and process based methodologies. Various heat sources; geothermal, biomass, solar, and waste heat are evaluated in order to determine how the utilised resource can affect energy profitability. A wide range of EROIstnd values, from 3.4 – 22.7 are found, with solar resources offering the lowest EROIs, and geothermal systems the highest. Higher still EROI values are found to be obtainable with longer system lifetimes, especially for WHR systems.
Specific engineering aspects of ORC design and technology such as high-side pressure, heat storage, modularity, superheating, pinch-point temperature difference, and turbine efficiency are evaluated in terms of economic performance, and a variety of general conclusions are made about each. It is found that total system thermo-economic optimisation may not lead to the highest possible EROI, depending on the objective function.
Lastly, the effects of past and potential future changes to the markets and economies surrounding ORCs are explored, including the New Zealand electricity spot price, steel and aluminium prices, subsidies, and climate policy. Of the subsidy types explored, it is found that directly subsidising ORC system capital has the greatest effect on the economic performance of ORC systems, as measured by common metrics.
In conclusion, this thesis finds that ORC systems have a limited applicability to New Zealand’s electricity market under current economic conditions outside of geothermal and off-grid generation, but changes to these conditions could potentially make their development more viable. The author recommends that favourable resources should be developed using systems that provide high efficiencies, beyond what might provide the best economic performance, in order to increase EROI, and reduce the future need for costly investments into increasingly less favourable resources.