FOCUS DIGITALI- SATION
By Joshua Thumim, Head of Research at the Centre for Sustainable Energy in Bristol, UK
Towns, cities and regions across Europe are in a race to reduce their energy consumption and lessen their impact on climate change. District-scale energy systems are one way of doing this, and European energy initiative is aiming to help them with free energy planning software that can make case-specific heat network planning across Europe simpler and quicker.
Photo: Matthias Naumann / Alamy Stock Photo Caption: Laying district heating pipes is a significant undertaking, and anything that can be done to make the planning more efficient will pay dividends
In most cases, local energy authorities seeking to develop a heating or cooling network begin by conducting a pre- feasibility study, in which the large set of possible networks is whittled down to a small number of sensible candidates by modelling each one’s technical and economic performance. Based on the results, they can then conclude on a refined list of preferred options. It is during the pre-feasibility stage that potential solutions are identified or ruled out, so this stage is of critical importance. Yet despite this, in most cases local authorities and energy planners lack the ability, capacity and training to carry out pre- feasibility studies themselves and are obliged to outsource the work, typically to consultancies which tend to work with less spatial precision, less accurate data and irrespective of the renewable energy and climate change goals of the local authority involved.
On paper, planning local district heating and cooling networks is all rather straightforward: step one is identifying your local heat supply options; step two is selecting the buildings to be connected with the network; and step three is to join them in the most technically and economically viable way. In reality, however, it is a challenging and resource-intensive task. In many cases, the parties involved – energy companies, urban planners, civil engineers, etc. –struggle to identify the most efficient match of supply, buildings, and route. This occurs even where they are experienced in developing heating and cooling networks, and even in cities with an existing and extensive district heating network. The reason is that these choices – of supply, buildings and route - produce a vast number of possibilities of which only a fraction will make financial sense and be desirable from an infrastructure point of view. And this is assuming that there is accurate information to hand on factors such as local heating demand, development costs and excess heat sources.
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