Laying district heating pipes is a significant undertaking; steps taken to make the planning more efficient will pay dividends.

Heat Network Planning in the EU: Making it Rapid, Simple, Cost-Effective

Oct. 15, 2019
THERMOS developed an energy system map and modelling software to identify the best heat-network options in cities, through a user-friendly, freely available software.

Towns, cities, and regions are in a race to reduce their energy consumption and lessen their impact on climate change. A unique European energy initiative, THERMOS, is helping them with a free energy planning software that can make case-specific thermal network planning simpler, quicker, and cheaper.

On paper, planning local heating and cooling networks is rather straightforward. In reality, however, it is a challenging and resource-intensive task. In many cases, the energy companies, urban planners, civil engineers, and so forth involved struggle to identify the most efficient match of supply, buildings, and routes. These choices produce a vast number of possibilities, of which only a fraction will make financial sense and be desirable from an infrastructure point of view, even assuming that there is accurate information (local heating demand, development costs and excess heat sources) on hand.

With a pre-feasibility study, the large set of possible networks is whittled down to a small number of sensible candidates by modeling each one’s technical and economic performance. Based on these results, the planning authority concludes on a refined list of potential preferred options. In most cases, however, the lack of ability, capacity, and training to carry out this critical pre-feasibility stage is a barrier, resulting in costly outsourcing, typically to consultancies which tend to work with less spatial precision, less accurate data, and irrespective of energy and climate change goals of the local authority involved.

Consequently, the most sustainable option or the most cost-efficient solution is often missed. It also prevents planning authorities from building up the capacity to perform sustainable energy planning tasks more efficiently themselves and fails to consider the full range of possible district heating networks in a given area.

What if there was a simple online process to identify the most feasible and the environmentally and economically desirable option out of these hundreds of possible ones, based on each city’s key conditions and case-specific requirements?

This is exactly what THERMOS has done. The project developed an energy system map and modeling software to identify the best heat-network options in cities, through a user-friendly, freely available software. The test version of the THERMOS software successfully passed its stress-test in May 2019. It offers local authorities address-level data for the optimized expansion of an existing system, the planning of an entirely new system, or assessing the performance of specific networks or non-networked solutions via direct comparison.

The software produces figures according to each user’s criteria for what constitutes an optimized solution. This includes such criteria as carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions, local energy costs, or investment budgets. The THERMOS software is accessed through a web browser. It uses buildings and road geometry from OpenStreetMap or one’s own geographic information system (GIS) files to create a base map and map layers. Through the tool interface, a user “builds” their network by using drawing tools to pick out (or rule out) building polygons, line routes, and heat supply locations from ‘candidate’ elements in the area specified. The user specifies a set of parameters to be used in the model, before saving the specific configuration selected and running the model to optimize the network scenario just created.

The THERMOS software helps energy planners who:

  • Want to identify optimal expansion of an existing heating and cooling network.
  • Have a heat source and want to identify an optimal heating and cooling network and local heat demand to take advantage of it.
  • Have demands and heat source options, and are seeking the best way to match up the two.
  • Wish to compare two different thermal networks, or to compare a network with a non-networked heating/cooling system.

A network solution is presented to the user in map form, where individual buildings and paths can be selected to see a summary of information (including estimated revenue for a building, heat capacity, cost of a specific pipe section, and so forth). Detailed numerical and financial results can be examined more closely on a “results tab.” Various kinds of input parameters such as costs and heat price can be easily changed, candidates can be added to or removed from the network and the optimization model can be run again to see the effect on key performance indicators such as NPV or emissions. Results can be shared and collaborators invited to view the solution.

The software can be used by both novice and expert analysts. “Using THERMOS software reduces planning costs and development time, and brings the benefits of thermal networks to more people, sooner,” said Martin Holley, THERMOS project lead. “THERMOS dramatically accelerates the pace, reduces the cost of identifying the most promising networks in a given area, and helps ensure that the systems that do go ahead are the right ones.”

To benefit from this new heat network planning technology, participants using the THERMOS website access a step-by-step demonstration video, as well as information on how to access the THERMOS software.

The results of using THERMOS could be key to unlocking the huge potential of urban heating and cooling networks, and could help unlock the benefits of an energy system that offers much-needed low carbon and cost-efficient energy supplies of the future.

THERMOS has received funding from the European Union's (EU) Horizon 2020 research and innovation program under grant agreement No. 723636.

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