District heating and cooling (DHC) has many advantages, the best one being that it can be extremely energy efficient. DHC planning though is not easy, partially because of the data gaps and the lack of appropriate tools to support local authorities in the process. The EU-funded Horizon 2020 project Hotmaps has the potential to solve these challenges and dramatically speed up DHC planning!
Heating and cooling plays a decisive role in the long-term decarbonisation of Europe’s energy system: the sector is responsible for 51% of final energy use in Europe and about 27% of CO2 emissions. You have probably heard about such system already…but how does it work in practice? To keep it simple: thanks to a high-powered central boiler, a network of well-insulated pipes buried underground and a heat exchanger, each building connected to the system receives hot/cold water (or steam) into its own network (radiators, water systems, etc).
In Helsinki for example, greening the city’s DHC system plays a key role in its bid to become climate neutral by 2035. The Finnish capital has its own energy company, Helen Ltd, which offers electricity and DHC to its customers. Helen Ltd wants to convert its coal and natural gas energy production processes to fully climate-neutral ones by 2050. The company announced recently that it will close its coal-powered Hanasaari plant, and modify its new plants, in order to allow for energy recycling, increased utilization of locally produced renewable energy, and energy storage.
District heating and cooling: many benefits, some issues to consider
The main advantage of DHC is that it is extremely energy efficient: one installation for multiple households means that less resources are used for the same amount of energy produced. The system can be powered by sources that a standard house boiler can’t use – such as thermal sources or woodchips – and can also recycle the heat produced by the industrial buildings connected to the network. Another advantage brought by district heating and cooling is that consumers pay only for the amount of energy they use, just the same as with their electricity or gas consumption. However, there are some issues that need to be considered too, when investing in DHC: the initial investment is considerable and the buildings should not be too far away from each other. Furthermore, the pipes need to be perfectly insulated, in order to avoid energy (and money) to be wasted during the transport.
Hotmaps releases a comprehensive open dataset on heating and cooling
Planning DHC systems is not easy: a lot of knowledge and information is needed in order to develop heating and cooling strategies at local, regional and national scale. That is where Hotmaps comes in! This Horizon 2020 funded project will develop a heating and cooling planning software that is user‐driven, open source and applicable for cities in all 28 EU Member States. Recently, the project released a new open dataset on heating and cooling (H&C), which serves as the foundation for the software. This database covers all EU Member States at different spatial levels and has the potential to dramatically speed up the planning process of H&C networks!
The data has been compiled by a group of experts from the Italian EURAC research centre, the Energy Economics Group of the Technical University in Vienna and the German Fraunhofer ISI. It has been generated for four different sectors: residential, service, industry and transport. A comprehensive summary of the data collection process was published in March 2018 and the Hotmaps project team is updating the datasets on a regular basis. The possibility to browse through the data online and explore additional planning functionalities will be available soon within the beta version of the tool.
The software is currently being tested in the 7 pilot areas involved in the project through Energy Cities: Kerry County (Ireland), Milton Keynes (UK), Aalborg (Denmark), San Sebastian (Spain), Bistrita (Romania), Geneva (Switzerland) and Frankfurt (Germany).
Source: Energy Cities. eu