Advances in technology are putting community heating in a better proposition than ever before, for customers and developers alike; improving flexibility, efficiency and cutting carbon emissions.
Such technologically advanced heat networks lie at the heart of the more decentralised energy systems that are widely expected to develop in future.
From smart meters to energy sources, all areas of community heating systems are seeing technological advances, producing incremental enhancements that add up to cleaner, lower cost and higher quality heating provision.
In the case of heat source, more efficient and cheaper solar thermal panels and heat pumps can replace or work alongside existing gas-fired district heating schemes, cutting cost and significantly lowering carbon emissions, while maintaining secure and reliable supplies to customers.
Improved technology means larger scale heat pumps are available, enabling them to play a more important role in delivering improved district heating to customers. Central community heat-pumps are also now capable of retrofit, without the constraints and high infrastructure costs associated with other renewable technologies, enabling cost-effective and rapid deployment. Heat pumps can now also incorporate in-built control systems to enable remote monitoring and ensure optimum efficiency throughout their life-cycles, which can now extend to over 20 years.
Newly developed distributed control systems deliver significant improvements in the efficiency and capacity of heat networks. Advances in distributed thermal energy storage in district heating networks is also adding to efficiency, while incorporating thermal mass may be a promising technology for future storage systems.
Advanced piping technology, heat exchangers, and engines have also raised system efficiency, while new super-insulating materials are helping reduce underground pipe heat loss. Components are increasingly modular and self-contained, so can be delivered to site and slotted into the system as a ‘plug and play’ product, allowing a more easy adoption of new developments, and making systems more flexible and easier to maintain.
Putting all these advances together with smart technology delivers 4th Generation District Heating Technologies and Systems (4GDH), which should help achieve emissions goals and more sustainable energy solutions in general.
Looking further ahead, an industry initiative known as the H2020 STORM project aims to develop and implement an intelligent district heating and cooling network controller, based on self-learning algorithms. The idea if for these intelligent controllers to make district heating networks even smarter and more flexible in the future, especially as more intermittent renewable energy is used.
In order to stimulate innovation that will help address cost and performance efficiency challenges related to heat networks, the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) has created The Heat Networks Demonstration SBRI competition. It will support the growth of low carbon heat networks with improved technology across the country, as well as providing real-world evidence on reducing costs and improving energy efficiencies.
Technology is allowing the industry to make dramatic strides forward, including enabling consumers to be at the centre of all decision making. As the digital age progresses, the systems may even learn to know what we want before we tell them, making for exciting times ahead.
- Community heating allows customers to benefit from the latest energy technology
- Heat networks lie at the centre of anticipated decentralised energy systems
- Larger scale advanced heat pumps include built in control systems and can be retrofitted
- Components are increasingly modular and self-contained
- Distributed heat storage, control systems and material advances enable better control and greater efficiency
- 4th Generation District Heating Systems will be the most efficient yet and play an important part in meeting emissions’ goals
- In future algorithms may be used to make systems even smarter
- DECC has set up a competition to encourage further innovation and technology deployment