Within the European Union buildings are responsible for 40% of energy consumption and 36% of CO2 emissions.1 Heating and cooling stand for a majority of this consumption. In order to achieve the energy reduction targets for 2020, it is obvious that an improvement in this field
is required in Europe.

Many activities are ongoing when it comes to energy savings and, piece by piece, they add up to a sustainable energy infrastructure. However, digitalisation is a crucial cornerstone to make this happen, and we believe this is the most important one.

On several markets in Europe, district heating is the major technology for heating and cooling (DHC). On some markets the penetration is low and so they are picking up speed. Regardless of the market penetration, you will find a common ground for these grids – under the right conditions district heating is clearly a sustainable and environmentally friendly technology, but there are improvement areas where digitalisation will play the most important role. If this is done with a sustainable mindset and long-term thinking it will lead to the world’s most environmentally friendly technology for heating and cooling.

Digitalisation will not only decrease the consumption in buildings, it will also optimise the production and distribution systems. In addition, a great amount of useful data will be gathered for further improvements. During the coming years we will see a big leap in this area, which will lead to a sustainable energy infrastructure.

Of course there are challenges to overcome and those differ between grids. Fossil fuel needs to be reduced, production prices need to stay competitive, new pipes to be placed, new buildings (i.e. new customers) must be connected and old peak load oil or gas burners must be phased out.

Is it possible to handle all this through the digitalisation of district heating systems and buildings?

The answer is Yes.

For a couple of years there has been a hidden environmental revolution going on. Digitalisation of heating systems creates the needed link between production, distribution, property owners and consumers. A connected building means access to data, much data. The data is analysed in real time with surrounding data points such as weather forecasts, etc. All this is processed through custom, self-learning and algorithms. The calculation tells us how much of the energy storage that can be used to, for example, reduce the use of peak load burners within the grid.
When going from analogue to digital you also go from a supply focus to a demand focus . The energy is released and used when and where it’s better needed. In fact, this is already happening on the market today without any big investments in hardware.

Let’s take a basic example.

Normally the indoor temperature in a building is decided by the outdoor temperature. The problem is that the outside temperature can be -5 degrees if it’s a grey and windy morning or if it’s a sunny afternoon without any wind. The indoor temperature will of course be affected by this. This is the basic problem, or opportunity, if you prefer. During a sunny day the building stores energy. Instead of opening the window when it’s getting too warm it’s better to take care of this energy immediately. In this case the building becomes a virtual energy storage tank. To steer the indoor climate in a controlled way, other data points are also used, for example, how the weather will change in a couple of hours.
Our experience from research and about 1000 installations shows that in a building the energy consumption, under the right conditions, can be reduced by up to 50% during a certain amount of time without affecting the indoor climate. The process is generated automatically in real time and performed exactly when its needed, i.e. when the energy company has scarce resources and, for example, are about to start the peak load oil burner.

What does this mean in reality?

  • DHC goes from a supply focus to a demand focus;
  • Fossil fuel can be reduced or removed completely;
  • More buildings (i.e. more customers) can be connected without investments in new infrastructure;
  • No investments in extra storage tanks;
  • Stronger link between consumption and production cost; and
  • The data can be shared and used by the property owner.

In this case digitalisation solves some of the main challenges for a fossil free and sustainable heating system without digging in the streets and investing millions in production plants.

The technology used in a grid system will also decrease the energy consumption in each connected building. With real-time steering and data analytics, the energy savings in buildings powered by district heating is around 10-20%, and keep in mind this is from one of the world’s best heating systems already.

NODA Intelligent Systems is part of the STORM project where this technology will be further developed by creating control algorithms suited for both existing and new fourth generation district heating and cooling networks. The STORM project tackles energy efficiency at district level. It aims to demonstrate that, thanks to a smart DHC networks controller, energy savings can reach up to 30%. In that perspective, the project partners will develop a controller based on self-learning algorithms.

So, at NODA we say it’s all about releasing the energy and using it when and where it’s needed. This will lead to sustainable energy solutions.