Digitalization as the Enabler for High Performance District Heating Systems

Digital technologies are expected to improve the efficiency and system integration of additional renewable sources, as well as making the entire energy system reliable, smarter, and more efficient. Future digital applications may allow district energy systems to fully optimize the operation of their plant and network assets while realizing immediate and feasible decarbonization of urban heat supply: With data to optimize district heating systems and new business opportunities.

© Fraunhofer IEE
Dr Dietrich Schmidt moderating the conference at Fraunhofer ENIQ, Berlin.

The Annex TS4 project, "Digitalization of District Heating and Cooling: Optimised Operation and Maintenance of District Heating and Cooling Systems via Digital Process Management", was carried out from 2020 to 2023 within the framework of the International Energy Agency's District Heating and Cooling Technology Collaboration Program. 63 experts from 11 countries worked together on this essential technology for decarbonizing the thermal energy system. With growing complexity or the demand for system flexibility and a renewable heat supply infrastructure and operation systems have to be adapted for future demands. On the other hand, integration of the different sectors is an important issue, and this means integration of solutions at network level as well as at operation level.

The conference Digitalization as the Enabler for High Performance District Heating Systems was the final event of the project, presenting information on cutting-edge technologies and solutions around digitalization measures in district heating supply systems. At Fraunhofer ENIQ in Berlin, the conference created a forum for international participants from industry, science, and politics to discuss and exchange ideas on these topics in addition to allowing new research and technology. Thus, the conference provided an opportunity for an open interdisciplinary conversation on how to address the upcoming challenges of the digital energy transition.

The presenters brought a wide range of expertise in digitalization solutions with a specific focus on the design and management of district heating systems. They gave insight into the challenges of utilities and development status of new digital business processes. 

Key findings of the presentations and discussion with the audience were the following

  • It all starts with data! Collecting high-quality data from the district heating system is a critical issue and the starting point for digitalization.
  • Despite the fact that there are apparent benefits to implementing digitalization measures on both a technical and economic level, greater awareness and support from the management level in utilities can frequently be lacking.
  • Standards and interoperable digital system solutions would facilitate greater use.
  • On the legal front, GDPR is impeding widespread digitization in several nations. More open rules for more open data usage, on the one hand, and how to guarantee a safe and resilient system operation, on the other, are required.

Furthermore, the printed final report of the project on the Digitalization of District Heating was presented at the conference.

Speakers and guests expressed their thanks for the very professional and well-arranged conference, supported by Fraunhofer CINES and the documentation. 

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