According to researchers, intelligent control of heat use in district heating grids could decrease peak power by up to a third, without having to compromise on consumer comfort.

A while ago, we were in Austria getting acquainted with local research. Austrian researchers are interested in district heat, because they see the possibilities in cutting district heat peak loads for both the promotion of energy efficiency as well as environmental protection. Austrian researchers reminded us that cutting the consumption peaks of district heat would significantly decrease carbon dioxide emissions, in addition to heating costs.

Two peaks in a day

There are usually two peak times in district heat requirement during the day. These are in the morning, when plenty of warm water is required for morning activities, as well as in the evening when people return home from work.

District heating capacity must be built to meet peak demand, which means that consumption peaks and the required peak power cost a lot. In many places, production peaks are managed with easily accessible fossil fuels, which increases carbon dioxide emissions and accelerates climate change.

Utilising heat retained by buildings

Ralf-Roman Schmidt, one of the researchers we met at AIT Austrian Institute of Technology had calculated possibilities regarding the improvement of efficiency. According to his calculations, consumption peaks could be cut by up to 35%, if consumption could be sensibly controlled and applied throughout the entire district heating grid.

Researchers at AIT verified their calculations by applying the models they had developed to the entire district heating grid of a small town near Salzburg. In the most cost-efficient model, the structurally suitable houses were heated to a suitable temperature before peak district heat demand in the morning, and the heating of these houses was decreased when normal consumption was at its peak. The heat retained in the houses kept the temperature at a comfortable level for approximately the duration of the most severe consumption peak, which lasts for approximately an hour in the heating grid of Altenmarkt im Pongau.

Artificial intelligence is the easiest way of controlling the process

The calculations of the researchers were plausible. Our own experiences run along the same lines. By cutting the consumption peaks, it is possible to save on costs for both the district heating companies and house owners, as well as protect the environment.

In the researchers’ model, the consumption is controlled centrally. Either the district heating company or the housing co-operative shifts the heating of the entire building away from the consumption peak times. We at Leanheat have an even easier solution for this: artificial intelligence. It is already cutting the consumption peaks in 15,000 Finnish homes.

Vesa Jaakkola, VP, International Sales