Driving district energy in the UK

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Gareth Ash, Marketing Communications Manager at Danfoss, addresses the imperative of fostering sustainable district energy networks in the UK amid rising demand for efficient and environmentally friendly energy solutions. This article explores key trends and technologies shaping the evolution of this dynamic sector.

The interplay of  district heating and heat pumps

Heating and cooling account for half of the total final energy use in the world and the majority of global greenhouse gas emissions are related to the production and consumption of energy, finding more sustainable ways to maintain a comfortable temperature in our homes, businesses and public buildings is regarded as an important step towards the ultimate goal of Net Zero Carbon. A study carried out in 14 countries in Europe shows that district heating is an economically viable solution in most urban areas. More than half of the heat demand could be covered, ultimately also reducing greenhouse gas emissions and primary energy demand.

District heating in conjunction with (industrial) heat pumps connected to the grids, is expected to play a key role in the future energy grid and energy supply. Approximately 25% of the energy demand in the district heating grid could be provided by heat pumps. With a wide deployment of both district heating and heat pumps, greenhouse gases could be reduced by as much as 70% compared to the current situation. In a decarbonised and fully integrated energy system, district energy can act as a virtual electrical battery and help balance the grid. For instance, in a scenario with an abundance of renewable-based electricity in the grid, the latter could be converted into heat via large-scale heat pumps, stored and used once there is a shortage of renewable electricity generation. The required investment costs of thermal storage are typically 100 times cheaper compared to electricity storage (i.e. batteries), while the lifetime is more or less unlimited

Greater sustainability

Like many of those committed to greater sustainability, Danfoss believes district energy has an important role to play in the green transformation of the built environment. Studies show that a 35% district heating share (up from around 2% today), together with sector integration, could cover at least 29% of the district heat production (Heat Roadmap UK – www.heatroadmap.eu). District energy is also part of energy saving trends such as the circular economy and digitalisation. Waste heat currently produced at various types of facilities can be fed directly into a heat distribution system to heat many buildings and homes in the area.

District energy networks and associated low-carbon technologies have a proven track record in decarbonising the energy mix through the invariance of the heat source, and such systems are recognised as one of the most cost-efficient ways to fulfil climate goals. They also have the potential for phased decarbonisation as new technologies can be added to the system with minimal disruption to individual households. Furthermore, they offer benefits such as thermal storage which can be used to reduce energy demand at the grid at peak times.

Innovative solutions

The development of end-to-end solutions for district energy systems, for example, can optimise heat transfer and system control from the energy source at one end of the network right through to end-user level. These can include variable speed drives for efficient pump control, bespoke building connections featuring advanced heat exchangers, an extensive range of control components, and ultrasonic energy meters for accurate billing of energy consumption and system diagnostics.

Danfoss Titan adds a new and data-driven dimension to district energy

Danfoss Titan combines best-in-class substations with groundbreaking digital twin technology to provide a new, data-driven dimension to the district energy network—ensuring correct commissioning, enhanced performance, and the lowest possible return temperature.

Unlike a trial-and-error approach, Danfoss Titan enables reliable and fast cloud commissioning—using mathematical models and a digital twin for performance simulation to deliver best-in-class settings that also result in longer station lifetime.

Plus, the digital twin ensures continuous performance optimization by adapting over time to, e.g., changing daily or seasonal conditions and heat-source utilisation. And because Titan is 100% Danfoss component-based, it guarantees the highest quality and reliability—always offering full transparency in performance.

For district energy utilities, this ensures optimum ΔT at all times —unlocking data-driven energy efficiency and savings—while installers benefit from time savings and no complaints or callbacks. At the same time, consumers are guaranteed the best possible comfort at the lowest possible price.

The future for district energy

Whilst there are still challenges to overcome, district energy clearly has the potential to contribute significantly to the essential decarbonisation of the UK’s heating and cooling supply. It allows utilisation of a range of renewable energy sources, including through heat recovery from industry and commerce and, in combination with heat storage, opens up the possibility of greater integration of fluctuating power sources such as wind and solar.

The decarbonisation of heating is a massive task and there is no silver bullet to achieve this goal. Rather, it will be crucial to use all available solutions, depending on the regional and local context, and to combine them wherever and whenever possible. Danfoss boasts the industry’s only complete portfolio of proven end-to-end solutions—from innovative technology and components to optimization tools and services. Combined with our extensive hardware domain knowledge and years of experience, we can help today’s utilities not only optimize their supply of district heating but also impact decarbonisation and energy consumption in cities.

For more information visit https://bit.ly/44mX0DJ OR https://bit.ly/3w5Zium

Danfoss will be at InstallerSHOW – running 25-27 June at the NEC.