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Wolfgang Birk and Arne Gylling, Luleå University of Technology Photo: Linda Alfredsson
Wolfgang Birk, Professor of Automatic control, and Arne Gylling, project coordinator at CDT. Photo: Linda Alfredsson View original picture , opens in new tab/window

Research will optimize the district heating system

Published: 10 June 2015

Luleå University of Technology is coordinator of the EU project OPTi whose goal is to create a more sustainable architecture for district heating and cooling systems. – There are inherent limitations and inertia in such systems that we want to change and exploit, says Wolfgang Birk, Professor of Automatic Control.

In short, the project is about optimizing heating and cooling systems. The optimization will be done both at network level, i.e. the pipes in the ground, and on the consumer level, that is, in houses and buildings. Two pilot tests will be conducted, one for district cooling in Mallorca, and one for district heating in Luleå together with Luleå energi.

– It is mainly about finding methods and tools for redistributing energy consumption, says Arne Gylling, project manager at the Centre for Distance-Spanning Technology, CDT.

– In addition, we will create sustainable business value for the companies involved and increase consumer satisfactions.

Reallocation of energy

Usually there is a primary energy source connected to a district heating network, for Luleå energi it is residual heat from steel mill SSAB where at times the available energy is not sufficient. For example, imagine a cold February morning when the district heating consumers expect both a warm indoor climate and a hot shower before leaving for work. To compensate for large energy loads, the utility company must use energy from other sources, such as fossil fuels that are both more expensive and adverse for the environment. These peaks loads of energy consumption are the main focus of the OPTi project.

– A district heating system is both large-scale and complex and therefore difficult to optimize and control. There are inherent limitations and inertia in the system that we have to consider and exploit when controlling such a system, says Wolfgang Birk.

– It is important to be able to predict the loads and to deliver the right amount of energy at the right location at the right time, thereby reducing the peaks and drops. In the end, it should lead us to a reallocation of the energy consumption while avoiding user’s experience deterioration.

Technical autonomous systems

In order to develop the methods and tools needed to reallocate energy consumption, the researchers and the participating companies will develop a simulation platform for the district heating system that can run in parallel with the real system. On the simulation platform real data supplied by sensors in the district heating system will be used, for example, information about pressure and water temperature. Moreover, factors such as consumer energy demand, outside temperature and weather in terms of solar input and wind will be added. By using these measurement values, the methods can seek optimal solutions using the model of reality. Among other things, the possibility of using passive thermal storage will be investigated.

– We will make such technical systems autonomous – it's basically intelligent software that will control the systems and thus do the job by itself. This is a great challenge, says Wolfgang Birk.

The OPTi project is an EU Horizon 2020 project and has a budget of 20 million SEK in two and a half years. Other project partners are the Athens University of Economics and Business, Greece, IBM India, Sampol Ingenieria y Obras, Spain, TWT GMBH Science and Innovation, Germany, the Rheinisch-Westfaekische Technische Hochschule Aachen (RTHA), Germany, and Optimation AB and Luleå Energi, Sweden.