Renewable district heating: How to correctly estimate the potential

Looking at the local or regional scale, what is the potential for supplying thermal energy through small district heating (DH) networks fed by renewables? How can this potential be calculated and with which assumptions?

In order to answer these questions, the ENTRAIN project developed specific guidelines for the simplified evaluation of the potential for renewable heat. This document is mainly targeting developers of new DH networks, such as utilities, Municipalities, ESCOs, etc.

Though not providing detailed evaluation methodologies, these guidelines give the interested stakeholders an overview of the crucial elements to evaluate the potential for renewable district heating in their area.
As a first step, a thorough analysis of energy supply and demand in the targeted area lays the foundation for the subsequent planning of a renewable DH network. Initial energy balance in the area helps to identify the needs of the communities, as well as to evaluate possible solutions for heat supply. Therefore, suggestions and hints on how to estimate heat demand and supply are given as the primary steps of such evaluation.
In the heat demand phase, additional attention is given to the territorial aspects of the target area, such as local climate, type of urbanisation, industrial districts, etc.

The heat supply analysis, then, provides ideas on how to estimate the potential for exploiting the locally available renewable energy sources. In line with the approach of the 4th generation DH, which foresees a high degree of mutual integration between many different energy sources, many renewables are included and described in the guidelines, namely biomass, solar thermal, geothermal, waste heat and heat pumps.

Finally, in the last step of the evaluation, the outcomes of the previous two phases are then combined in order to reach a conclusion about the potential for developing a local DH network.

Although this quantitative analysis may give positive feedback, successful and smooth implementation as well as efficient future operation of the project cannot be guaranteed without proper involvement of and support from the local community. Therefore, strong emphasis should be put on the close cooperation with the final users and with other relevant stakeholders in the area.
For each of the topics dealt with, the guidelines list the key questions that the developer of the DH network should ask itself in order to carry on a complete and accurate analysis.
Furthermore, at the end of each chapter, tools and references are reported, providing the readers with examples of methodologies, best practices and potential studies already performed in previous projects and initiatives.

Click here for the complete study.

(Header picture by Neven Krcmarek on Unsplash)