Unlocking the potential: Key digitalization challenges in District energy

Tuesday, April 2, 2024

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Article: Perspectives on key digitalization challenges within the district energy sector

In today's world, district energy systems play a crucial role in meeting the rising demand for thermal energy while decarbonizing our energy supply. To unlock their full potential, digital solutions are essential, but they come with their own set of challenges. In this article, we explore the hurdles and solutions in the digitalization of district heating systems. 

Abstract: In November 2023, the final report from the International Energy Agency (IEA) District Heating and Cooling (DHC) task share project Digitalization of District Heating and Cooling was published.

The aim of the project was promoting the opportunities arising from integrating digital processes into different parts of DHC systems and end-user heating installations. It also collected use cases of already available digitalization solutions to demonstrate the impact digital solutions have on the system operation, both on existing systems going through a modernization cycle as well as in new systems.

The consortium behind the project was carefully chosen to include the key research institutions, universities and digital solution providers in the DHC sector to ensure the most holistic view on the current market status, as well as for giving collective perspective on the key challenges for the future development of digital solutions within the district energy sector.

Challenges addressed in the article: 

  • Heterogeneity of DHC systems: The district energy sector is characterized by local uniqueness and operation, with varying conditions and fragmented markets, making it challenging to develop a standardized digital solution that fits all systems and agendas.
  • Lack of standards for DHC: The lack of standards in DHC digitalization hampers progress, highlighting the importance of standardized vocabulary, data protocols, and ontology for interoperability and consistent data interpretation.
  • Vendor-lock in and interoperability: Danfoss is developing a modular-based platform, Leanheat®, to overcome vendor-lock in and limited interoperability, promoting adaptability and scalability in district energy digitalization.
  • Need for robust and resilient control architectures: Digitalizing district energy requires robust and resilient architectures to mitigate cyber risks and ensure stable supply, incorporating fallback options for worst-case scenarios.
  • GDPR compliance: GDPR regulations aim to protect personal data while allowing its use in fulfilling societal functions, like DHC digitalization, as long as it follows principles like data minimization and consent.
  • Safety and security of IT systems: Ensuring the safety and security of critical infrastructures like DHC systems in the face of cyber threats requires vigilant software development teams and proactive security measures throughout the development lifecycle.
  • Lack of reference datasets and benchmarks: Variations in climate, geography, and heat sources makes benchmarking difficult, but having these resources as one of the parameters for evaluating available solutions would greatly benefit utilities in making informed decisions for their digitalization systems.

In summary, the district energy sector faces challenges related to system heterogeneity, lack of standards, vendor-lock in, cyber risks, GDPR compliance, and the need for reference datasets. To delve deeper into these challenges and explore potential solutions, we invite you to download the full article.

Download the full article Download the IEA DHC Annex TS4 Guidebook

Meet the author:

Oddgeir Gudmundsson, Director, Projects

Oddgeir joined Danfoss in 2012 as a district energy expert at a global level. He has worked with a wide range of topics within the district energy sector, ranging from deep dives on components, to analyzing complex interactions and role of district energy systems in the perspective of the wider energy system, to hosting delegations seeking solutions for decarbonization and efficient utilization of energy sources.

Oddgeir is actively engaged in international research projects and platforms aimed at sharing knowledge and positioning district energy systems. Additionally, he provides consultancy services to sector partners and institutions. Oddgeir holds a PhD. in Engineering from the University of Iceland.

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