Planning the energy production in district heating networks is a challenging task. Weather, consumption forecasting and market fluctuations – there are many variables to consider. Energy Opticon from Lund, Sweden, has developed a prize-winning software solution that automatically optimizes the management of the facilities.

On Cleantech Day, companies that ”made a defined achievement that gave competitive edge and demonstrated the potential of cleantech” are acknowledged. We are talking about the South Sweden Cleantech Award, an annual prize that was awarded for the seventh time in 2016. This year’s winner was Energy Opticon from Lund, Sweden.

Björn Malmström och Moa Dahlman Truesdale vid Energy Opticon tar emot South Sweden Cleantech Award 2016 för nya funktioner för optimering av regionala fjärrvärmenät med Energy Optima 3. Foto: Heidi Olsson Sustainable Business Hub.

Björn Malmström and Moa Dahlman Truesdale accepted the South Sweden Cleantech Award 2016 for Energy Opticon. The prize was awarded for new functions for optimizing regional district heating networks with Energy Optima 3. Photo: Heidi Olsson, Sustainable Business Hub.

”We have developed a software that is a highly valuable tool for constructing and optimizing district heating networks. With our solution, investments in renewable energy can realize more of their potential”, says Moa Dahlman Truesdale, Chief Financial Officer at Energy Opticon.

Optimizing the energy production

”The production of district heating has become more complicated over time. Efficiency, fuel cost, electricity price and availability are just a few of the variables that influence the cost of production. Deregulation and integration of electricity markets has brought increased competition. District heating companies are hard pressed to produce heat and electricity with the lowest possible cost. At the same time, the share of renewable fuels is increasing which adds further planning constraints, both short and long term”, Moa Dahlman Truesdale says.

”Tools for energy optimization are in high demand. Optimization is a complex procedure that requires advanced computational models. We have noticed a sharp increase in the demand for our software in the last years. The issue of how to reduce costs and increase profit by better production planning has become more critical. Energy producers are also looking to reduce their environmental impact”, Moa says.

The long term planning usually spans more than a year. The purpose is to estimate fuel consumption, prices and delivery dates, environmental fees, contracts and other factors. The short term planning focuses on the upcoming week or the hours and days ahead, to provide a decision basis for how the production should be distributed between facilities and when certain power plants should be turned on and off.

”The optimization is meant to provide both short and long term production plans. Our software solution generates consumption forecasts using weather forecasts, local measurements and consumption history. The process is based on this forecasting and information on the facilities in the system. The optimization also weighs in fuel prices, electricity market data and taxes. Weather is the most important influence on the demand for district heating, but it is also important to consider patterns in customer behaviour. The cost of peak demand energy is very significant for the producer; emergency power is always more costly”, Moa explains.

Interconnected district heating systems

Genom detaljerade prognoser kan fjärrvärmeproducenten optimera driften och minska klimatpåverkan. Illustration: Energy Opticon.

Detailed forecasting allows energy producers to optimize production and reduce environmental impact. Illustration: Energy Opticon.

As regards wind and solar, the amount of energy available is unpredictable. Solar will not contribute in the nighttime, and it is not always windy. And so, the electricity cost fluctuates wildly, especially in Central Europe. A biobased power plant can be operational continously, and can compensate for wind and solar production drops. There are also other energy sources that can be used in district heating networks, such as industrial waste heat. A particular producer may not have access to all the alternatives, but by connecting local district heating systems in larger regions, a number of benefits can be achieved, Moa Dahlman Truesdale says.

Moa highlights the following advantages:

  • More flexible energy systems, by means of optimized heat production and storage, and compensation for production bottle necks.
  • Increased share of low cost energy sources.
  • Better availability and redundance, making production and distribution disturbances less critical.
  • More efficient use of renewable energy sources.

”The production planning for both separate and interconnected district heating systems hinges on correct forecasting. The forecasting is the foundation for production planning, and our tool Optima 3 offers a detailed and exact projection of the customer’s energy system and facilities. By including fuel and market data and load and price forecasting in the model, and using the graphical editor to input technical and economic data, the producer is able to calculate production plans in the shortest time possible. The system automatically discovers how the facilities should be managed to minimize cost and maximize profit”.

”More and more district heating networks are interconnected, in Sweden and abroad, and Energy Opticon is proud that our product can contribute to cost reductions and a better environment. We are very honoured to receive the South Sweden Cleantech Award”, says Moa Dahlman Truesdale.

The article was published in December 2016.