The fact that we cannot go on heating our homes and businesses using fossil fuels forever is no secret. We must do everything we can to utilise sustainable heat sources, such as geothermal energy, residual industrial heat or heat generated by a biomass plant.  

To enable that heat to be made available to consumers, we need district heating networks. Ennatuurlijk is an energy supplier in the Netherlands that operates a district heating network in Eindhoven to supply heat from a biomass plant to a number of districts in the city. Ennatuurlijk is seeking to optimise its heating network and to supply heat in a more effective way. After all, major peaks in demand cannot always be matched with the supply of heat from sustainable sources.

Optimise the utilisation of residual heat and renewable energy

The STORM controller developed by Energyville/VITO in collaboration with the Swedish company NODA has the potential to help solve that problem. This smart controller is capable of using self-teaching algorithms that optimise the utilisation of residual heat and renewable energy in buildings or districts. In 2018, Ennatuurlijk and Energyville/VITO launched a pilot project, in which they deployed the smart controller at two locations heated by the district heating network in Eindhoven: one of those locations is at the Geestelijk Gezondheidszorgcentrum (Mental Healthcare Centre) in Eindhoven, a site consisting of a large number of older buildings mainly occupied by residential patients, while the other location is a recently renovated building with a floor area of 40,000 m2 which is in use as an office building.

The STORM controller has made the building “smarter”, due to the fact that it is “self-teaching” and is able to use that knowledge to optimise heat demand in line with the supply of heat available. What it does is use the mass of the building itself as a thermal buffer, in order to respond to peaks in heat demand. That way, sustainable or renewable heat sources are not only utilised to the full, but it is also possible to intervene if congestion is likely to occur in specific sections of the heating network.

During the first phase of the pilot project, data will be collected regarding heat demand, how the HVAC system is operating and the temperature in the building. Based on that data, it will be possible for patterns in the way that the heating system is used to be predicted in a fairly accurate way. After that, a test phase will be used to chart the thermal flexibility of the buildings concerned. This will enable Ennatuurlijk to evaluate the scalability and overall impact of the controller on the heating network itself. 

In 2019, the STORM controller will also be fitted to the heating network at VITO in Mol, Belgium, as part of the Geothermica project known as Heatstore.