Sustainable Heating. This is a strongly growing trend in the construction industry. In fact, by 2050, we want to use as few fossil fuels as possible here in Flanders to heat our homes and buildings. This is where heat distribution networks play an important role. But what exactly is a heat distribution network (or heat distribution grid)? And how does it work?
What is a heat distribution network?
As of January 2021, it is no longer permitted to use a gas connection for projects involving 15 units or more. Furthermore, since January 2022, there has also been a ban on new fuel oil boilers. This poses a challenge for the construction industry. When it comes to new construction projects, people often chose to install individual combustion boilers for generating domestic hot water and for heating rooms. This, however, is no longer permitted, so project developers are looking for sustainable alternatives.
In addition, there are lots of occasions and places (for example in large manufacturing plants or in the digestive process of plants and animals) where you can find a lot of “surplus” heat that is otherwise lost to the atmosphere. That’s a crying shame!
So the question, then, is how do we ensure that new residential construction projects include regulatory and sustainable heating while reducing heat loss elsewhere?
You can probably see where we’re going with this…. Heat distribution networks are the perfect solution to both problems! A heat network is in fact a collective heating system where surplus heat is transported via underground pipes to, among other things, new residential construction projects. The purpose of a heat network is to provide more efficient and sustainable heating by ensuring that surplus heat from elsewhere is not simply lost or wasted. Instead, it can be used to heat neighbourhoods, among other things.
Where does the heat come from?
There are actually several sources of heat that can be used in a heat distribution network: residual heat, biomass and geothermal are the three most common sources. Here’s a brief explanation of what they are and where they come from.
In a lot of businesses, like a soap factory or waste processing plant, heat is released during the production process. This often involves so much heat that it cannot be (fully) recycled within the company itself. This ‘excess’ heat is called residual heat. It’s also the most frequently found form of heat in a heat network.
Another source of heat that is often relied upon by heat grids is the heat released from biomass. Biomass plants are used to generate electricity. This is achieved by burning, fermenting or gasifying the biomass. What is true, however, is that the combustion process generates 30% electricity and 70% heat. This heat can then be used in a heat grid.
Geothermal energy draws on heat that is found in the ground. This is why geothermal energy is also called geothermal heat. In order to make this happen, a very deep hole is drilled into the ground from which heat at a high temperature is pumped.
How does a heat distribution network work?
In a heat network, heat circulates in the form of water. This water generally derives its heat from one of the three sources of heat noted above.
A compact heat exchanger is put in place in each of the homes and buildings that is connected to the heat network. This transfers heat to the pipes that run to your underfloor heating, radiators, kitchen and bathroom. Once the water has delivered its heat to your home or building, it flows back to the central heat source through the return pipe where it is heated once more.
What role does OpenMotics play in a heat network?
A heat network sounds like the perfect sustainable solution for any neighbourhood. But how does the heat exchanger in each unit know when heat is being requested and how much is being requested? If you have this set-up in your home, how do you know what you are consuming? Is it enough to rely on one heat source in a heat network? These are some of the many questions where OpenMotics can take on a leading role.
Take control of your heating
A heat grid sounds like a great idea. But how does the heat exchanger know when heat is needed? Quite simply… a connected thermostat is installed in every home in the heat network. Residents can control the temperature using their smartphone, tablet or laptop, at which point OpenMotics notifies the heat exchanger of this heat requirement. In this way, each person can enjoy all the comfort and convenience of a heat network.
Gain an overview of your consumption levels
As the manager of the heat network, you can gain insight into consumption levels using a clearly arranged dashboard. Furthermore, you can access this overview anywhere and at any time. What’s unique about OpenMotics is that residents can also see this snapshot of their individual consumption levels. It is even possible to anonymously compare your consumption with that of other people in the neighbourhood. This is how we can create even more awareness, which will result in energy savings.
Providing an insight into consumption not only raises awareness, but also provides an opportunity to counteract any discussions about the final bill. Residents who connect to a heat grid often pay a fixed cost. However, this is not aligned with their effective consumption levels and is therefore an unfair way to work out the bill. Because of the data that OpenMotics collects, it is actually possible to provide accurate, detailed bills.
One is not enough
It is not enough to be completely dependent on one heat source within a heat network. Instead, it is important to be able to fall back on any auxiliary heat sources. After all, you don’t want residents to be left without heating or hot water. This is why it is important to determine which heat source is best used at specific times. Thanks to OpenMotics, it is also possible to automate this process.
Could a heat grid be something you include in your next project?
There are clearly very high expectations when it comes to heat grids and as a developer, it is becoming increasingly difficult to find a complete solution. This is why we would like to invite you for a meeting where we can answer all your questions and share our expertise with you. Please contact us on email@example.com for more information.