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HeatMatcher - Innovation in control for heating and cooling systems and networks

Traditional heating installations are faced with several drawbacks, not least the fact that their control systems are often rule-based. This makes configuration and maintenance cumbersome, leading to operational bugs and flaws that result in malfunctioning, inefficiencies and economic losses throughout the lifetime of these installations, routinely spanning several decades. TNO’s HeatMatcher technology aims to provide a new generation of real-time control systems for heating and cooling installations, geared to saving energy costs by optimising the use of renewable energy sources. In essence, then, HeatMatcher saves money, enhances reliability and is environmentally friendly.

Operating principle

HeatMatcher is an innovative real-time matching solution for heating and cooling systems. It determines the optimal balance between producers (supply) and consumers (demand) of heat and cold.
One of HeatMatcher’s unique features is its ability to handle many energy consumers and producers at the same time, which is expected to be a prerequisite for heating and cooling networks in the near future.

For instance, by optimising across multiple energy producing components – such as heat pumps with thermal storage, solar collectors and gas heaters – consumers benefit from low costs as the amount of renewable energy in the mix is maximised. With a certain buffer capacity required in the system to enable production of energy when costs are low and consumption occurs later, HeatMatcher is able to exploit the flexibility for each of the components and optimise the match.

Market based

HeatMatcher creates different virtual markets where energy is traded by software agents, each representing a technical component in the installation or network. The algorithm runs in short-cycle bidding rounds, with each agent advertising a bid curve to a virtual market stating how much energy it will produce or consume depending on the market price. The control algorithm then determines the market equilibrium price, where there is a demand and supply match. All agents adhere to a corresponding contract stating the amount of energy to be produced/consumed.
Bidding rounds are repeated as often as real-time dynamics of supply and demand require.

Field trials

HeatMatcher has been tested at four locations: three residential apartment buildings and an office building. Application differs in complexity, ranging from mere control of room heating to room heating and hot tap water, heating and cooling/ regeneration of thermal storage, and simultaneous heating and cooling. The first field trial has shown annual energy and cost savings of up to 18%.
Before deploying a HeatMatcher instance, we use our CHESS software to simulate and control the heating and/or cooling installation. CHESS helps us to configure and optimise HeatMatcher for both retrofit and greenfield installations.

Demand flexibility

HeatMatcher can reward end users who allow flexibility in their energy demand, e.g. room temperature may vary between 19-21°C, by employing this margin to enhance the demand-supply matching. In other words, the easy control of energy consumption pays off on the demand side, as the end user benefits from this flexibility with lower costs of energy supply.

Figure 1. Three HeatMatcher markets are being used to optimise the energy used by heating, cooling and hot tap water in a building consisting of 120 apartments. Software agents control the individual components in the system.
Figure 2. The technology has been deployed in four real life locations with different types of heating and cooling demand.

The value of HeatMatcher

HeatMatcher can be applied in many different types of buildings. Amongst these, office buildings are large energy consumers – and HVAC accounts for about 40% of the energy consumption in offices.

An example

Depending on building type/age and climate, heating and cooling can take up half of the HVAC energy bill. For a large office with a floor space of 10,000 m2, this results in a typical energy bill for heating and cooling of about 200,000 EUR/year. Heatmatcher technology applied to heating and cooling could reduce that bill by 20%, i.e. 40,000 EUR/year. Over the course of a building lifetime of say 25 years, the accumulated energy savings amount to about 1 million EUR.

Figure 3. HeatMatcher and PowerMatcher working together for optimisation in the electricity and heating/cooling domains.

Hybrid energy matching

By combining HeatMatcher and PowerMatcher technology we are currently optimising a system comprising not only heating/cooling but also electricity. This hybrid energy matching is being tested in an installation with a heat pump charging a buffer and PV panels. The hybrid energy optimisation algorithm determines the minimum heat pump requirements to fulfil the demand and allows these levels to increase whenever the cost of the electrical energy is low and the produced heat can  be stored in the buffer. These are the world’s first pioneering steps for hybrid energy matching that stimulate further research and development of hybrid energy matching together with partners.

Application in larger-scale heating networks

HeatMatcher is currently being tested inside buildings. However, since the agent-based control architecture makes HeatMatcher insensitive to the scale of the heating installations, it is perfectly suited for larger-scale heating and cooling networks that may span several buildings, districts or regions. For instance, 4th generation district heating and cooling networks will connect multiple producers and consumers of energy, introducing temporal and spatial dynamics that are hard to optimise with the control tooling currently available; HeatMatcher technology can do this job.

Next step: heatmatcher economic feasibility pilot

The technical results from HeatMatcher are promising as the proof of concept has been delivered for different installations. These results form the basis for on-going discussions between TNO and different market parties. These discussions reveal that the focus should now be on assessing the economic feasibility for HeatMatcher technology.

HeatMatcher can be configured to run on top of your default heating or cooling control system, safeguarding routine supply to your clients at all times.

If you are interested in HeatMatcher technology and would like to discuss its potential for your business, we encourage you to get in contact with us.

Lennart van der Burg MSc

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Lennart van der Burg MSc

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